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The Oil Spill, the Cap, and the Impact

Finally stopping the oil. We look at the engineering challenge, and the environmental impact in the Gulf of Mexico.

A dead turtle floats on a pool of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in Barataria Bay off the coast of Louisiana. (AP)

A dead turtle floats on a pool of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in Barataria Bay off the coast of Louisiana. (AP)

Last week, a sigh of relief around the country as the cap went on and the oil stopped gushing in the Gulf of Mexico.  This week, more hope. But also apprehension and uncertainty. 

There’s talk of “seepage” away from the well — of “undetermined anomalies” at the wellhead. 

Today, we’ll get a top petroleum engineer’s perspective on what’s going on down there. And we’ll step back to look at the biological damage already done in the Gulf, what can come back, and what – maybe – cannot. 

This Hour, On Point: the drama of days, and years, in the Gulf of Mexico – for the oil, for the sea.


Darryl Bourgoyne, director of Louisiana State University’s petroleum engineering laboratory in Baton Rouge.

Larry McKinney, director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi.

Larry Crowder, marine biologist at Duke University’s marine lab in Beaufort, North Carolina.

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  • cory

    Mankind won’t let the environment impede it’s pursuit of prosperity. I expect more such accidents as we pursue energy and resources that are becoming increasingly scarce. There isn’t really ant chice until we begin to question our thinking about limitless growth and more is better. I hear politicians nearly every day comment on how the solution to are economic ills is to “grow our way out of it”.

  • Dennis M Campbell

    Tom, reports this weekend spoke of possible leaks – methane leaks – around the well. Wasn’t it methane near or in the well that caused the original problem? If the methane is leaking through the sea-bed, rather than through the the well (or perhaps both at the same time) what can be done to stop that? Thank you.

  • Nick

    God help us from the whores of large corporations.


  • Earle

    A Moratorium on Deep-Water Oil Drilling is not tantamount to banning commercial airline flights, because of one air plane crash:

    Tragically, a plane crash tolls up to hundreds of lives, at a time.

    But in the case of the oil spill. in addition to the initial deaths, as the result of the explosion, the environmental; the economic; and the disenfranchisement issues, in that region, are yet to be determined.

    And not only are they yet to be determined; but these repercussions may not be finally understood and measured for even, perhaps, decades.

    Indeed, the ultimate deaths, eventually, may far exceed
    those in a single plane crash.

    The analogy being used, by those who advocate Big Business rights, is significantly off the mark.

  • jeffe

    Earle your analogy has some holes in it. What if a certain model of plane started to have malfunctions. If the airlines did not enact a voluntary ban on using these planes the government would have to step in and force the issue.

    BP has a horrible safety record when compared to other oil and gas companies. If an airline had a bad safety record and had a year of large disasters as BP has they would be compelled to shut them down pending an investigation. At least I hope this would be the outcome.

    I think BP should be kept from drilling in the Golf of Mexico until they can clean this up. Of course the size of their operation is huge so this is a tricky balancing act.

    By the way the capped well has started to leak.

  • jeffe

    The bottom line is we all use petroleum products everyday and I don’t see anyone driving less around the greater Boston area.

    The question is how do we regulate these companies so this does not happen?

    The oil will be in the environment for decades.
    The Alaska Valdez spill is still causing problems decades after the cleanup.

    Oil/Gas corporations do not have a good record with spills and environmental issues. Look at Ecuador and Nigeria, the environmental record for these corporations in these countries is criminal.

    Right now all the tar is being dumped into local landfills. This stuff is toxic and should not be dumped into landfills.

  • informed American

    I am so glad that President Obama did not let that pesky oil spill in the Gulf interfere with his vacation in Maine.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    So Informed American, I take it you’re posting here from your mobile phone as you clean beaches in Louisiana.


    I am so glad that President Obama did not let that pesky oil spill in the Gulf interfere with his vacation in Maine.

    Posted by informed American

    Do we really want to get into a discussion of how many vacations President’s (past & present) have taken during their terms? I think not.

  • bill manning

    Hi Tom,

    I have a question about the actual volume of oil that’s been released into the gulf. News accounts report millions of barrels of oil released but I’ve also read that what’s been gushing out is 40% methane.

    Are the oil release estimates reported just oil by volume or the combined oil/methane volume, which would be a kind of petro-mousse? If it’s the latter, wouldn’t it mean that less physical oil has been released into the gulf than people think?

  • http://facebook.com/itssmith Jean

    Is a small seep likely to become another gusher given time?

  • Tom Goodwin

    It took 3 months for BP to figure out how to use a pre-existing smooth flanged surface and some off the shelf hardware to cap this leak?! And, what about an exact flow rate- it’s obvious that BP knows precisely what this is.

  • Steve L

    We will not see a clean gulf again. Once this event begins to fade from the collective memory, another event will occur, then another, then another… Each of these events will be described as unforeseen, an anomaly, and some thing we “could not have predicted”.

    To paraphrase, they can’t see the danger for the dollars.

  • Steve L

    Who funds Bourgoyne’s laboratory and research? Any money from oil or oil related companies?

  • Tim in Iowa

    I assume this has happened in the history of the earth before, be it earthquakes or other geologic events, massive amounts of oil surely were released into the ocean. Do we have any history of those? how much comes out, how often do they happen? I know some were surprised at how quickly the environment recoevered after Ixtoc.

  • Les Wetmore

    It is amazing to me that, in light of there scope of this disaster, we are even discussing the continued use of oil. We take about how detrimental to the economy it would be to stop drilling of oil, but how can the economy be more important than the environment? No evironment equals no economy. It’s that simple. When are we going to get our priorities striaght?

  • Bruce

    Why do you still refer to oil extraction as “production”?

    These are big fields in the Gulf, but they are a finite resource, and, if we are going to continue to use oil in the future, why shouldn’t we hold on to these?

  • Eric M. Jones

    Am I the ONLY person who remembers that the reason “Top-Kill” didn’t work was that the high flow rate washed out the mud?

    Now it would work fine, and then concrete will finish off the job.

    Where am I wrong????


  • Peggy Sapphire

    For all those who claim “the Gulf will recover”, I say such a claim is pure hyperbole, motivated by the hope of future economic gains from deep drilling resumed. The truth is that once the words “we don’t know” are also in the conversation, it throws “the Gulf will recover” into the same oblivion the Gulf now exists – its sealife, its wildlife and its entire ruined viability.

  • eric horstmyer

    Tom, would you ask one of your experts why the off shore wells use a system of shut-off valves that must be activated from the drilling platform? It seems that a fail-safe valving system would be held open by pressure from the platform and if, for some reason there is a massive failure on the platform (fire, explosion or terrorist attack)which disables the crew the well head would automatically close because of a loss of pressure instead. In the current system pressure must be sent from the surface to close the valves and this will not happen (as we have seen) if the crew is fighting for their lives. It sounds like a flawed system.

  • Eli Beaird

    I’m curious as to what happens to all of the oil that’s been collected from the spill. Is it sent to processing or is it trashed?

  • Les Wetmore

    The possiblities for economic growth in a re-invented economy are almost endless. We use petrolem driven mechines to do so much work that could be done by people that need work. Continued research and devolopment of sustainable technolgies means whte collar jobs, in a field that has hardly been touched. The only people that don’t want these change are those 1% at the top, and they will die to if we don’t escape from the crazy practices of today.

  • http://www.earthgood.org Toby Hoffman

    These disasters are mostly preventable. We are victims to our own beliefs in the myths that industry regulation is bad for business, government is bad, private sector knows everything best. In other words, BP cut all possible corners because it could. Industry lobbyists effectively rule the legislative process with bribes to prevent tougher oversight – and Rush, Bush and Cheney allowed it. Them and abti-regulation right wing talking heads and their ditto heads – are responsible for the very premature death of our planet.

    No one talks about the preventability of all previous spills. They were all extremely preventable. They all cut major corners. The most profitable corporations on earth cut the stupidest corners. And we are worried about everything BUT this aspect.

    This guy you are interviewing sais “once we see what caused this”. BP was ordered to put in 21 centralizers and said no – only six. Also told to stop process when annular rubber seal crumbled onto deck. BP ‘executive’ said “No!”. THIS is what “caused” it all you right wing industry-paid “ditto heads”.

    Also wrong is your assertion that industry regs put in place by “treehuggers” made them go that far offshore.
    No – they are drilling that far offshore all over the world because they ahve discovered that is where the Big Oil is. Only with safeguards everywhere EXCEPT for our right wing lobby bribed anti regulation USA.


    Kudos Toby!!!

  • Ray

    Let’s be honest…most Americans view the spill and resulting pollution as the unfortunate cost of living the way they want with the things they need.

    The real issue for this country right now is jobs, and not some mythical green jobs which won’t exist for decades if ever. It’s time to put all Americans back to work producing the goods and services they want whatever the cost to the environment, and some phoney cap and trade money grab won’t do it.


    I agree with you Ray, but Americans won’t be going back to work anytime soon until we somehow develop a way to start manufacturing back up in this country. In order to do that we, as Americans, have to recognize that quality goods cost more money, and if we want our Nation to thrive, corporations need to offer & pay people living wages for an honests days work. We cannot continue to live on “only the cheapest wins” Wal-Mart mentality.

    I keep hearing screams that tax breaks to companies that send our jobs overseas will create more jobs in American – how does that work?? We will not continue to be a world power if we employ what amounts to slave-labor for our populus. The middle class & poor are what keep our economy going by spending their earnings on neccesities and extras. You can’t spend what you don’t have.

  • very informed American

    I expect “informed American” is, like me, a free-market libertarian, all of whom should be celebrating the increase in our GDP that will come from the clean up of this oil spill, not to mention potentially decades of high paying jobs providing medical care for all those whose health will be affected by it. Instead of getting all sentimental over these lower life forms and a bunch of sand and swamp, we need to focus on how to make some money from this unfortunate occurrence. But I do disagree about the President’s vacation. Since the government really should have no role in the free market, I think Mr. Obama should take as long a vacation as he wants and just stay out of the way of private enterprise.

  • Julie Rohwein

    And I expect in the spirit of the free market, all the immediate and ancillary costs of this clean up and the economic damage it has and will continue to cause will be incorporated into the price of petroleum derived products so that appropriate market discipline will be in operation.

  • ThresherK

    Let’s be honest…most Americans view the spill and resulting pollution as the unfortunate cost of living the way they want with the things they need.

    Really? Most Americans? The result of BushCo’s running-it-to-ruin-it concept of “governance” is just “living the way they want”? Good luck eating your Gulf shrimp, bub.

    I will say one thing for BP: Cleaning up after their little oopsie is creating a lot of green jobs. Unless you’re going to claim that those are oil-producing jobs that Obama shouldn’t regulate into oblivion.

  • ThresherK

    Ugh–Editing error.

    Meant to post that people weren’t sitting in their SUVs in January saying, “Driving this gas hog is just too consequence-free. Aren’t we due for a big spill? Maybe we need an oil industry disaster to pile on those barely-regulated mine mishaps.”

    What many people were doing was taking BushCo’s word for it that this unprecedented, barely-regulated deep-water drilling was safe. And they know better now.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VfypUzx1tI Alan Kreglow

    BP and the EPA are blocking bioremediation companies from deploying oil-eating-bacteria to clean up the oil on the Gulf’s ocean surface that washes ashore.

    See “Gulf Oil Spill-Gutsy Solution Restores Environment in Just Six Weeks” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VfypUzx1tI

  • http://tinyurl.com/EvidenceGulfSpillWasPreplanned Alan Kreglow

    Evidence The Gulf Spill Was Preplanned

    Go to http://usahitman.com/?p=9599, an article written by Leonard G. Horowitz and Sherri Kane citing 30 Facts Evidencing that the Rothschild League of Bankers Planned the Gulf Oil Crisis.

    Click my name at bottom of this posting to download the above article copied to a Word document zipped together with an .mp3 audio file of my computer reading the article. (Goes to 4shared.com – click the BLUE DOWNLOAD BUTTON.)

  • http://www.restoreamericaplan.net/ Alan Kreglow

    For a solution to the evident fact that The Gulf Spill Was Preplanned (see my posting just above), in addition to shouting at your TV set or writing your Senators and Representatives, for all the good that does, go to http://www.restoreamericaplan.net/ (NOT .org) get informed and if so inclined, get involved.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VfypUzx1tI Alan Kreglow

    I have tried and tried to get on air to say that BP and the EPA are blocking bioremediation companies from deploying oil-eating-bacteria to clean up the oil on the Gulf’s ocean surface that washes ashore. I am politely kicked off the line every time, after first being put on hold and told I am in the que.

    On Point Radio, along with all the other media, is happy to air problems, but refuses to air SOLUTIONS because that would upset the corporations that intend to profit from their own expensive and ineffective responses to problems the corporations themselves intentionally create.

  • anna sandy

    If the cap is on and completely closed, what will prevent oil and gas from coming out the hole made by the relief well?

  • joshua

    On point–why did you change the photo of the dead tule covered in oily muck? Why do let the corporations–BP control you. This is censorship of the worst kind? Keep american misinformed–keep us ignorant. if you dont want to build a house–dont provide the nails and hammer. better yet, dont provide anything!

    On Point–w have a right to see the truth-dont treat us like children. Any law that prohibits a photo of turtle is completely unequivocally fascist–and YOU have no right to criticize China or nazi Germany or Iran or Korea!!!!!!!

    BP should not have so much control of our country of our lives of our information!

    Put the dead turtle back up there now!!!!!!!!! You are complicit with nazis. We are not children.

  • joshua

    According to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the Times-Picayune, and several other news sources, the Coast Guard has put new restrictions that prevent the public — including members of the media — from approaching within 65-feet of response vessels or booms on the water or beaches.

    And since booms are often placed more than forty feet from islands or marshlands, this means that photographers, bloggers, reporters, and even volunteers, won’t be able to get close enough to oil-drenched wildlife to bear witness. To report. To help.

    Violators will face a $40,000 fine and prosecution for a Class D felony.

    Welcome to 1984. This is the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. History. Eleven lives were lost in the initial blow-out and the death toll of wildlife — birds, dolphins, sea turtles, fish, and sharks — cannot be tallied. B.P., and now the Coast Guard, want to make sure it stays that way.

  • Trudi

    The worst case scenario that hasn’t yet been voiced is the possibility of a huge methane blast – like the one that started the leak in the first place, only much larger – that would likely cause a tsunami of epic proportions, with a wave so rapid that it would be impossible to evict the Gulf coast. Such an enormous tsunami could wipe out most of the states along the coast, leaving behind a wasteland that is thoroughly soaked with oil and natural gas – a veritable tinderbox.

  • joshua

    ray-why dont try living in china and see what neglect of the environment turns out! You simply DONOT understand the impact do you? It is not sustainable–the planet is dying!!!!!!!!! the only planet with life in at least a billion billion light years. What is your problem? What is happening in the GUlf is criminal–CRIMINAL! crimes against humanity and nature! You exist in nature ray–not outside of it–what will you do when there are no shrimp, no fish. what will you do when there is no clean air to breather and you are dying of heart disease and cancer? What will you do when the bread basket is a desert and millions start dying? There are certain people ho do not have the right to speak. Start listening. Profit is not everything. there are plenty of green jobs and green technology and organic farming related jobs that will employ millions if not for your attitude and corporate status quo–your feudal masters!

  • joshua

    Darrly Bourgoyne says not getting research money at the moment–but he certainly wants it in the future–he is a paid stooge as are ll apologists for big-industry.

    Why is the cover pic of man cleaning oil stylized-show it as it is. and why is this man, paid or volunteer not properly kitted with protective over-garments and masks?!


    Joshua, I guess I didn’t read Ray’s post closley enough or I wouldn’t have agreed with him regarding throwing environmental concerns to the wind, that’s what got us here in the first place!

    However, I do agree with him that most Americans don’t really care what is going on unless they are personally affected. We are a nation of easily seduced nitwits with no self control. Until the collective “we” wake up & realize we have doomed ourselves to failure by blindly following those who would lead us down a dying garden path, we will sink deeper into the hole. Cynical I may be, I just don’t see it happening. For every bottle or can I recycle, every item I buy in bulk & store in glass jars, or my family’s reduction in energy use, I see more people throwing them and everything else in the trash, buying processed over-packaged junk, and building ginormous homes with absolutely no thought as to solar site location or ecological plantings to protect from inclement weather. It seems like a losing battle, but one I will continue to wage.

  • betty wilson

    China now consumes more energy than the USA.

    REPORT: Drill moratorium to cost 8,000 jobs…

  • informed American

    Obama doesn’t give a rat’s ass about all the oil workers who are going to be unemployed because of his stupid drilling ban in the gulf.

  • e Gumpert

    Perhaps there should be a permanent moratorium on deep water drilling. It is not clear we have the technology to intervene in an emergency at that depth. We may need to develop better robots, submarines, and techology to explore these depths. Certainly we are dependent on BP for data and to stop the leak–this implies that the US coast guard, etc. does not possess this technology either.

  • david

    One speaker stated that oil naturally seeps from the floor of the oceans, maybe in very large quantities.
    A thought.
    Some Scientist believe that oil is a abiotic product, not ‘fossil fuels’ that are biologically created by the debris of dead dinosaurs and ancient forests.
    What if! oil is a by-product of the earth’s core????
    Contrary to a limited supply, but a continuing supply.
    This present oil gusher has a capped pressure of 6811 psi, look at how much oil has gushed into the gulf from this open hole.
    So, whether you like oil as a fuel or not.
    What if!!! oil is a continuous by-product being stored in pockets all around the world under high pressures.
    If we stop using it, it will build up to a point, as in Texas years ago, it will bubble out of the ground everywhere there is a vent to the surface.
    Research the myth of oil as a fossil fuel.
    For every action there is an equal reaction.
    The core of this earth must produce some form of by-product, I think it may be oil, it makes sense.
    What if we have been fed a bunch of bull about oil.
    If you have a unlimited supply, its cheap, but if it is limited, you can name your price. $$$$$$
    I plan to spend a week on the gulf this fall.

  • Eileen

    If low oxygen will result from the microorganisms eating the methane and oil could we deploy “bubblers” like people use in an aquarium to pump air deep into the water? Maybe it takes too much energy to pump a lot of air to a great depth – someone else surely knows this.

  • Chris

    Why was my post deleted regarding “Informed American”‘s use of swears but not his post that contained the swear??? It’s bad ebnough we have to be bombarded with his inane remarks, but we also have to be subjected to his use of bad language?

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