Posts Tagged ‘Gulf of Mexico’
Part Two of The Sufficiency Economy.
I do hope that you read Part One of The Sufficiency Economy published yesterday on Learning from Dogs. There Dr. Alexander of the Simplicity Institute set out the obvious, well obvious if one reflects for even a few moments, as this small extract demonstrates:
…. precisely what consumer capitalism lacks – a purpose, a reason for existence. It is a means without an end, like a tool without a task. What makes this state of affairs all the more challenging is that the era of growth economics appears to be coming to a close, due to various financial, ecological, and energy constraints, and this is leaving growth-based economies without the very capacity for growth which defined them historically.
Before moving to part two, the global predicament, more about the Simplicity Institute, an organisation of which I had been unaware prior to a few days ago. The Institute’s opening web page reads thus:
Given that the essential factor in our global predicament is overconsumption, the most obvious principle for a sustainable society is that those who are over-consuming must move to far more materially ‘simple’ lifestyles. This does not mean deprivation or hardship. It means focusing on what is sufficient to live well. Most of our basic needs can be met in quite simple and low-impact ways, while maintaining a high quality of life.
The Simplicity Institute seeks to facilitate the rapid transition away from growth-based, consumer societies toward sustainable and more rewarding societies based on material sufficiency. We seek to understand what a society would look like if it were based on this ‘simpler’ way of living and how we might get there.
We are also developing networks of active collaboration between existing participants in the Simplicity Movement, in the hope of providing educational tools and resources to help mainstream the idea that ‘simpler lifestyles’ provide a high quality alternative to consumer capitalist society.
I would also encourage you to read about Their Mission and their Publications, one of which is the subject of this week’s postings. Finally, do offer your own experiences by completing their Simple Living Survey.
So on to Part Two where Dr. Alexander examines the global predicament facing all of us.
THE SUFFICIENCY ECONOMY
ENVISIONING A PROSPEROUS WAY DOWN
Simplicity Institute Report 12s, 2012
Dr Samuel Alexander is co-director of the Simplicity Institute and a lecturer with the Office for Environmental Programs, University of Melbourne.
2. The Global Predicament
If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst. –Thomas Hardy
Below I outline various social, ecological, economic, and energy-related problems, which together provide the background against which the sufficiency economy should be understood. Most people, including many environmentalists, seem to believe that Western-style lifestyles, and the growth economies that support them, can be sustained and even globalised, provided the world transitions to systems of renewable energy and produces commodities more cleanly and efficiently. This assumption is reflected especially clearly in international political discourse on environmental issues (e.g. UNDP, 2007/8), which consistently pushes the message that we can decouple economic growth from ecological impact, or even that we need more economic growth in order to fund environmental protection initiatives or otherwise save the planet (Beckerman, 2002). The following review casts considerable doubt on the possibility of any technological ‘fix’ to existing problems. Each of the problems, on their own, provides ground for radically rethinking the nature of existing economic structures and goals. When considered together, I believe the case for fundamental change is compelling.
2.1. Ecological Overshoot and the Limits of Technology
The ecological footprint of the global economy now exceeds the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet by 50%, and overall things continue to get worse (Global Footprint Network, 2012). Old growth forests continue to be cut down at alarming rates; fresh water is getting scarcer; fish stocks and biodiversity more generally continue to decline; top-soil continues to erode; the climate continues to change and become less stable; and overall the pollution and wastes from human economic activity continue to degrade the ecosystems upon which all life depends (see generally, Brown, 2011). While this is hardly news, the full implications of our predicament are typically grossly under-estimated. The mainstream view on how to achieve sustainability is to exploit science and technology in order to produce more cleanly and efficiently, thereby decoupling economic activity from its destructive environmental impacts. But despite decades of extraordinary technological advance, the overall impacts of economic activity continue to increase (Jackson, 2009: Ch 4). To be sure, human beings are getting better at producing commodities more cleanly and efficiently, but we are also producing more commodities, and it turns out that those production increases outweigh the efficiency gains in production, leading to an overall increase in the impacts of economic activity, not a decrease. Efficiency without sufficiency is lost. We must always remember that technology is a two-edged sword, in the sense that it provides us with tools both to protect and destroy the natural environment, and human beings are exploiting both forms enthusiastically, especially the latter. Technology might give us solar panels and electric cars, for example, but it also gives us the ability to cut down rainforests easily, empty the oceans, and drill for oil in thousands of feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico.
Granted, technology never ceases to amaze, but the very awe it evokes seduces many into faithfully investing it with limitless powers. When we actually do the math, however, the impossibility of a technological fix to environmental problems becomes perfectly clear. If the developed nations were to grow their economies at a modest 2% over coming decades and by 2050 the poorest nations had caught up – which more or less seems to be the goal of ‘development’ – then by that stage the global economy, which is already in ecological overshoot, would be almost 15 times larger than it is today (Jackson, 2009: 81). This means, for example, that if we are to meet the moderate emissions targets of the IPCC (2007) then the carbon intensity of global economic output must be 130 times lower than it is today, requiring 11% reductions every year. Even with the unprecedented technological advances of recent decades, the efficiency improvements over the period 1990-2007 were merely 0.7% per year (Jackson, 2009: 79). These hard numbers ought to shatter the faith of techno-optimists. They show that it is delusional to think that technology alone is going to be able to solve the ecological crises we face, because the extent of absolute decoupling required is simply too great (Trainer, 2012a). Humanity must exploit appropriate technologies at every opportunity, of course, but first and foremost what is needed is a new mode of economy, one that recognises and accepts that growth-based, energy-intensive consumer societies are grossly unsustainable and certainly not universalisable.
2.2. Poverty amidst Plenty
The fact that the global economy is already in ecological overshoot is even more challenging when we bear in mind that in the poorest parts of the world today great multitudes are living lives oppressed by extreme poverty (World Bank, 2009). The global challenge, therefore, in terms of humanitarian justice and ecological sustainability, can be stated as follows: The human community must find a way to raise the material standards of living of the world’s poorest people – who surely have a right to develop their economic capacities in some form – while at the same time reducing humanity’s overall ecological footprint (Meadows et al, 2004: p. xv). What is clear is that the current ‘trickle down’ approach to poverty alleviation is neither working nor ecologically sustainable, as evidenced by a report from the New Economics Foundation (Woodard and Simms, 2006). This study shows that between 1990 and 2001, for every $100 of growth in the world’s average income per capita, merely $0.60 contributed to reducing poverty below the ‘$1 per day’ line. This means that to achieve $1 of poverty reduction at that ratio, an extra $166 of global production and consumption is required. Not only do these figures expose global growth as an extremely inefficient means of reducing poverty, it also implies that the amount of growth needed to alleviate poverty would be, without question, environmentally unsupportable. Accordingly, we must find a new path to poverty alleviation beyond the conventional ‘development’ agenda, one based on equitable distribution and new structures, not limitless growth.
What exacerbates the ecological and humanitarian crises outlined above is the fact that, according to the United Nations, global human population is expected to exceed nine billion by mid-century and reach ten billion toward the end of the century (UNDSEA, 2011). Obviously, this will intensify greatly the already intense competition over access to the world’s limited natural resources and it will put even more pressure on Earth’s fragile ecosystems. It is of the utmost importance that population stabilises as soon as possible and is significantly reduced in some equitable manner. But we have known about the ‘population bomb’ for many decades and still it continues to explode, albeit at a slowing pace. We need either new strategies here or much greater commitment to existing strategies (and probably both). But even if humanity somehow managed to stabilise population at once and thereby avoid the expected increases, the global economy would nevertheless remain in gross ecological overshoot. The primary task, therefore – given we have the population we have – must be to reduce the ecological impact of our economic activity, partly by exploiting all appropriate technologies, and partly by stabilising and reducing population over time, but mainly by reimagining ‘the good life’ beyond consumer culture and learning how to step more lightly on the planet (Alexander, 2011a; 2009). This means giving up the destructive dream of ‘consumer affluence.’ The developed nations certainly cannot lecture the developing nations about how expanding populations are putting immense strain on Earth’s ecosystems while at the same time indulging in ever-higher levels of consumption. Accordingly, if the developed nations are serious about reducing global impact on the environment, as they claim they are, then before looking overseas they must first show the world that they are prepared to step more lightly themselves. Overpopulation is too easily used as a scapegoat to deflect attention away from the more fundamental problem of overconsumption.
2.4. The Fantasy of Limitless Economic Growth
Despite the fact that the global economy is already in dangerous ecological overshoot, every nation on the planet still aims to grow its economy, without apparent limit. Economic development of some form is still obviously required in the poorest parts of the world, as noted, simply in order to provide for basic needs. But if the poorest nations are to have any ‘ecological room’ to do so – especially when population growth is taken into account – it follows by force of logic that the overdeveloped rich nations should not continue growing their own economies. Indeed, sustainability demands that the richest nations initiate a process of planned economic contraction, or ‘degrowth’ (Alexander, 2012a), with the aim of eventually arriving at some ‘steady-state’ economy within ecological limits. This confronting logic has proven easy enough for the rich nations to ignore, but it is impossible to escape. Not only must the growth paradigm inevitably collide with biophysical reality, it is in fact in the process of doing so (Meadows et al, 2004).
Needless to say, however, there are no signs that the richest nations are prepared to give up the pursuit of growth, certainly not for reasons of global equity or ecological conservation. The great obstacle that lies in the way of a macroeconomics ‘beyond growth’ is the dominant ideology of growth economics that quite explicitly treats growth in GDP as the best measure of national progress and politico-economic competency (Purdey, 2010). In fact, the growth paradigm is so deeply entrenched in mainstream political discourse in the developed nations (and increasingly elsewhere) that it is hard to imagine any of the major political parties, whether on the Left or the Right, daring to pursue or even seriously contemplate a post-growth alternative. This arguably gives rise to an acute and disturbing contradiction: We must give up the pursuit of growth, but cannot.
Empire thus marches on.
2.5. Expensive Oil and other Energy Issues
Even if the world never chooses to question the growth paradigm – which seems the most likely scenario – the peaking of crude oil suggests that the era of global growth is coming to an end nevertheless (Heinberg, 2011; Rubin, 2012). While there is still debate about the exact timing of peak oil, it is now widely accepted that crude oil production, if it has not already peaked, will peak sometime in the foreseeable future, and then, after a corrugated plateau, enter terminal decline. Since oil demand is expected to keep on rising, however, the reduction of oil supply will inevitably lead to sharply increasing oil prices (Hirsch et al, 2010). This dynamic is already well underway, with the price of oil multiplying several times during the last decade or so. There are of course vast reserves of non-conventional oil still available in the tar sands of Canada and Venezuela, and in the shale oil deposits in the United States and elsewhere, but these non-conventional reserves have a far lower energy return on investment (Murphy and Hall, 2011), making them much more expensive and slower to produce. Accordingly, the issue is not that human beings will ever run out of oil; the issue is that we have already run out of cheap oil.
This is hugely significant because oil is not just another commodity – it is the lifeblood of industrial civilisation. This is evidenced by the fact that the world currently consumes around 90 million barrels every day (IEA, 2010a). When the costs of oil increase significantly, this adds extra costs to transport, mechanised labour, plastics, and industrial food production, among many other things, and this pricing dynamic sucks discretionary expenditure and investment away from the rest of the economy, causing debt defaults, economic stagnation, recessions, or even longer-term depressions. That seems to be what we are seeing around the world today, with the risk of worse things to come (Tverberg, 2012a).
Moreover, as Ted Trainer (2012b) and others have argued, renewable energy, even if it were embraced whole-heartedly and on a global scale, would never be able to sustain the expansion of complex, energy-intensive consumer societies, especially with the global population growing. If this diagnosis is basically correct, it provides further grounds for thinking that the growth paradigm has no future. I hasten to add that this is not an argument against renewable energy. The climate science is very clear that we must abandon fossil fuels as far as possible and as soon as possible (e.g. Hansen et al, 2008). But the limitations of renewable energy do suggest that we cannot respond to climate change by embracing renewables and have a growth-based economy.
Furthermore, nuclear energy’s potential to provide the energy required to maintain growth economies is fiercely debated. What is beyond debate, however, is that nuclear energy also has a long list of limitations, time lags, dangers, and huge financial costs, and ever since Fukushima the prospects of a nuclear renaissance have looked very slim indeed. At best nuclear energy would only assist in decarbonising the economy to some extent, but it would not solve the myriad other ecological and social problems inherent to the growth paradigm, and could well exacerbate some of them. Accordingly, nuclear provides no escape from the limits to growth. What is needed is a transition to renewable energy systems, but this implies a civilisation with much lower social complexity, and with very different structures and non-affluent lifestyles. We cannot run an industrial civilisation on renewables, and an industrial civilisation powered by nuclear (if that is even feasible) remains unsustainable due its underlying growth imperative.
Whether the transition beyond growth occurs voluntarily or is imposed by force of biophysical limits remains to be seen. It scarcely needs remarking that a planned, voluntary transition would be the desired path (see Alexander, 2012b).
2.6. Economic Instability
Closely linked to the rising price of oil, but with some independent issues too, is the economic instability that has been plaguing the world economy in recent years. In the prosperous decades after World War II, developed nations especially became accustomed to consistently high levels of economic growth, and this gave them and their governments and inhabitants a false confidence that they could borrow vast amounts of money and rely on future growth to pay those debts back. In other words, the enormous national and private debts that have been taken on in recent decades were based on the assumption that future growth would be similar to growth in recent decades. But because there is such a close relationship between energy and economic growth, expensive oil is suffocating the debt-ridden global economy, just as it is trying to recover. Without systemic change or some debt ‘jubilee,’ the trillions of dollars of outstanding debt essentially ‘locks’ the world into continued growth. But as Michael Hudson (2012) states, ‘debts that can’t be repaid, won’t be,’ and the consequences of widespread debt defaults will not be good news.
Unfortunately, mainstream economists, including those in government, seem oblivious to the close relationship between energy, debt, and economy, and this means they are unable to see that expensive oil is one of the primary underlying causes of today’s economic instability. Consequently, they craft their intended solutions (e.g. stimulus packages, quantitative easing, low interest rates to encourage borrowing, etc) based on flawed, growth-based thinking, not recognising that the new economics of energy (Alexander, 2012c) means that the growth model, which assumes cheap energy inputs, is now dangerously out-dated. When growth-based economies do not grow, household, firms, and nations struggle to repay their debts, and quickly things begin to unravel in undesirable ways.
2.7 Consumer Malaise
Finally, what makes the problems outlined above all the more troubling is the fact that high consumption lifestyles, so often held up as the peak of human development, are in many cases engendering an unexpected discontent or malaise among those who live them (Lane, 2000; Pickett and Wilkinson, 2010). There is in fact a mounting body of sociological and psychological evidence (Kasser, 2002; Alexander, 2012d) indicating that lives orientated around achieving high levels of consumption often result in such things as time poverty, stress, physical and mental illness, wasteful status competition, loss of community, disconnection from nature, unhappiness, and even a sense of meaninglessness or alienation in life – to say nothing of the ecological impacts associated with consumer lifestyles.
This evidence, however, troubling though it is, arguably provides something of a silver lining to the admittedly grim situation outlined above (Jackson, 2005; Brown and Kasser, 2005). If high consumption lifestyles are not even a trustworthy path to personal well being, this raises the tantalising possibility that members of the global consumer class could live more fulfilling and meaningful lives by reducing their consumption, perhaps in exchange for more time, while at the same time reducing their ecological footprint, reducing their dependence on oil, and leaving more resources for those in greater need. Indeed, when considering the problems outlined above – especially when considering them together and their interrelatedness – it would seem that any effective response to our global predicament depends to a large extent on those overconsuming moving to far more materially ‘simple’ ways of life, with far lower energy requirements. This implies not merely huge lifestyle changes, but fundamental systemic change. Understandably, perhaps, this is not a message many people seem to want to hear, but I contend that the strength of the line of reasoning makes embracing some form of ‘sufficiency economy’ the most coherent response to the global predicament.
(The full set of references will be included in the concluding Part Five to be published on Friday.)
Part Three – Embracing Life After Growth (Before it Embraces Us) will be published on Learning from Dogs tomorrow.
Some very thought-provoking ideas.
John H, a good friend of us here in Payson, lent us the Leonardo DiCaprio film The 11th Hour. More information on the film’s website. Here’s the trailer,
The plot of the film, if plot is the right word, is as follows,
With contributions from over 50 politicians, scientists, and environmental activists, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, physicist Stephen Hawking, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, and journalist Paul Hawken, the film documents the grave problems facing the planet’s life systems. Global warming, deforestation, mass species extinction, and depletion of the oceans’ habitats are all addressed. The film’s premise is that the future of humanity is in jeopardy.
The film proposes potential solutions to these problems by calling for restorative action by the reshaping and rethinking of global human activity through technology, social responsibility and conservation.
Whether or not you watch the film, and I strongly suggest you do, the action website that supports making a difference is For the Love of Action. Drop in and make your own mind up.
Following on from that film is this apt reminder of the world we have created. I tend to write articles a few days ahead of the publish date, so it wasn’t possible to have this post come out on the 20th April, last Wednesday, which was Earth Day. Shame. Because as this email from the Alaska Wilderness League pointed out, it’s also a sad reminder of our love affair with oil.
The next Deepwater Horizon could be amid the broken sea ice and polar bear habitat of America’s Arctic: unless we prevent it now. Donate to the League.
It was one year ago today. I remember sitting in my living room after dinner when the news alert flashed across the screen:Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico; 11 workers dead or missing.
Huddled around the office television the next morning, there was no way we could anticipate the true magnitude of the disaster. Images of ruined lives and tarnished lands poured out of the Gulf formonths on end. As the oil industry’s feeble attempts to contain the destruction grew evermore cartoony – ‘top hat,’ ‘junk shot,’ ‘top kill’ – we learned just how little they had prepared for the eventual catastrophe of an oil spill.
Our government rubber-stamped the faulty plans for this oil rig. They had a chance to prevent this disaster, but didn’t. What’s worse: they continue to approve plans for America’s Arctic that are functionally identical to the plans that caused the Gulf disaster. America’s Arctic could be our next Deepwater Horizon tragedy. The effects of deadly crude oil spilling into the broken sea ice and polar bear habitat of America’s Arctic would be disastrous: unless we stop it.
When Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf, the League had just completed a campaign to highlight the incredible annual migration of Arctic birds that begins in the Arctic Refuge and extends through each U.S. state. Some of these birds fly as far as the southern tip of Argentina! Many of them rely on critical nesting grounds around the Gulf of Mexico.
The League moved quickly to save these birds, distributing ‘Arctic Garden Kits’ to help donors across the country to provide sustenance and shelter to Arctic birds in their own backyards. Proceeds from the fundraiser helped us fight faulty plans from moving forward in America’s Arctic for the last two summers.
Shell Oil, the biggest threat for Arctic drilling, remains undaunted by our success. Their drilling plans for 2012 have ballooned from one drill rig to six. This is their big move – their cards are on the table. We need your help and support to go over the top to stop their escalating plans.
The way in which the League responded to the Gulf disaster – stemming the damage to wildlife and preventing the next disaster – was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. You have a chance to be a part of this continuing work. Help us save America’s Arctic before it suffers the fate of another Deepwater Horizon.
Thank you for all that you do,
Alaska Wilderness League
Finally, let me close rather pointedly, perhaps, by this video of the fires in Texas which are burning out of control and have already scorched 1.6 million acres.; long-term drought being part of the cause.
A guest post from John Hurlburt.
When we’re in love with God, the cosmos, our living garden planet and the steadily growing conscious interconnection between those who understand and serve, we live in awe and wonder and realize a peaceful natural serenity in the midst of our daily concerns and responsibilities.
As our world, our environment and our culture appear to be unraveling, it becomes increasingly necessary for human beings to slow down to re-energize. It’s clear that our species has recently lost spectacularly to natural forces in the Gulf of Mexico and Japan. It’s no coincidence that it’s our technology which continues to reveal the fundamental weakness of human ego. It’s more than a metaphor that our individual and species arrogance is our Achilles heel.
There are many people who fail to perceive, understand and appreciate parallel realities from a rational, sensory and unified perspective by learning to see through a mystical third eye. Mysticism may be misunderstood as simply thinking outside of the box. Forget about the box. Let go of self-centered fears. Become aware of being unaware. Nurture capabilities to perceive non-locally and act locally. What’s happening worldwide comes with the territory. We are each responsible for our collective destiny
Meditation reflects that imagination and creativity are necessary to invent and utilize tools. Creativity did not begin with humans and is not exclusive to humans. God’s nature precedes emerging technology. Morality derives from our common need for species unity.
The message is that God doesn’t care about money and the sky is no longer a human limit. The fact remains that except for occasional astronauts we all continue to live on the same planet. Those who understand need no explanation.
There is a need for productive use of intelligence and technology at our natural frontiers. We need to refuel world economies with clean energy visions that provide solutions for our present local planetary emergency.
We may choose to implement the changes necessary to avoid impending local ecosphere, cultural and technological meltdowns while preparing for a migration to the stars.
Unification is a common goal. Leaving the nest of our garden planet is a partial unifying solution for the problems of our exponentially expanding species. An alternative is that our obsession with the symbol of money will have the same dire consequences for those who are obsessed as for those whom are oppressed.
Please love God, maintain an even strain, follow your bliss, continue to learn, share and serve our common purpose under God, proceed as the way opens, cross the next bridge as we come to it, enjoy the journey and stay in touch.
From an old lamplighter!
A rather different view point.
This may not be very Politically Correct but I am getting a bit fed up for the following reasons with Obama’s constant bad-mouthing of BP :
- If the regulatory procedures were not strong enough then that is the USA’s fault, not BP’s.
- The USA is glad enough to extract oil from ecologically-dangerous places because it is hooked on oil. That isn’t BP’s fault either.
- It is bleedin’ obvious that SOONER OR LATER (see previous comments on statistics) there was going to be an accident of this type, yet NO PROPER CONTINGENCY PLAN was in place. That is partly BP’s fault (over-confidence) but also the USA’s fault for not insisting on one.
- BP is clearly doing all it can to put things right; constantly rubbishing it seems fairly pointless.
- Nobody knows how much BP was to blame; there were other companies involved, including US ones.
In general, the USA has long been too soft on oil companies because it needs the oil.
Now of course we are going to have a pendulum swing the other way, but rather than knee-jerk reactions why not consult and put in place an effective “doomsday scenario” plan? For example, a 20,000 ton concrete dome that could be lowered right over a fractured well to seal it off?
Of course, Obama’s ranting is political. He does NOT want this to be his “Katrina”. However, nobody in their right mind would blame him personally for this accident and now that it has happened it is pretty pathetic to rant about how evil BP is.
What’s done is done. Statistically, there was BOUND to be an accident of this kind one day. By allowing deep-sea drilling the USA MUST HAVE ACCEPTED the risk. If proper and regulatory contingency plans had been in place then the environmental damage might have been minimised.
In general one must say of the Human Race that we aren’t brilliant at anticipating risks and preparing for the worst. Witness carbon emissions and climate change. As a man-in-the-street, the ONLY change in long-held habits that I have seen to combat global warming is that you can no longer in Europe buy old-fashioned light bulbs. Otherwise life seems to go on pretty much as ever, with all governments desperately wishing for growth because of their idiotic over-spending.
STOP PRESS: Above all a President needs to stay calm and rational. There was no reason to stop all off-shore drilling pending the result of an enquiry. This has put thousands of Americans out of work. No, I am NOT minimising the damage; it is tragic and disastrous, but 80% of Louisiana’s economy depends on the oil business.
And we badly need perspective. This is – as I already said – a terrible disaster, but the record of off-shore drilling is in fact extremely good in ecological terms. One bad experience should not lead to the knee-jerk shut-down of the entire industry. Fascinating article in the UK Guardian newspaper. That article concludes thus:
In an open letter to Obama published in Louisiana’s Thibodaux Daily Comet newspaper, local resident Stephen Morris vented fury at the drilling freeze: “If it was a knee-jerk response to everyone’s anger about the continued leak and possible annihilation of southern Louisiana’s way of life, you didn’t think it through or your advisers are smoking way too much crack.”
And this article in the UK Independent brilliantly sums up the way Obama is getting this all wrong for superficial, popularist reasons. Here’s how that article starts:
The evidence is overwhelming. Any fair-minded person who examines the Gulf of Mexico oil spillage is compelled to two conclusions. First, that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by BP. Second, that the President of the United States has behaved disgracefully.
The vessels of the Los Angeles class, the pride of the US nuclear submarine fleet, will not operate below 950ft. If they were to dive to 1450ft, their hulls would implode. The Americans do have three subs which could function at 2,000ft. They cost $3bn each. It follows that drilling for oil below a 5,000ft seabed is a difficult business which involves risks. But it is essential.
By Chris Snuggs
Transocean Deepwater Horizon Explosion-A Discussion of What Actually Happened?
The trouble with the way that the news is presented and consumed is that major events are delivered in ‘headline’ style and even something as terrible as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is starting to compete with other, more current, news stories.
The other issue with news channels is that it is uncommon to be presented with a real insight into the human scale of massive catastrophes. Thank goodness for the web!
Drilling Ahead is a website that describes itself as A Social Network of Oil & Gas Professionals. Another website find courtesy of Naked Capitalism.
An Ill-fated Discovery
According to news accounts, at about 10 p.m. CDT last Tuesday, Deepwater Horizon was stable, holding an exact position in calm, dark seas about 45 miles south of the Louisiana coastline. Water depth in the area is 5,000 feet. The vessel manifest listed 126 souls on board.
Deepwater Horizon was finishing work on an exploration well named Macondo, in an area called Mississippi Canyon Block 252. After weeks of drilling, the rig had pushed a bit down over 18,000 feet, into an oil-bearing zone. The Transocean and BP personnel were installing casing in the well. BP was going to seal things up, and then go off and figure out how to produce the oil — another step entirely in the oil biz.
The Macondo Block 252 reservoir may hold as much as 100 million barrels. That’s not as large as other recent oil strikes in the Gulf, but BP management was still pleased. Success is success –
certainly in the risky, deep-water oil environment. The front office of BP Exploration was preparing a press release to announce a “commercial” oil discovery.
This kind of exploration success was par for the course for Deepwater Horizon. A year ago, the vessel set a record at another site in the Gulf, drilling a well just over 35,000 feet and discovering the 3 billion barrel Tiber deposit for BP. SoDeepwater Horizon was a great rig, with a great crew and a superb record. You might even say that is was lucky.
But perhaps some things tempt the Gods. Some actions may invite ill fate. Because suddenly, the wild and wasteful ocean struck with a bolt from the deep.
The Lights Went out;
Witnesses state that the lights flickered on the Deepwater Horizon. Then a massive thud shook the vessel, followed by another strong vibration. Transocean employee Jim Ingram, a seasoned
offshore worker, told the U.K. Times that he was preparing for bed after working a 12-hour shift. ”On the second [thud],” said Mr. Ingram, “we knew something was wrong.” Indeed, something was very wrong.
Within a moment, a gigantic blast of gas, oil and drilling mud roared up through three miles of down-hole pipe and subsea risers. The fluids burst through the rig floor and ripped up into the gigantic draw-works. Something sparked. The hydrocarbons ignited. In a fraction of a second, the drilling deck of the Deepwater Horizon exploded into a fireball. The scene was an utter conflagration.
And here’s another extract: