Friday, March 25, 2011

Deepwater Oil Spills and Nuclear Meltdowns will continue due to lax of safety regulators? (Rachel Maddow)

Last nights Rachel Maddow Show featured a jaw-dropping piece of exclusive investigative reporting where the take-away is we can only expect more oil spills and nuclear accidents because the regulators are refusing to regulate. What follows is over 20 minutes of video bouncing back and forth between the Deepwater Horizon oil spill from last year, and this years nuclear meltdown accident at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. Oh, and along the way there are several phrases used that abbreviate to B.P. for some reason.

She makes a very interesting analogy with air bags. They which don't make cars safer, but limits the damage if accidents occur. Government regulations require that car makers must include effective air bags because they've been proven to increase survival rates and they've been proven to work.

The analogy is between air bags, blowout preventers, and the diesel backup power system at the nuke plant which should have kept the plant from overheating. In all three cases they are backup safety systems which, if they work correctly, are to limit the damage if an accident occurs.

We see every day on the roads that air bags work - because, unfortunately, car accidents happen so often that it's not even news. We saw last year with the oil spill what happens when the blowout preventer does not work. And we see this year what happens when the nuclear plant cooling system fails because the backup power system fails.

What has Rachel's hair on fire is information in an initial report made by DET NORSKE VERITAS who, under a Coast Guard contract, studied the blowout preventer from the Deep Horizon well. The report goes over the likely cause of the accident, leading to the explosion, death of drilling crew, and the oil spilled which poisoned the Gulf of Mexico. (the report is linked below)

The information? It's her reading that the report finds that blowout preventers simply cannot work. It's bad enough that studies have shown they fail 40% of the time, but when it's in an accident situation where it really needs to work it simply won't do the job of closing off the well.

Further - the U.S. Government is in a process of rapid approval of drilling permits. She says they've approved at least 5 permits this month alone. FWIW A couple weeks ago President Obama held a press conference in which he talked about having approved many drilling permits as proving that his Administration is not putting themselves in the way of expanding oil drilling (see: Pres. Obama talks about petroleum reserves, energy security and resiliency, Obama's plan for energy security and the green economy, Obama proposes nuclear power expansion while Japan has nuclear crisis).

The thing about this is that on that the government knows very well that the blowout preventer doesn't work, that the basic riskness of this situation has not changed, so why the heck is the government approving any oil drilling permits?

Part of her proof she cites is that among the approved permits is one for Noble Energy, Noble essentially being BP (the oil giant whose oil well blew up last year). The safety plan Noble filed dates from Sept 2009, meaning that the government cannot be doing much to insist that these oil companies change their practices if the plan they accepted was written before the most recent oil drilling accident.

With the nuclear accident they (scientists and governments) are claiming that "they" will be "learning from this" and "applying lessons learned" to better safety standards in the future. With this as an example of what really happens, can we really expect that anything will actually be learned? I expressed this doubt a couple days ago: This world doesn't have to become an uninhabitable nuclear radiation poisoned wasteland

It's clear from a quick glance over the report (linked below) that it's an extensive study, and that it's not quite as simple as blowout preventers cannot work. It does say "forces from the flow of the well pushed the tool joint into the Upper Annular element" and "created a fixed point arresting further upward movement of the drill pipe" and "Forces from the flow of the well induced a buckling condition on the portion of drill pipe between the Upper Annular and Upper VBRs" and "drill pipe deflected until it contacted the wellbore just above the BSRs" and "the drill pipe was positioned such that the outside corner of the upper BSR blade contacted the drill pipe slightly off center of the drill pipe cross section" and "a portion of the drill pipe cross
section became trapped between the ram block faces, preventing the blocks from fully closing and sealing
" and "trapping of the drill pipe would have occurred regardless of which means initiated the closure of the BSRs".

In other words - a pipe dislodged itself getting trapped and kept the system from fully closing. Because the blowout preventer didn't close the oil of course kept leaking out. I didn't read far enough to see if her claim (that the blowout preventer was unable to work at all) is true.

Video below.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comment box below.

Deep Water Oil Drilling permits issued with no lessons learned

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Bob Cavanaugh - oil industry veteran

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