Thursday, May 04, 2006

Save the ocean environment, build an oil rig?

Due to the lack of any appreciable amount of infrastructure to drive us towards using renewable energy in the near future we still have to turn to oil. Even if we were to move towards say a hydrogen energy econonmy, oil would still be needed to manufacture things like the computer that you use and the roads that you drive on.

The quickest fix for the American dependence on foreign oil (which many mistakingly believe it only comes from the middle east) is to increase oil recovery in it's own borders.

One such item is the oil rig. Oil rigs are the massive structures we see in movies and on television that float out on the water and drill for oil and/or natural gas. Yes, it is possible to have natural gas present in deep wells where oil cannot exist due to temperature and pressure. Oil rigs keep part of the process for energy off the shore and thus, out of the backyards of Americans who would rather not see such things. They are also vulnerable to the weather and other influences. (OK, truth be told these are actually oil platforms, pass it on).

The good news is that oil rigs do tend to attract quite a bit of aquatic life around them. The bad news is that they might have an accident or some leakage that will impact the surrounding area. The biggest threat is from the ships that deliver diesel fuel to the rigs. If one were to lose all of the diesel into the ocean that would be about 1800 bbl spill.

While there have been some rigs on foreign waters that have gone under for one reason or another, oil rigs are relatively safe in the long term. The Minerals Management Service, part of the US Department of the Interior, reports that there has not been a huge amount of spillage from a rig.
Since 1980, OCS operators have produced 4.7 billion barrels (bbl) of oil and spilled only 0.001 percent of this oil, or 1 bbl for every 81,000 bbl produced. In the last 15 years, there have been no spills greater than 1,000 bbl from an OCS platform or drilling rig. The spill risk related to a diesel spill from drilling operations is even less. During the 10-year period (1976-1985) in which data were collected, there were 80 reported diesel spills greater than one barrel associated with drilling activities, compared with 11,944 wells drilled, or a 0.7 percent probability of occurrence. For diesel spills greater than 50 bbls, only 15 spills have occurred, or a 0.1 percent probability.

The same site goes on to state that, in the Gulf, natural seepage from the oil wells is far greater than what is spilled into the ocean by humans.
Natural seepage of oil in the Gulf of Mexico (unrelated to natural gas and oil industry operations) is far more extensive. Researchers have estimated a natural seepage rate of about 120,000 bbl per year from one area (23,000 square kilometers) offshore of Louisiana.

Oil rigs are also getting smaller. Check out this DOE page about the R&D for platforms today.

That is not to say that the oil industry has not had it's share of accidents over the years, as this CNN article demonstrates. Also read about the Brazilian oil spill caused when an oil rig sunk.

To get an idea of what is involved in an oil spill and cleanup or if you want to demonstrate those concepts to another or even a young one, consider this activity.

The Mariner Group has a listing of oil spills from all sources, not just rigs.

However, oil rigs have been hit with very severe weather such as Hurricane Ivan and survived beyond all expectations. This has led to investigations to find out why so that future platforms can be safer, both for the people who live and work there and for the environment.

Speaking of safety, this website mentions a number of safety action items that is considered on an oil rig. Here is a description of an oil rig safety job. $80K per year shows that it is taken seriously.

Environmental impact:
Emissions from offshore oil and gas activities.

See also:
NOIA: About Offshore Oil and Gas
Howstuffworks: "How Oil Drilling Works"

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