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In the northern hemisphere, the longest day arrives,  a summer of discontent begins.   Jimmy Buffet’s aging Tequila Sunset is laced now with bitters too harsh to drink.  The Gulf of Mexico, littered with oil rigs, now begins to drown in the malfunctions of our society, the poisons of our “free market capitalism” now lapping the beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida, and soon to curl with the loop current by Key West and up the American Atlantic coast.  “Beyond Petroleum” BP, unable to hide the ever more awful truths, now concedes its original claims that 5,000 barrels a day of thick oil and gas were belching from its blown Deepwater Horizon well, is actually 100,000 – a factor of 20 off. Goop chokes the marshlands, gums up the pristine white beaches, and glazes the ocean surface awaiting the next element, the coming hurricane season.  Far beneath the surface a cocktail of oil, deep-sea pressures and Corexit spreads toxins ever further throughout the complex ecological system of the gulf, suffocating life from the smallest plankton, to the more visible dolphins, turtles, myriad fish, and along the way the human livelihoods of those who work and live in the region.   At the shore, the rich tapestry of marsh, bayou, tide-land, and its bounty of bird, fish, crab, oyster, and the vivid culture that it birthed, all heaves under the weight of 30 billion year old organics rising from 3 miles beneath the earth’s crust thanks to the hubris of a giant corporation pursuing ever greater profits.

This story already has all the heft of an ancient tragedy, and it has hardly even begun.  Leaking incrementally, as did the original BP and government words as to the scope of this “spill,” the oozing reality is daily made more explosive, as was the originating well blow-out, ripe with the potential of a truly Biblical deluge of catastrophic proportions.   British Petroleum, instinctively of course lied, falsifying and trying to cover its tracks, in collusion with Federal and local government authorities, in an attempt to minimize the damages to itself.  But while it could say there were “only” 5,000 barrels a day gushing from the sea floor, it could not hide the reality of 100,000 barrels a day that were actually erupting from its blasted well-head.   Not even all the Corexit it applied in its attempt to break up and dissolve the thick sulphur laden goop rushing out could work to mask the enormity of its error, as masses of oil far beyond its control to hide or gather or burn came forth, a prophetic damnation the end of which is not now visible.  In the face of this, Tony Hayward, the inside man, 30 years working up the ranks of BP, bumbled, seemingly incapable of perceiving the enormity of  this incident.   Following a Congressional hearing and a meeting with President Obama, he went back to “his life” and attended a sailing race in the UK, to see his boat “Bob” come in fourth.

Tony Hayward’s boat, Bob, in the J. P. Morgan yacht race off the Isle of Wight

At the further, but plausible, end of the spectrum of the possible denouements contained in the blow-out are scenarios truly horrific, equal to the literary circles of Dante’s hell.    Within the oil industry it is assumed, on the basis of information available, that in the blow-out, the actual two mile long hole drilled to carry the oil to the surface was broken, and the oil, under a pressure of 100,000 psi, is rushing now outside the containment which was intended to carry it, in such force to excavate an ever larger opening to rush to the sea-floor surface and then into the waters of the gulf.  It is logically speculated that these immense forces have fractured the layers of sedimentary rocks and sands, and now leaks, out of control or possible control, gouging out a cavity which will in some time (weeks or months) let loose a giant balloon of highly compressed methane gas.  Should this erupt from its deep time capsule, expanding exponentially in its rise through the ever-lesser pressures of the sea, it would incur an expansion of highly inflammable gas producing a massive explosion, raining a genuinely apocalyptic fire of destruction upon the entire region, accompanied with a vast tsunami, washing cliff-scale waves upon the placid gentle slopes of the beaches, tide-lands, and shoreline from Louisiana to Florida, much of which is only feet above sea-level, and beyond.   Such is the physically plausible consequence of what is and was known of the geological formation which British Petroleum sought to tap.

Botticelli version of Dante’s Circles of  Hell

As this diagram shows, in the process of drilling a hole is made, which is then encased in steel and concrete sheaths, through which the oil/gas is to be guided.  In the Deepwater Horizon blow-out apparently a bubble of high-pressure methane, which was known to be in the area being tapped, along with oil, blew out the preventer, and went to the deck of the drilling rig, exploding, instantly killing 11 workers, and setting the rig on fire.   In the blow-out it is likely that some of the steel piping was also shot out, and the walls of the well were compromised, allowing gas/oil to escape to the outside of the well, under high pressures, and eating out the area to the sides of the well shaft, thus providing a path for the entire oil/gas deposit to exit, with no controls.  The original estimate of the Maconda deposit was in the area of 50 million barrels of oil, of which 40% is methane.  Methane is a severe greenhouse-effect gas.

The official current scenario is that BP will, through various systems, capture 90% of the escaping oil/gas, and sometime in August one of the two relief wells being drilled will pump heavy mud and concrete into the well shaft and seal the well.    The official scenario not long ago asserted the well was releasing 5,000 barrels per day, which was then upped to 25,000, then 60K and now is estimated as 100K.  This expansion in numbers would fit all too well with the worst-case scenario described above, although it also fits with a BP/government effort to cook-the-numerical-books to make this look less catastrophic at the outset.

In his address to the nation on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, President Obama ended with an appeal to prayer. It is speculated by our pundits that he did so to toss a bone to the regional inclination towards evangelical Christian beliefs.  If so, it will be no small irony that an area enamored of SUV’s, Nascar, and the belief that the earth is only 6,000 years old, and that the myriad instances of geological evidence of billions of years of earth’s existence – which 30 million years ago commenced with what became the Maconda area field – are merely elaborate tricks played by an unforgiving god to foil the unbeliever, would be rendered asunder by a catastrophe fully fitting the description of being Biblical in its dimensions.   Whether this worst case scenario plays out in a vast explosion of fire followed with a deluge of an oil drenched tsunami is played out, or a lesser one of millions of barrels of oil and gas let loose into the Gulf of Mexico, whipped by hurricanes, and then set to drift into the Atlantic, with all the ecological and social and economic destruction implicit, the summer promises to be dangerously hot not only physically, but psychically as well.

Gustav Dore’s 4th Circle of Hell

Whether such a lesson in hubris will, in the rabid climate of American politics in this time, provide a grim but evidently necessary lever to force our society into fully re-thinking its place on the planet – its ethics, its morals, and how to organize our individual and collective (that awful word!) lives in a manner more properly accommodating to our earth – remains to be seen.   It seems likely that something near the worst-case scenario described here will be the only thing which will awake Americans out of their stupor and force a change.   As seen in the inanities of our political classes, through all our narrow “capitalism only” political spectrum, it would seem only a cataclysmic event of these proportions would shake our culture to its foundations and provoke a serious re-evaluation of how we construct our small place on this small globe in our universe.

The sun, a small star which is the sustenance of our lives

“The ultimate Gulf disaster, however, would make even those historical horrors pale by comparison. If the huge methane bubble breaches the seabed, it will erupt with an explosive fury similar to that experienced during the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens in the Pacific Northwest. A gas gusher will surge upwards through miles of ancient sedimentary rock—layer after layer—past the oil reservoir. It will explode upwards propelled by 50 tons psi, burst through the cracks and fissures of the compromised sea floor, and rupture miles of ocean bottom with one titanic explosion.

The burgeoning methane gas cloud will surface, killing everything it touches, and set off a supersonic tsunami with the wave traveling somewhere between 400 to 600 miles per hour.

While the entire Gulf coastline is vulnerable, the state most exposed to the fury of a supersonic wave towering 100 feet or more is Florida. The Sunshine State only averages about 6 inches above sea level. A supersonic tsunami would literally sweep away everything from Miami to the panhandle in a matter of minutes. Loss of human life would be virtually instantaneous and measured in the millions. Of course the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and southern region of Georgia—a state with no Gulf coastline—would also experience tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of casualties.”

From a curious website. For a thread challenging this worst-case scenario see this at TheOilDrum.

For more information see and see this by Rob Kall. And this from Naomi Klein in the UK Guardian.   And an in-depth NYTimes article on the BOP and related problems.

[And this, from Kall again, suggesting the worst-case scenario is wrong. On the other hand, today’s (June 26) news reports a tropical storm shaping up in the Caribbean, in which case Deepwater Horizon’s salvaging would be halted, the oil flow would be uninhibited 5-10 days, and of course there’s many more anticipated such storms to come this season: expect some hard rains with rainbow oil-sheen hues and god knows what on the beaches, tide-lands, etc. of the Gulf, whether there’s a methane belch tsunami or not, it’s shaping up to be a truly apocalyptic mess down south.]

One Comment

  1. Just wondering if this catastrophic oil surge (the truth is, we can’t call it a “spill” any longer, can we?) were to suddenly make land in the Hamptons, what then? Imagine the inhabitants of those two hundred thousand dollar per week summer rentals and forty million dollar homes, the miles of glistening beachfront, prize-winning vineyards, all compromised by the appearance of black gold lapping at the shoreline. The irony would be rich, as rich as crude sludge: fortunes made in the market, betting on this stuff, now it is, right in their noses! It will probably take a crack in the floor of the gulf, methane explosions and tsunamis to shake us from our sleep of reason and the monsters it breeds.

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