A Panel of Experts?

Jim Brown
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As the administrations panel of experts begins taking testimony about the Horizon disaster, BP finally upgraded the wellhead with a new connection that they claim will stop any oil from leaking into the gulf.

BP finally got around to doing something about the "top hat" containment system that had been leaking 50% of the oil flowing through it. BP had been capturing about 25,000 barrels per day but experts estimated there was another 25,000 bpd still leaking into the gulf. That top hat cap was removed at 1:37 PM on Saturday and robot vehicles spent the next 24 hours making preparations for the installation of the new system.

The broken flange that had been cut off from its collapsed riser several weeks ago was unbolted, a process that took several hours, and then replaced with a custom fit "connection spool" that weighed 30 tons and fit the flange on the blow out preventer perfectly. It was still being bolted on late Sunday night. Any construction effort done by robots under a mile of water takes a very long time.

The new attachment has a different connection on the top and another piece of equipment weighing 70 tons will be set down on this piece. The combination of parts will allow BP to attach up to four collection ships to process the oil. Plus the new connections will not leak any oil into the gulf. There is finally a professional solution and not something that was thrown together in an onboard machine shop overnight.

The new connection equipment at the surface will allow ships to quickly disconnect and leave the area if a storm arrives. If that happens the oil will be vented to the sea because they can't take a chance that sealing the oil flow would create enough backpressure to rupture the well and create an even bigger problem.

The first relief well is only 60-75 feet from the casing of the Macondo well and 190 feet from the bottom of the hole. If the containment system on the surface works as advertised it will take some pressure off the relief well crew and let them take extra special pains to get it right the first time. There were more comments out of BP today suggesting the well could be plugged before the end of July although mid August remains the official date.

The official presidential commission probing the oil spill will have its first meeting on Monday. Unfortunately the commission is already under attack. Republicans and democrats in Congress have questioned panel members competence and ideological leanings. They are complaining that NONE of the commissioners have any experience in petroleum engineering and several have spoken out strongly in the past against offshore drilling.

It would make sense to me that any specially appointed commission for a problem of this magnitude would have some experts in the field so they would know when someone was telling the truth and could decide what points were important and which were not. These people were appointed by President Obama and he is supposedly going to put their recommendations into law. I see a huge problem with this process since they have no experience and are already against offshore drilling.

The seven members of the presidential commission appointed to investigate the Gulf oil disaster:

William K. Reilly, cochairman; former head of the EPA and the World Wildlife Fund; founding partner of a private-equity fund that invests in renewable energy.

Bob Graham, co-chairman; former Florida governor and U.S. senator; heads a public-policy think tank at the University of Florida.

Frances Beinecke, president, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Donald Boesch, biological oceanographer, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

Terry Garcia, attorney, executive at the National Geographic Society.

Cherry Murray, physicist, dean, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Frances Ulmer, chancellor, University of Alaska Anchorage, former Alaska lieutenant governor.

I am sure you see the challenges in that list above. EPA, World Wildlife Fund, Maryland Center for Environmental Science, National Geographic Society. This is a very green list and they are going to make technical policy for oil drillers?

Ms Beinecke, in an editorial on May 27th, blamed the Horizon accident on America's addiction to oil and called for broadening the drilling ban to cover all offshore drilling in any depth. Sounds like a really impartial panel member.

Co-Chairman William Reilly said, "the panel intends to examine the "organizational characteristics" of the companies, the industry and the government regulators involved, and "the culture that may have induced the decisions" that contributed to the accident. Is this a one-off event (caused by) a series of bad decisions" or evidence of broader "systemic issues" in the industry?

They are going to listen to testimony from fishermen and people on the gulf coast who have been impacted by the tragedy including state and local officials. They might even take testimony from industry officials.

I seriously doubt this is going to end well.

Jim Brown

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