The catastrophe now being caused by the blow-up a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has not received a catchy name in the mass media. Until something better comes along, I'm calling it "Spill Gate". However, it looks to me like the scandal that's generated this latest take-off on Watergate is going to empower President Obama just as much as Watergate disempowered President Nixon ... IF he takes the actions described in this article as a starting point and continues on to take effective action to deal with the catastrophe as it unfolds.
BP has just released its own explanation for the gulf oil rig blow-up, and it reminds me VERY much of the explanation for the Chernobyl disaster ... namely a test of safety equipment that backfired and caused the kind of accident the equipment was designed to prevent. IMO, this in itself is sufficient reason for the Obama Administration to issue an executive order calling for the immediate capping of all deep-water oil wells in U.S territorial waters, and for a second one calling for a complete government take-over of all BP facilities within U.S. jurisdiction. Both of these should be done "in the interests of national security", and I strongly urge all progressive-minded people who read this to e-mail both the President and their representatives in Congress, repeating what I just wrote in their own words.
Here is an excerpt from an AP news release summarizing the official BP statement:
Bubble of methane triggered rig blast
By NOAKI SCHWARTZ and HARRY R. WEBER, Associated Press Writers
Sat May 8, 3:18 am ET
ON THE GULF OF MEXICO The deadly blowout of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP's internal investigation.
While the cause of the explosion is still under investigation, the sequence of events described in the interviews provides the most detailed account of the April 20 blast that killed 11 workers and touched off the underwater gusher that has poured more than 3 million gallons of crude into the Gulf.
Portions of the interviews, two written and one taped, were described in detail to an Associated Press reporter by Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor who serves on a National Academy of Engineering panel on oil pipeline safety and worked for BP PLC as a risk assessment consultant during the 1990s. He received them from industry friends seeking his expert opinion.
A group of BP executives were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig celebrating the project's safety record, according to the transcripts. Meanwhile, far below, the rig was being converted from an exploration well to a production well.
Based on the interviews, Bea believes that the workers set and then tested a cement seal at the bottom of the well. Then they reduced the pressure in the drill column and attempted to set a second seal below the sea floor. A chemical reaction caused by the setting cement created heat and a gas bubble which destroyed the seal.
Deep beneath the seafloor, methane is in a slushy, crystalline form. Deep sea oil drillers often encounter pockets of methane crystals as they dig into the earth.
As the bubble rose up the drill column from the high-pressure environs of the deep to the less pressurized shallows, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers, Bea said.
"A small bubble becomes a really big bubble," Bea said. "So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face."
Up on the rig, the first thing workers noticed was the sea water in the drill column suddenly shooting back at them, rocketing 240 feet in the air, he said. Then, gas surfaced. Then oil.
"What we had learned when I worked as a drill rig laborer was swoosh, boom, run," Bea said. "The swoosh is the gas, boom is the explosion and run is what you better be doing."