Corrente

If you have "no place to go," come here!

Oil FAIL: Fuzzy math

There seems to be a notable fuzziness about all the numbers; that's not a confidence builder. At best, they don't know; at worst, they're obfuscating. Via Reuters, on the mile-long siphoning tube:

The underwater operation used guided robots to insert a small tube into a 21-inch (53-cm) pipe, known as a riser, to funnel the oil to a ship at the surface.

"It's working as planned and we are very slowly increasing the rate that is coming from the riser tool up to the surface," BP senior executive vice president Kent Wells told reporters at BP's U.S. headquarters in Houston.

What does "slowly increasing the rate" mean? Can't they just put a flowmeter on the pipe and give us some data?

"[The tube] is a good step forward," said Satish Nagarajaiah, professor in civil and mechanical engineering at Rice University in Houston, but he said the siphon tool is unlikely to capture more than 15-20 percent of the oil.

15-20% of what? The flow rate numbers are as mushy as bailout numbers!

Estimates of the rate of escaping oil range widely from the official BP figure of 5,000 barrels per day (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters), adopted by the government, to 100,000 barrels (4.2 million gallons/15.9 million liters) per day.

But the technology to get a good estimate on the flow is proven and available from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. So why aren't we using it? Because the good estimate is most likely at the low end? I doubt it! And what about the methane? Isn't anybody at all measuring it? Why not?

And then there are the giant undersea plumes. Here's what the scientists say:

The New York Times and other media reported scientists had detected huge oil plumes -- large columns of concentrated oil moving beneath the ocean surface -- in the Gulf, indicating the leak could be worse than estimates by BP and the government.

But BP disagrees:

BP said it had no confirmation of such undersea oil plumes and its spokesman, Andrew Gowers, appeared to dismiss the reports as scientifically unlikely.

"It is my observation as a layman that oil is lighter than water and tends to go up," Gowers told reporters.

Gosh, who to believe? Scientists, or BP flaks? What does the administration think? Can't they arbitrate or something?

So far, not the team I want deciding whether to close off the well using nuclear weapons. Eh?

0
No votes yet

Comments

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

I mentioned that on an earlier thread. The oil fractionates as it goes up and the pressure changes. You'd expect the heavy, asphalt-like components to begin settling out. Because of the deep currents, you'd expect the heavy material to form plumes.

Plumes, plural, because I'm thinking that different components start settling at different depths. I don't know enough about oil to know whether the asphalt-y part is the only one ultimately heavier than water.

Submitted by hipparchia on

slowly increasing the rate means:

Crews will slowly ramp up how much it siphons over the next few days. They need to move slowly because they don't want too much frigid seawater entering the pipe, which could combine with gases to form the same ice-like crystals that doomed the previous containment effort.

unfortunately, you're going to have to accept at least some fuzziness. nobody really knows exactly what we're going to tap into when you drill into the bowels of the earth. you can make some really good guesses, and you can make some really good plans to deal with the associated problems, but you won't know for sure until things actually start happening.

to further complicate matters, you can't count on things staying the same once you think you understand what's happening. oil reservoirs are not nice, quiet, predictable, homogeneous containers of nice, quiet, predictable, homogeneous black liquid.

according to the above article, bp thinks they'll be able to get 'most of' the oil coming out of the well [no, this does not address the oil that's already 'in the wild' in the gulf] with this new method, and that's entirely possible. the profit motive at this point is reasonably well-aligned with environmental objectives -- don't let any more of that oil get out into the gulf.

of course, the media's mantra these days being to present two opposing sides of any story, someone has dug up an engineer who blithely predicts that this method will basically be another FAIL:

Satish Nagarajaiah, professor in civil and mechanical engineering at Rice University in Houston, said the installation of the siphon tool was “a good step forward” but that it is unlikely to capture more than 15% to 20% of the oil.

i have no clue who to believe more, since i'm not acquainted with any of the actors, and of course, these days, 'journalism' means never having to establish the credibility of your sources, so i can't rely on them to give me a clue either.

from conversations with actual people who have worked in the field, in situations sort of similar to this, i'm inclined to believe that this method has a chance of actually slowing the rate at which oil is escaping into the environment, but there are still plenty of other things that can go wrong, including the fact that if this 'fix' [always assuming this graphic is accurate, and that's probably a big if too] 'works' it will put a lot of strain on a damaged pipe that could then crack, leak, or break apart at any point[s] along its mile-long length.

votermom's picture
Submitted by votermom on

that made me laugh until my face ached.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

...but I cracked up on this one. TY!!!

Gosh, who to believe? Scientists, or BP flaks? What does the administration think? Can't they arbitrate or something?

So far, not the team I want deciding whether to close off the well using nuclear weapons. Eh?

I have got to stay more clued in to you, lambert! All I have been missing. :)