Geology And Geophysics

How to contain an Offshore Oil Leak



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Since the Gulf oil disaster, we have all learned more about how to stop an offshore oil leak than we ever thought we needed to know. It seems that even the oil companies are learning new techniques and methods for fighting these calamitous events.

The first line of defense is the blowout preventer. When this has failed to close, the next step is to find out why, and what can be done to remedy the situation. Remote viewing cameras are used to check out the damaged or leaking area.

Debris and, or, concrete are sometimes pumped into the area, in an attempt to decrease the pressure and get the gushing under control.

Relief wells, which are the normal method of stopping the flow, can take months to drill, so there are several more solutions that can be tried in the meantime. While other techniques are being prepared, oil dispersants, that break up the oil in the water are sometimes applied, in an attempt to minimize the effect if the slicks should reach land.

In the Gulf, a huge box was constructed to place over the leak. This was somewhat of an experimental attempt, since it had never been tried at depths of several thousand feet. Unfortunately, the extreme cold caused ice crystals to form on the inside dome of the box, making it unusable. A smaller model was then brought in, which contained an antifreeze agent to prevent further freezing.

The last attempt that has proved helpful, is a line that was lowered to the leak, to siphon off the oil onto a tanker overhead. Hopefully, this will decrease the amount of lost oil, and its effects on the environment until a permanent solution is found.

Since offshore disasters of this caliber are extremely rare, many of the processes and the equipment to stop undersea oil flows are still in the experimental or trial stages. And, not all of the usual methods will work in all situations. How well each solution works pretty much depends on the individual circumstances and reasons for the spill, and the depth of the water. While the containment box might be the solution in more shallow and warmer areas, it proved useless at the depth of 5,000 feet.

There will be a rush in the coming months and years by scientists and inventors to come up with new and improved methods of damage control, for both the offshore rig and the environment.

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