Atmosphere And Weather

Hurricane Alex Disrupted Oil Cleanup



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For the past several days, Hurricane Alex disrupted oil cleanup operations in the Gulf of Mexico, potentially worsening the already sure to be devastating environmental consequences of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Fortunately, the hurricane did not cross directly over the site of the damaged well (and the relief wells still being drilled), and so, after several days of disruptions, halted cleanup operations are now beginning to restart again.

As this Helium article explains, the threat posed by hurricanes to the delicate relief operation is potentially a very serious one. Sites that monitor the cleanup effort carefully, like The Oil Drum, regularly monitor the weather as well, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has produced a fact sheet on the subject for the public. In short, any hurricane passing through the area will produce large swells that move the oil, dispersing it but also carrying it into new areas of the ocean and potentially driving it ashore. Where the winds or the waves they produce are severe enough, oil cleanup operations have to be suspended. This includes at the site of the damaged well itself: ships would have to evacuate before an approaching hurricane, and their work would be, at the very least, delayed.

Hurricane Alex was the first threat of the 2010 hurricane season. Fortunately, Alex came nowhere close to the actual drill site. Nevertheless, its swells did have an impact on cleanup operations. According to news coverage, more oil was blown ashore in Louisiana, while harsh weather conditions forced cleanup work off that state as well as Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. Disruptions were covered in greater detail by National Geographic and by the popular science magazine Discover. In high seas, it is too dangerous for many of the small boats to venture out to boom up oil, and in stormy weather it is also risky to send out crews to clean the shoreline.

Still, so long as a hurricane is far away, the disruptions are comparatively minor. As National Geographic noted, those shrimp boats capable of braving the higher swells still ventured out to gather up oil. At the well site, the productivity of the oil recovery operation diminished, but the larger ships present fortunately did not have to evacuate and were still capable of remaining operational in the inclement conditions. On the Fourth of July weekend, the media reported that stalled recovery efforts were restarting.

For the moment, then Hurricane Alex disrupted oil cleanup but only in relatively modest ways. Nevertheless, it should be seen as a warning signal of what is still to come. The next hurricane - or the one after that - may follow a more dangerous course. And even if it does not, oil continues to gush from the shattered well. And, ultimately, the dead zone that is produced by this spill is likely to be of horrifying dimensions.

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.helium.com/items/1879405-hurricanes-threat-to-bp-oil-spill
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.theoildrum.com
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2010/06/30/gulf-mexico-oil-spill-hurricane-alex.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/06/100630-hurricane-alex-gulf-oil-spill-cleanup-nation-business/
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/07/01/hurricane-alex-held-up-oil-cleanup%E2%80%94and-in-some-places-made-things-worse/
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.calgaryherald.com/news/Louisiana+resumes+spill+skimming+after+hurricane+Alex/3235701/story.html