Atmosphere And Weather

Hurricanes Threat to Bp Oil Spill



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In more than one sense, the Gulf of Mexico was one of the worst places in the ocean to suffer a massive oil spill. Already beaches, fisheries, and conservation areas face devastation. However, as hurricane season approaches, yet another threat is becoming apparent: namely, what will happen if a hurricane passes over the oil slick?

The Deepwater Horizons oil spill is the largest oil spill in human history, and easily the largest drilling rig failure as well, which means that it is difficult to actually predict what the conesquences would be if a hurricane passed over it. We literally have no real foundation to make predictions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released a fact sheet on the current state of knowledge about hurricanes and oil slicks, in which it concludes that there valid reasons to believe that the effects of an oil slick might actually reduce the strength of a hurricane, but that it is more likely the hurricane's progress will be mostly unaffected.

Instead, there are two greater fears which relate to what the hurricane will do with the oil on the surface. The first of these relates to what may happen if the hurricane passes over oiled waters, and the second relates to what may happen if the winds affect the drill site directly.

The first is, of course, the more likely: the Gulf of Mexico is large enough and hurricanes comparatively small enough that the worst winds of a given storm are unlikely to strike a given region. However, with the oil spill still growing, it is much more likely that at least some oiled waters will be caught up in the maelstrom. If so, the hurricane will probably take the oil with it - be this farther out to sea, closer to the coast, or even inland. Of course, there is no way to know where a hurricane could blow the oil until we spot a particular hurricane angling toward the oil patch. However, according to NOAA, storm surges "may carry oil into the coastline and as far inland as the surge reaches." Moreover, storms and high waves would do even more to carry oil past the already faltering networks of booms which stretch along vulnerable coastlines. According to The Oil Drum, even the waves thrown up by Hurricane Alex caused considerable difficulties for booming and skimming operations.

All of this is fear-inspiring - but no more so than what could happen if the drill site itself comes under threat. (This seems unlikely, but then, so did Hurricane Katrina striking New Orleans.) Given sufficient warning, the ships currently working on oil recovery and relief drilling will have no choice but to stop work and probably to get out of the way, at least temporarily. In the meantime, more could go wrong at the site - or, in the best case, there could simply be delays. It goes without saying that both the original damaged well and the relief wells are fairly sensitive places right now, and that the less that happens to disrupt operations, the better, and the more quickly the spill can be stopped.

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://response.restoration.noaa.gov/book_shelf/2076_hurricanes_oil.pdf
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.theoildrum.com/node/6674