May 27, 2010

Do you ever get the feeling that the Earth is screaming? That's what it feels like to me. Our short-sided policies and greed have already caused so much damage, and it's possible this time we've simply gone too far. Pray, cross your fingers, send good thoughts that this plug works:

If BP fails to plug its ruptured offshore oil well, intense underground pressure would be enough to pump vast quantities of thick brown crude into the Gulf of Mexico for months, even years.

If even BP’s backup plans fail, it would cause a pollution disaster "heretofore unseen by humanity," said one expert.

It is this rapidly accelerating realization that is giving BP’s attempt Wednesday to cap the well new political and environmental urgency.

The worst-case scenario is hoped and believed to be a continued flow of 5,000 barrels per day, and by some estimates vastly more, until August, when BP completes “relief wells” to intercept the damaged well.

But, experts say, there are no sure things when operating equipment a mile under the water and 13,000 feet below the ocean floor.

Professor Tad Patzek, who heads the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas-Austin, gives the relief well a 90 percent chance of success. But he’d rather not consider the other 10 percent.

“As a petroleum professional, I don’t even admit the possibility that that might be possible,” he said when asked about a failure to stop the flow. “That would be an environmental disaster of a caliber that was heretofore unseen by humanity.”

Patzek estimates at least 20,000 barrels of oil and an equal amount of gas would flow daily for years from the reservoir, which he estimates to hold roughly 50 million to 100 million barrels.

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