Vacuuming up the oil Spill, Part II

Vice-President Joe Biden, last night, talking to Charlie Rose:

“BP is not in charge. The federal government, the president of the United States, is in charge.”

Now, check out this video of Keith Olbermann talking to former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister:

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Yesterday I wrote about the notion
of engaging supertankers and vacuuming up the oil from the surface of the Gulf.

I made it very clear that I had no idea if such a thing was truly feasible; engineer friends and family had suggested to me that it was. One of them even went into a bit of detail about how the water would be removed from the oil, once collected.

Reader Sarah sends along this piece from Esquire’s The Politics Blog, and the reading is extremely interesting, as are the updated links and attached videos:

There’s a potential solution to the Gulf oil spill that neither BP, nor the federal government, nor anyone — save a couple intuitive engineers — seems willing to try. As The Politics Blog reported on Tuesday in an interview with former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, the untapped solution involves using empty supertankers to suck the spill off the surface, treat and discharge the contaminated water, and either salvage or destroy the slick.

Hofmeister had been briefed on the strategy by a Houston-based environmental disaster expert named Nick Pozzi, who has used the same solution on several large spills during almost two decades of experience in the Middle East — who says that it could be deployed easily and should be, immediately, to protect the Gulf Coast. That it hasn’t even been considered yet is, Pozzi thinks, owing to cost considerations, or because there’s no clear chain of authority by which to get valuable ideas in the right hands. But with BP’s latest four-pronged plan remaining unproven, and estimates of company liability already reaching the tens of billions of dollars (and counting), supertankers start to look like a bargain.

UPDATE (May 27): Obama Glances Over Supertanker Question as BP, Coast Guard Fail to Respond

UPDATE (May 26): The Pragmatic Oil Spill Fix That BP’s Still Waiting On

<a hreUPDATE (May 24): Sources Say BP Looking Beyond ‘Top Kill’ with Supertanker Fix

UPDATE (May 21): Why the Supertanker Fix Works at Depth… but the Government Won’t Listen”

The suck-and-salvage technique was developed in desperation across the Arabian Gulf following a spill of mammoth proportions — 700 million gallons — that has until now gone unreported, as Saudi Arabia is a closed society, and its oil company, Saudi Aramco, remains owned by the House of Saud. But in 1993 and into ’94, with four leaking tankers and two gushing wells, the royal family had an environmental disaster nearly sixty-five times the size of Exxon Valdez on its hands, and it desperately needed a solution.

Do read the whole piece, and all of the updates. With the second update you can access about 4 1/2 minutes of the May 25th Olbermann/Hofmeister discussion, below which Mark Warren writes:

We have had conversations with people who have had significant careers in energy who have speculated that it need not be a strategy that is confined to surface collection, but by using powerful pumps and “smart pipe” could be utilized at various depths to retrieve the spreading oil. Should someone not test this hypothesis immediately? This is not a solution that ought to wait for further data, or study. Can anyone argue that it would be less effective than the current skimming and burning operations that have not prevented the ruination of delicate and vital Lousiana marshland? And that is just the beginning, and does not even contemplate the long-term deleterious effects that the oil and the chemical dispersants will have on life in a body of water that is so important to life and commerce along one of the most populous coastlines anywhere. And as goes the Gulf Coast, so goes America.

On May 27th–Memorial Day weekend–Jake Tapper reported that 17 nations have offered assistance with this crisis:

At yesterday’s State Department briefing, spokesman P.J. Crowley updated reporters on the offers of international assistance the Department has received to help with the oil spill in the Gulf.

He said the U.S. has received offers to assist from 17 countries . . . The countries are: Canada, Mexico, Korea, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Vietnam.

Though the State Department receives the offers, it is BP and the Unified Area Command, led by the Coast Guard, that are the entities that decide which offers to accept. So far, the UAC has accepted skimmers and booms offered by Mexico and Norway. He deferred questions as to why only those offers had been accepted so far to the UAC in Louisiana.

Crowley did not have much information on what each country was specifically offering besides saying, “technical things, skimmers, booms, you know in some cases expertise.” He said most of the offers came in the weeks after the spill.

So, BP is in charge, then? BP is refusing help from all but two nations?

But I thought the president was in charge; this crisis is occurring in a federal jurisdiction. During Katrina, people excoriated President Bush for not overstepping his bounds by bringing the feds in before the local and state governments did their work. President Obama has no such restrictions on him. Why isn’t he helping Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal expedite the damn paperwork through bureaucratic channels, so he can build his berms? Why isn’t he telling BP, “what do you mean, you accepted so little help?”

17 nations offered help with “technical things and in some cases expertise.” I’m thinking Russia and the UAE might have quite a bit of expertise to lend.

The Political Blog is clearly rooting for the president over “fools” like Maureen Dowd; they are being very patient with Obama, but they are still pushing for the supertankers.

Since we have Joe Biden on record stating that the President of the United States, and not BP, is “in charge” of this situation, isn’t it time to ask the President why his leadership seems to preclude utilizing the “expertise” of countries who have dealt with drilling and spill issues? If the supertanker idea is as feasible as it seems, why is the President sitting on it? Doesn’t he want to collect this oil before it kills sealife? Doesn’t he want to prevent the oil from reaching our shores?

Yesterday, Governor Jindal lost his temper with the process-obsessed federal government:

“We didn’t need another meeting. We didn’t ask for another meeting. On Friday with the President we were very clear, it’s not the process that interests us it’s the outcome . . . there were a lot of professors there.”

Unembeddable video here.

There are always a lot of professors and bureaucrats buzzing about from with this administration, but not many people who have actually done things.

For the record, I don’t think a president should listen to Maureen Dowd either, or to fools like me for that matter. He has much more knowledgeable people trying to give him sound advice, though; in the case of John Hofmeister, and possibly others, he has access to people who actually know how to do things.

Why does it seem like he is not interested in hearing them?

How Washington just worsened the Oil Spill

Hey, Obama, how do those words taste?
Ed Morrissey: BP Shears Pipe; Could have leak mostly stopped, today
Neo-neocon says Obama is rewarded for not leading and links to similar thoughts
Michelle Malkin: Long Hot Summer of Corruption

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • Aimee

    The line in the Political Blog piece about Obama being raised by white people in Kansas, thus his lack of emotional range, gave me a chuckle.

  • Feeney

    Bush was not responsible for the HURRICANE and Obama is not responsible for the OIL SPILL. Anyone who listens to these media drama queens is a SAP!

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  • Mutnodjmet


    • During his time in the Senate and while running for president, Obama received a total of $77,051 from the oil giant and is the top recipient of BP PAC and individual money over the past 20 years, according to Politico.

    • Last year, Obama administration’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) awarded the rig for its safety history, according to Beacon.

    • A detailed review of the records conducted by The Associated Press indicates that the MMS, which was responsible for ensuring that the Deepwater Horizon was operating , didn’t make the required checks on the unit.

    Related Links: More by Leslie | A More Perfect Union | Politics

    • A Interior department report shows that MMS employees (including some inspect offshore oil rigs—accepted sporting-event tickets and other goodies from oil and natural-gas companies, according to The Wall Street Journal.

    I thought the premise of having federal regulates oversee “evil corporations” is that they would….actually oversee “evil corporations”.

  • Momma K

    “Obama is not responsible for the oilspill”
    Actually, yes he is, his administration is in charge and have stopped the states from attempting to clean this up–he and big government need to get out of the way.

    This is a preview of your healthcare.

  • Portones

    Not all help or suggestions should be accepted out of hand.

    Baby out with the bathwater category:
    “Nuke the gusher. Russia (might have done) did it in the 60′s and it worked” … maybe. Oh good grief! Do I really need to discuss likely collateral damage to the environment and possible catastrophes? I’d much rather wait till mid-August for the relief/kill wells to do the job.

    Been there, done that, didn’t work last time:
    Cleaning rocky beaches after Exxon Valdez spill made beaches pretty, but the high pressure water scouring of those beaches resulted in more damage. Uncleaned beaches recovered quicker. Beaches looked prettier to begin with, but wasn’t really the thing to do. I worry that armies of pepple zipping around in atv’s on Louisiana beaches and marshes might be causing significant damage. Doing such activity only for the purpose “doing something”, and as back drop for V.I.P. visits isn’t right. I am not saying to do nothing, but think the ideas through people!

    Look at previous spills that might be a guide:
    I feel a little guilty speaking of the Exxon Valdez above, because that involved a different climate (colder), a heavier crude, and a vastly different ecosystem. A more applicable disaster would be the Ixtoc 1 blowout in 1979 in the bay of Campeche (southern Gulf of Mexico). The well went 10 months before a relief well finally killed it. There was horrible oiling of Mexican shores, and oiling of about 170 mi of Texas shores. Seems like I remember a Norwegian company being involved in the cleanup. We should definitely expend all effort in stopping the current Deepwater Horizon gusher and in cleaning up the spill. We should prepare for the worst. However the MUCH larger Ixtoc 1 spill was not the long-term catastrophe that scientists initially thought was inevitable. In about two years populations of organisms in beach sand (which seve as food for birds, crabs, etc) waere almost back to normal. In six years later it was hard to find any evidence of the oil.

    Experience from Ixtoc 1 should be used for this spill cleanup. Some lessons have been used, I’m sure. The Louisiana marshland is largely something not involved in Ixtoc 1, and therefore reperesents a new challenge in the cleanup. I think the best scenario for marshes is to do everything possible to prevent oiling. Beaches can be cleaned. Marshes cannot. Sand barrier islands favored by Jindal may help shield entrances to marshes.

    Sorry for the rambling, I could go on … The posturing, shallow emoting, and non accomplishment of some media and politicians frustrates me.

  • Sarah

    As I understand it, after the Exxon Valdez disaster there were a set of laws passed by Congress, the last in 94, which basically made the Coast Guard responsible for oil mishaps clean up on water. The oil companies were shielded from liability to a max of $75 million, in return for paying a per barrel tax of something like 8 cents a barrel. By the time of this spill the fund had $1.5 billion in it. This was supposed to be used to pay for the clean up.

    Now, I don’t know why I have heard none of this in the MSM. Of course, it makes the Obama admin responsible for the clean up.

  • mysterian1729

    yes, they can. there is a guy in houston whose business model is to do exactly that and sell the recovered oil. He claimed he can recover oil as far down a 200 ft below the surface. I heard him on the drive in this morning but can’t remember his company.

  • Sarah P.

    It’s obvious the administration is dragging it’s feet on clean-up because the president WANTS this spill to be as big a disaster as possible—so he and his greenie ecozealots can use it as an excuse to ram cap-and-trade, etc. through! Remember: Never let a crisis go to waste!

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  • Dr. K

    I am a Chem E with almost 25 years experience in the Chemicals sector. I once worked for Mobil Chemical. You can bet BP has put out a call to other majors for assistance, but they have kept it quiet. Because you don’t need to know. And the other majors are willing to help on the QT but don’t want to be associated with it.

    In addition, please look at:


    Here there are almost 2000 teams of concerned people willing to offer solutions for free. Note the date of the posting – 30 April 2010. There are truly some very bright and dedicated people working on this and I’d wager they are as frustrated that they cannot come up with a solution.

    And I’d guess that those peole have a bit more on the ball than a fricking movie director.

    As for the supertanker vacuums: It may have been looked at. However, the ships are probably not designed to hold a vacuum and they would likely collapse. Besides, they are in short supply. If even one were diverted to assist, it would disrupt the world oil delivery system and soon you would be seeing $5/gal gas.

    Which brings up another interesting issue. Recently, gas prices have been falling. Typically with disasters of this magnitude prices would be going through the roof. I would guess that we have not seen a price spike because the well had not been brought into production when it failed, so there was no panic as to supply disruption.

  • P. Buchta

    Dr. K:

    I agree with you. BP has gone to the point of soliciting ideas from the public and educational institutions. This was not generally made public either.

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  • bill-tb

    Never let a crisis go to waste … Cap and Trade.

    You think I am kidding, wait for it …

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  • langoley

    But at this point NOBAMA is responsible for the disaster in the gulf!!! Especially what is happening to Ala,Fla,and Miss,because if he had listened to Mr. Pozzi who was the ENGINEER for Shell who came up with the TANKER/SUCTION method in early MAY when the oil could have been contained easily!OOH,and lets not forget,they were supposed to stop using the dispersants!!Not only are they maling people sick,but it is keeping the oil SUSPENDED BELOW THE SURFACE of the waves!You ask what the problem with that is,now we have GIANT PLUMES OF OIL 20 miles long,6 miles wide and 3000 feet deep floating toward the ATLANTIC that are hard to track,but would be a GREAT CANDIDATE for the Tanker Recovery Method!!! BTW,why does BP need to “rent” tankers?Just do a little digging,they OWN 57 tankers ofvarious sizes,mabye the US Coast Guard should just commandeer a few.