We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Capt. Tom, an ex-Schlumberger oil rig engineer, offers this explanation in reaction to our photo of a blowout preventer:
Just in case anybody is interested, a blow out preventer of the type used on Deepwater Horizon relies on three major methods of stopping the flow - two hydraulic and one manual which, in theory, is supposed to be done with ROVs. The reason is that oil is under pressure at all times from either natural gas or pressure from the surrounding rock or salt strata (normal depth pressures). Pressure on land can reach as high as 6,000 psi, under water (at the depth of Deepwater Horizon's well head) it can reach as much as 3,800 psi. Remember the old films of "oil gushers"? That's why the oil was spraying everywhere.
There are two basic types of valves - one called a ram valve and the other is called an annular valve. The ram valve is exactly that - a ram powered by hydraulics or mechanically that shuts off the flow of oil. Think of these as "pinchers". The annular valve is a rubber/steel device that is actuated in the same fashion as the ram valve, but creates a better seal. They can be set for different operating pressures.
In the case of the Deepwater Horizon's well head, the preventer worked partially meaning that the ram/annular system hydrauics worked, but some as yet unknown reason, didn't close all the way. The manual systems were rendered inoperative when the rig collapsed.
There is a fourth way to close a preventer which is usually required on all deep water projects - an acoustic actuator on one of the mechanical valves. When this preventer was built, the Mineral Materials Service waived the requirement for an acoustic actuator which it has for quite a while under pressure from the oil industry. The acoustic actuator is required by most other oil producing countries.
In the picture of the preventer, what you are seeing with all those pipes and valves are the various types of ram/annular actuators.
The problem with Deepwater Horizon is that the pipe leading to the surface collapsed when the rig collapsed. On the videos where you see the leak, that is actually at the top of the preventer - the pipe that leads to the surface.
Tom Francis ,,, Aha -- another oil field friend out here among Maggies' commenters. Immediately after the well blow-out, the Wall St. Journal had mentioned the acoustic choke or actuator as an effective safety device, but I had been unable to determine whether BP had installed one of those as a 'last resort' safety device. Evidently the MMS allowed them not to install one. Another mistake, this time a Baddie. The Wall Street Journal has two or three articles this morning about the present state of control [or non-control] of this disaster.
I have been troubled by Fox News' mis-statements about the ultimate safety solution -- the relief well or wells. Because they would not be completed until August, the media have been quite scornful about their effectiveness. And then they drone on about the well leaking and soiling our Gulf coast for years. Rubbish. Relief wells have been an effective solution to underwater well leaks for many years, as you, my friend, know. Sure, they take awhile to finish and put into action. But August is looking closer all the time, and it certainly isn't "years" away.
The other thing that has not been covered is the fact that this well is producing "light, sweet crude" which contains many elements which are volatile and will disperse by themselves into the atmosphere. The Prince William Sound tanker leak held 30-weight "heavy" crude, loaded with asphalt and other persistent elements. It was probably far tougher to clean up after than this spill will be.
These comments are partially from my husband, Downs Matthews, the official historian of the Exxon Valdez spill, as well as from me, the Historian's Wife, who missed him during the many months he was up in Alaska.
Just a tip, my friends ... if an oil soaked bird, or a sea otter waddles up to you and says "help me," the Valdez workers found that Dawn detergent was the best, most effective cleanser of feathers and fur. Sea Otters are powerful animals -- weigh about 70 pounds and can get cranky when handled. They really liked their daily lobster feedings, however, and many refused to leave after cleaning and feeding. Little piggies, they were.
Why does it seem that there are such experts as yourself with vast insight into this nightmare yet the full power of BP, the oil industry, the federal government, etc cannot plug the leak?
No doubt this is an ecological disaster. No one will argue that point.
But as the disaster unfolds and worsens daily, we have ststes begging for the federal ok to protect their shores...and nothing comes from Washington? Is that not a greater issue for those who are BP bashing to focus on?
Who is better prepared able or financed than BPO to do the heavy lifting on the well site while the country should focus on the coastline, mitigating the impact and preparing fr the cleanup?
The handwringers and blame finders are more in the way of progress than BP.
Yeah - well all the major news outlets are banging a drum without knowing how all this stuff works - or is supposed to work I guess. :>)
My degree is in General Engineering with a concentration in electric/electronics and most of the work I was involved in were controls, instrumentation, remote control, communications and the like - I wasn't really in the actual heavy construction/drilling portion, but I did occasionally get involved with all that stuff on a peripheral basis. Been on plenty of drilling and production platforms and spent a lot of time at Litton Industries shipyards in New Orleans and Pascagola, MS where the rigs were built.
Downs Matthews. Might this be the same Downs Matthews who wrote and photographed those wonderful wildlife books?
Yes, Tom Francis, it is. He is a wonderful writer and photographer and was Editor of the magazine Exxon USA for many years. Once he 'retired,' he began freelancing, and has since visited and photographed wild-life in more than twenty countries throughout the world, including both the High Arctic, Russia and Antarctica. He has slowed down some since he turned 85 this year, but he still goes on photo-safaris.