On the ninth of May, shortly after BP’s cofferdam experiment failed (but before I had heard these reports), I sent an email to a friend who enjoys ‘insider’ access to oil industry experts. Imagine, if you will, a mustached man wrapped in a black cloak with the collar raised, eyes hidden by the strategically cocked brim of a dark grey fedora. I was hoping that my mysterious friend might be able to ferret out an important piece of information: an estimate of the gas-oil ratio for the Tiber Oilfield which the Deepwater Horizon had penetrated before exploding and sinking to the black depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
I wanted this piece of information because the fiery collapse of the Deepwater Horizon left a ruptured, crumpled pipeline which continues to spew the mirky contents of the Tiber reservoir into the Gulf of Mexico. But oil is not the only dangerous substance erupting from the broken riser pipe.
To greater and lesser extents, gaseous hydrocarbons, like methane, are produced along with liquid hydrocarbons in nearly every oil field. Onshore, these gaseous hydrocarbons can be captured and carted off to gas-fired power plants or pumped back into the reservoir in order to maintain reservoir pressure and the flow of crude. These options simply do not exist for offshore production platforms. Consequently gasses produced offshore are ‘flared’, a process which resembles a giant Bunsen burner.
In the Niger Delta, the flaring of gas causes acid rain. The impacts are easy to see. Zinc rooftops rapidly deteriorate and fishing nets must be hidden from the rain. As an aside, it has been estimated that 564 million gallons of crude have been spilled in the Niger Delta over the last 50 years. That is equivalent to an Exxon Valdez disaster every year. At a constant flow rate of 40,000 barrels per day, it would take an entire year for the BP spill to leak as much oil into the Gulf. How’s that for perspective? Read more…