“Obama Floats Offering First-Ever Drilling Lease in Atlantic” – AP, 27 January 2015

President Obama has introduced a plan that would allow drilling in parts of the Atlantic Coast, while simultaneously putting an end to any drilling in certain areas in Alaska.

The administration’s proposal concentrates on Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and will sell areas 50 miles off the states’ coasts to oil companies beginning in 2021. Oil companies have been denied access to these areas in the Atlantic Ocean for years, particularly since drilling in those areas was banned in 2008. Additionally, the proposal includes leases for regions in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Leases will be sold between 2017 and 2022.

Many politicians cited the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a reason not to move forward with the proposal, which remains the biggest oil spill of its kind in the US. Since then, regulations on offshore drilling have not improved; Congress has yet to adopt new laws that would make drilling safer. Many believe that drilling in these regions is a misguided way of developing energy — and acquiring energy independence — in the US.

However, politicians in the Southeastern states are backing Obama’s plan, asserting that the new venture will boost the economy by creating jobs and encouraging investments. Currently, the US is experiencing a flood in oil, which has caused oil and gas prices to significantly drop.

Areas chosen to be leased and sold are subject to change. Oil generation from offshore drilling supplies 16 percent of the US’s oil. In order to find oil and gas deposits under the ocean, firms will have to run seismic imaging surveys; a process that can take years, the firms attach seismic air guns to their boats that they will drag for miles on the ocean surface. The guns then radiate air and sound, which assists in mapping 2D and 3D images of the ocean floor.

(From Associated Press)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 28, 2015

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Copyright 2014. All rights Reserved by Phinix, LLC.

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“Floods Put Pipelines at Risk” – Wall Street Journal, 4 December 2012

Federal records suggest that floodwaters can endanger oil and gas infrastructure; and even though the US was in much need of rain this summer, these records show that any amount of floodwater could be damaging.

Floodwater has a greater weight and higher speed, which has the ability to wear down dozens of layers of soil and gravel from a riverbed; such erosion can expose pipelines and cause oil spills. Heavy snow and rain last year produced unprecedented flooding in the Missouri River basin, which comprises the Yellowstone River.

In 2011, scouring uncovered an Exxon Mobil Corporation pipeline in the Yellowstone River in Montana; the floodwater erosion in the riverbed caused the pipeline to break and spew 1,000 barrels of crude oil. A similar incident occurred a month later with an Enterprise Products Partners LLP pipeline in the Missouri River floodplain in Iowa, leaking 818 barrels of a gasoline additive.

Congress plans on evaluating pipeline incidents, which might help to determine if the depth of the pipelines is an issue.

Fifty-five oil and gas pipelines run across the Missouri River, or about 2,300 miles from Montana to St. Louis. Of these, at least 24 have parts that are 10 feet or less beneath the riverbed. Last year, the US Geological Survey discovered scour at 27 sites in the Missouri River, from Kansas City to St. Louis – the riverbed had eroded anywhere from nine to 41 feet.

Federal regulations could become detrimental to pipelines: laws only ask for pipelines to be submerged a minimum of four feet beneath riverbeds, which many river engineers have deemed insufficient.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal agency for pipeline safety, isn’t obliged to follow pipeline depths, instead leaving the job to operators who are supposed to check riverbeds every five years. PHMSA is mainly tasked with developing and enforcing safety and environmental regulations.

PHMSA is currently calling Exxon into question: after the Yellowstone flooded in June 2011, which ultimately caused Exxon’s pipeline to scour and break, Exxon had reported that its pipeline was 12 feet below the riverbed. It was unlikely that the pipeline would have burst beneath so many layers of soil; PHMSA is debating whether to fine Exxon.

Since then, PHMSA and Montana officials have compelled pipeline operators into inspecting their in-state river crossings. Afterwards, it was found that almost a quarter of 90 pipelines had significant scouring and was near exposure. Such vulnerabilities could be reflective of pipelines across the nation.

Reinstalling the nation’s pipelines could cost billions of dollars, but it might be necessary. In 1994, scouring exposed 37 pipelines in Houston, 8 of which broke, spilling 35,000 barrels of petroleum. Ten years after the incident, the American Petroleum Institute streamlined the standards of pipeline design for waterways.

However, federal documents suggest that almost two-thirds of Missouri River pipelines that were built from 1930-1982 were installed using older methods that leave pipelines more susceptible to scour. While scour is usually temporary – sediment refills the holes over time – major Missouri dams have kept sediment from reaching rivers downstream, where natural scour could be easily fixed.

Is it necessary for the nation to rebuild its pipelines if scour can be fixed naturally? Is saving the money worth many potential oil spills to our waterways and floodplains?

In our opinion, we subscribe to an old time-tested proverb, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, as all engineers, doctors and scientists know, it is better to keep a bad thing from happening, rather than waiting to fix the bad thing once it has happened.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 11th, 2012

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Copyright 2012. All rights Reserved by Phinix, LLC.

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“In BP Indictments, US Shifts to Hold Individuals Accountable” — New York Times, 15 November 2012

In April 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig suffered an explosion. The rig’s crew was 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, drilling 5,000 feet under the sea floor in the Macondo Well, when it sprang a leak (a very large leak). The crew checked the well’s pressure but misread the results, incorrectly estimating the oil flow’s pressure.

Earlier this month, in connection with the Deepwater Horizon spill, two BP supervisors, Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza, and one BP deepwater explorer, David Rainey, were indicted. Vidrine and Kaluza were on the rig, making crucial decisions before it exploded; both have been charged with 11 counts of manslaughter in the deaths of 11 crew members. After the explosion, Rainey testified to Congress about the number of barrels of oil that were discharging daily into the water. Allegedly, his claims were false approximations – he was charged with obstruction of Congress.

In charging these three individuals, the Justice Department is making strides towards holding executives responsible for their actions. However, BP is also paying a hefty $4.5 billion in fines, and has pled guilty to 14 criminal charges.

If the crew hadn’t misinterpreted the rig’s test results, the oil-undertaking would have ended. The indictment stated that Vidrine and Kaluza were negligent in their analysis of the oil spill, ignoring the irregular pressure test results and believing the crew’s “illogical” justifications.

Rainey also acted negligently by obstructing Congress and giving false statements about the amount of oil that was spewing from the well. While Rainey estimated the flow rate was 5,000 barrels a day, hundreds of thousands of barrels were actually pouring into the Gulf. According to the indictment, BP engineers estimated that the Macondo Well was capable of spilling as many as 146,000 barrels a day. Even when receiving this contradictory information, both the company and Rainey continued to maintain the 5,000-barrel estimate.

Kaluza and Vidrine face a maximum of 10 years in prison on each manslaughter count; eight years on each involuntary manslaughter count; and one year on a Clean Water Act count. Rainey faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Enhanced oil production is important, but so are safe operations with known, calculated and manageable risks.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 30th, 2012

Phinix LLC

Copyright 2012. All rights Reserved by Phinix, LLC.

www.phinix.net    skdas@phinix.net

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