At lunch today, my oldest friend and I were musing about the horrible ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. First we discussed anger and decided it was wasted energy. We discussed that we should order shrimp because it might become extinct. And then we talked about what would happen if ‘they’ never got that gusher turned off. What if it never happens?

How long would it take the gulf to pollute the rest of the oceans? Are we in a mass extinction? Being at the top of the food chain could really suck. Could huge amounts of oil in the oceans eventually affect our fresh water?

Is the gasoline engine really going to be out undoing as a species? Seriously, what happens if ‘they’ can’t get that damn thing shut off?

No pelican pictures. I can’t stand looking at them.

20 Thoughts to “What if the Gulf….”

  1. e

    cockroaches will take over the planet. they are very hardy creatures.

  2. punchak


    If this gusher never stops, will it eventually create a vacuum? Nature doesn’t like vacuums, so would oil from other areas eventually seep into this particular spot? As I understand it, oil is a finite resource, so if the gusher never stops gushing, would all the oil in the earth eventually end up in the Mexican Gulf, take a swing north with the Gulf stream and on, and on, and on……..

    Going to bed with glittering oilslicks dancing in my head.

  3. cockroaches, horseshoe crabs and sharks. Wait! maybe the last 2 entries won’t make it because of the oil.

    Punchak, believe it or not, we talked about the vacuum idea. I didn’t put it on the blog because it sort of sounded like tin foil hat time.

    This is a horrible scary situation.

  4. The Titanic rests at about 12,000 feet below the surface. The Deepwater Horizon drill site is at about 5.000. Surely if they can get to the Titanic…..someone should be able to do something in the gulf.

  5. Formerly Anonymous

    > What if it never happens?

    Even if the relief well (current ETA still in August) for some reason was never finished, the current well would eventually loose pressure and the flow would drop to a stream, then a trickle. That would be a lot of oil, and the Gulf of Mexico would be a mess for several years, but it still wouldn’t have a significant impact outside the Gulf region.

    > How long would it take the gulf to pollute the rest of the oceans?

    It depends on your definition of ‘pollute’. There isn’t enough oil in the reservoir to pollute (as in impact fish and wildlife) the rest of the oceans. The Gulf of Mexico is too small an area compared to the rest of the world’s oceans. But if your definition of ‘pollute’ is detectable by scientists, I suspect that enough oil has already been released that given a few years, you’ll be able to find trace elements of it almost anywhere in the Atlantic, and probably in the Indian ocean. It’ll take a lot longer to reach the Pacific though.

    > Are we in a mass extinction?

    No. Not even close. At least by what paleontologists consider a mass extinction. Shrimp and oysters have survived real extinction events like the asteroid and climate change that killed of over 60% of the species on Earth (including everybody’s favorite dinosaurs)

    > Could huge amounts of oil in the oceans eventually affect our fresh water?

    No. At least not without repealing some laws of physics. Ultimately all fresh water comes from rain, so until oil becomes light enough to evaporate and dense enough to found oil clouds, we don’t have much to worry about.

    > Is the gasoline engine really going to be out undoing as a species?

    No. When gasoline (or other forms of cheap energy) are no longer available it may trigger a collapse of civilization, but humans are a hardy bunch. We’ve survived Ice Ages with nothing more than rocks and animal hides. There will be a lot fewer people, and we’ll live shorter, nastier, crueler lives, but we’ll survive as a species for quite a while.

    > Seriously, what happens if ‘they’ can’t get that damn thing shut off?

    See answer to the first question.

    As for the ‘vacuum idea’, if that idea had any merit at all, why would they have drilled over 40,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico to date? They could have just drilled one and the ‘vacuum’ (BTW, it’s not a vacuum anyway) would somehow have cut through miles of rock to get to the rest of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Heck, they wouldn’t have even have to have left Spindletop at Beaumont, Texas. Obviously, the pressure differential is nowhere near strong enough to pull oil through miles (in some cases hundreds of miles) of solid rock. Also don’t forget that there is 5,000 feet of water sitting on top of the well, creating about 2600 psi of pressure to push water into the well. Currently the pressure of the oil coming out of the pipe is 30,000 psi. (Although, given that number is from BP, it should be somewhat suspect.) As oil leases the reservoir it lowers the pressure at the well head. Eventually that pressure will drop below 2600 psi and sea water will rush in to the relatively lower pressure oil reservoir and the leak is filled. (Although there would still most likely be natural seepage as there is in most areas where there is oil.)

    Sorry if any of this sound flippant. It’s not meant to be. I’ve been told I can sound condescending when I talk about physics.

  6. Actually, only a little flippant. Physics isn’t everyone’s forte so it is difficult not to sound flippant when most of the population ….is …like me. 😉

    I don’t even care if you are just shooting the bull, I feel much better.

    Thanks, Formerly. And seriously, the vacuum thing is being discussed. Like I said, tinfoil hat time but these aren’t things the average Joe runs in to in conversation.

  7. Formerly Anonymous

    Honestly, my best recommendation would be to take a break from the news in the Gulf for a few days. The relief well is already underway and every day it gets a little closer to completion. Believe me, BP wants to get the relief well completed if for no other reason than they want to drill and sell than oil instead of letting it seep into the Gulf.

    It’s very frustrating in our modern 24 hour news cycle to realize that there’s nothing we can do for several weeks other than watch oil wash ashore and wait for the relief well to burrow deeper. It’s even more frustrating since BP has not been very forthcoming with information, which makes it easy to believe that there is an even bigger shoe to drop.

    The good (relative, of course) news is that by the fall the relief well will be in place and the Gulf of Mexico will start to heal itself. It may take years to fully recover, but it will be starting soon. In 1989, Prince William Sound in Alaska was devastated. Now the biggest environmental threat to the Sound is cruise ships full of people coming to see the scenery.

    This too shall pass.

  8. I actually have done that. I can’t stand looking at those oil-coated birds and mammals.

    I took a break from my hiatus last night and watched a bunch of Rachel Maddow on the gulf oil gusher. She has been very diligent in covering the problem.

    After lunch yesterday I decided I needed to find out more. Now mind you, this all started over a comment about needing to order shrimp for lunch because it might become extinct.

    How about explaining the relief well, por favor. Is that the one BP is now drilling as a response to the explosion?

  9. Formerly Anonymous

    As I understand the relief well, it basically is drilling a second well that is designed to intersect the first well in the ground. A high pressure liquid is pumped in to temporarily stop the flow of oil. Then cement is poured in to permanently seal the original well shaft and the relief well. The well is capped in the ground, in this case 13,000′ below the ocean floor.

    Apparently, BP is drilling two relief wells simultaneously. Only one is needed. I would assume it’s a mix of a backup plan, and an effort to get a production well back in place again. There’s a really good graphic of it on BP’s site (disclaimer: the info is from BP so take it with a grain of salt.) Assuming the information is accurate, the first relief well is 2/3s of the way there (12000′ down, another 6000′ to go) The second one is at about 9000 feet.

  10. Pat.Herve

    FA, if you call oil entering into the gulf stream, coming up the east coast and into the atlantic as not having a significant impact outside of the gulf, I have to disagree with you.

    All fresh water does not come from rain. There are many islands in the Carribean who depend on reverse osmosis, who could be affected by the oil.

    We just do not know how much oil is actually there, it could gush for a long time.

  11. Pat, please explain reverse osmosis. I have never heard of it.

    If that oil comes up the gulf stream, the UK will get a taste of its own medicine. Meanwhile, how do we keep that crap out of the Chesapeake Bay?

  12. Wrap Rosie O’donell in sponges and let her take a swim?

  13. Pat.Herve

    Reverse Osmosis is where you take the salt water and remove the salt, giving you fresh drinking water. Many of the islands around the world use this (expensive) source of fresh water –

  14. e

    plan b: accelerate plans for interplanetary manned space travel and seek out alternate worlds to colonize. oh wait, i forgot, obama just canceled our manned space program

  15. Ah, ok, I knew about that process, just not that name.

    e, actually if we can do all those hook ups in space, what is to keep us from doing it under the sea? Maybe the weighless vs getting crushed to death by the weight of the water is the major problem.


  16. e

    the best way to stop the leak is to nuke it. the soviets had done exactly that when they had an uncontrollable gas leak

  17. e

    Apparently the former Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) used nuclear weapons on five separate occasions between 1966 and 1981 to successfully cap blown-out gas and oil surface wells (there was also one attempt that failed), which have been documented in a U.S. Department of Energy report on the U.S.S.R.’s peaceful uses of nuclear explosions.

  18. This well is too close to civilization to use nukes isn’t it?

  19. e

    not necessarily. and it would detonate 5000 feet underwater, which would dissipate most of the fallout and other deleterious effects

  20. Pat.Herve

    e which is more harmful (and measurable)? a well with oil, that we can clean, or a nuke to hide the issue and possibly contaminate an important food source?

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