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Deepwater Horizon Incident Declared Spill of National Significance; Attempts to Apply Dispersants at Source 1,500 Meters Below Surface

Deepwater Horizon trajectory map 30 April. Click to enlarge.

The Obama Administration has declared the Deepwater Horizon incident a Spill of National Significance (SONS). A SONS is defined as “a spill that, due to its severity, size, location, actual or potential impact on the public health and welfare or the environment, or the necessary response effort, is so complex that it requires extraordinary coordination of federal, state, local, and responsible party resources to contain and clean up the discharge” and allows greater federal involvement.

Estimates of the release rate increased to 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) per day based on surface observations and reports of a newly discovered leak in the damaged piping on the sea floor. (Earlier post.) Projections are that the oil slick will reach Louisiana shoreline areas today.

IXTOC I: 3 Jun 1979 to 23 Mar 1980
On 3 June 1979, the 2-mile deep exploratory well, IXTOC I, blew out in the Bahia de Campeche, 600 miles south of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. The IXTOC I was being drilled by the SEDCO 135, a semi-submersible platform on lease to Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX).
The oil and gas blowing out of the well ignited, causing the platform to catch fire. The burning platform collapsed into the wellhead area hindering any immediate attempts to control the blowout.
The well began spilling oil at a rate of 10,000 to 30,000 barrels per day. By the time the well was brought under control in 1980, an estimated 140 million gallons of oil had spilled into the bay.
IXTOC I well blowout. Click to enlarge.
Although the response team was eventually able to activate the BOP, the pressure of the hydrocarbons began rupturing the valves, and the BOP was reopened. Two relief wells were eventually drilled to relieve pressure and allow the capping of the well on 23 March 1980.
The IXTOC I incident is currently #2 on the all-time list of largest oil spills of all-time, eclipsed only by the deliberate release of oil, from many different sources, during the 1991 Gulf War.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is assisting the Unified Command in evaluating a new technique to apply dispersants to oil at the source 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) below the surface. If successful, this would keep plumes and sheens from forming.

Work continues on a piping system designed to take oil from a collection dome at the sea floor to tankers on the surface; this technique has never been tried at these depths. Drilling of a relief or cut-off well is still planned, but will not be complete for several months.

Dispersants are still being aggressively applied, with more than 100,000 gallons having been applied. The small test burn earlier in the week was successful and approximately 100 barrels of oil were burned in about 45 minutes. Additional efforts are planned contingent on good weather.

With shore impacts looming, sensitive shorelines are being pre-boomed. More than 180,000 feet of boom have been deployed, and another 300,000 feet are forward staged. NOAA efforts have included: getting pre-impact samples surveys and baseline measurements, planning for open water and shoreline remediation, modeling the trajectory and extent of the oil, supporting the Unified Command as it analyzes new techniques for handling the spill. Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) activities are also underway.

The State of Louisiana is allowing shrimpers to start an early season to get ahead of oil impacts.



People can be rolling on the floor laughing from "drill baby drill", just remember that whatever America does, all the other countries around the world will just keep on drilling. If we stopped on-shore and off-shore drilling because we thought we were superior to everyone else and used that perceived moral authority to tell everyone else around the world to stop, they would be rolling on the floor laughing & would simply keep on drilling. America is the world leader in natural gas reserves, developed with inland horizontal drilling & hydraulic fracturing, which has occured over just the past few years. We still need to drill offshore too if we want to be energy independent and not be puppets to middle east regimes.


Maybe the US government should create major, radically improved new incentives for natural gas as a result of this accident. When was the last time we had an environmental catastrophe from natural gas wells on-shore? I would be in complete support of major, radical new incentives for on-shore natural gas provided there was full disclosure requirements for the components of facturing fluids.


We have to "drill baby drill" or else the Terrorists will have won.
We'll show those Terrorists that NOTHING will deter us.


What's taking the federal government so long to stop the oil spill? The federal government should have federalized the spill response over a week ago. The fumbling and bumbling of this is aggregious...Obama's Katrina.


Incidents of oil spillage pressure big oil to resist drilling in sensitive areas. PR hit alone hammers bottom lines and kills off millions spent on "green" campaigns. BP will pay for this spill for the next twenty years just as Exxon Valdes did.

Good news is drilling costs rise with each disaster and that pressures gas prices upwards. Higher gas means consumer switch to electrification accelerates. Unfortunately staged disasters sometimes work.


It turns out what happened is the safety device.. a blowour prevention gizmo has failed. They are trying to get it to work and in the meantime they are now reping to drop a dome over the whole thing.

Nat Pearre

The giant upside-down funnel is an interesting idea. Does anybody know how widely dispersed the different leak points are? How much of the pipe is still intact?

I hope it works. The value of the fishery in the area is far greater than the value of the oil that platform would have delivered.


"the terrorists will win"??? What's that. The latest soundbyte to counteract anything that impedes drilling? Get real. By insisting on not changing our lifestyles we are just continuing the actions that have led to the developements of terrorism and global social/political tensions.

The federal gov't can do very little right now except in a reactionary phase. Early action was delayed by BP insisting that it had it under control. Right. Look at the control.

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