Sunday, January 24, 2010

Oil Spill in Port Arthur

This is a bad news but good news story. The bad news is that the tug w/ 2 barges collided with the tanker. The good news is that the Coast Guard and the oil company got right on containment, it's in a low-turbulence area, and not in the immediate vicinity of any wetlands.  The water movement matters because high turbulence increases the spread. It also makes globs of oil-mixed-with-salt-water foam, a kind of stinky soapy glop that's harder to suck up or get rid of.

Because crap happens, people learn to deal, and they know what to do. But I'm not Pollyanna. There's always a loss when a mistake like this is made. This matters extremely for the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico and the near environs of Houston.

One note: the area was evacuated because of sulfides in the oil. Everybody needs to know that this is going to be forever common. The oil we are drilling now is increasingly more sulphurous or 'sour' crude. The wells of sweet light crude are lucky finds among the newer wells, pumping off the top. As we return to old wells with new technology, to get more of what we couldn't reach before, the oil is not as sweet. Other top-producing wells world-wide are sour, too: it depends. It's the refining that takes the sulphur out, and increasingly sulphur disposal is becoming a problem in the oil industry.

So the presence of sulfides also suggests that the oil had not yet been refined. There are refineries in the Caribbean, in fact the political climate for building one there is much more friendly. But you can bet things are screwed up for refining with all the rescue traffic to Haiti. The effects of Haiti's earthquake aren't just in Haiti, but all over--including, this minute, probably Houston.  We are all one.


Oilacct said...

The spill was actually in Port Arthur, about 100 miles East of Houston. There are some large refineries over there, and a decent size port. Better there than in the Port of Houston, which would have caused major delays for a large number of vessels.

Ann T. said...

Dear Oilacct,
Whoops, I failed reading comprehension! I have corrected the post and thank you very much for noting the mistake.

Come back anytime,
Ann T.