Although no one is finished investigating, they do seem to have an idea what caused the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon. A methane bubble heated and rose, exploding through various seals. The gas cloud covered the rig, causing other engines to malfunction and explode. The oil surging up behind the methane ensured that the entire rig was inundated.
The heat was caused by the cement being applied around the pipe. You need the cement--it reinforces the pipe and its joints. Oil is a pressurized load, pipe has to be reinforced. So this was, as previously posited, a bad-all-around, unlucky shitstorm.
In a previous post, I talked about the various remedies for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Gulf fisherman have been hired to put out a lot of barriers/booms across fragile wetlands. The use of chemical dispersants and controlled burn-offs have continued. These have been either completed by, or monitored closely by, the U.S. Coast Guard.
The engineering solutions
The drilling of a detour well is supposed to take three months. In the meantime, oil is still pouring out at a rate of 5,000 barrels/200,000 gallons a day, unimpeded. BP had two other solutions it wanted to try: the first was having robots fix the leaking lengths of pipe. The robots could not accomplish a fix, but they are still in use as eyes to the underwater surface and assisting in solution number 2.
The second was a cap over the leaks, a sort of umbrella or 'box' that would trap the oil underneath it where it could be pumped out. But they couldn't stabilize it in the proper position. Once again, methane is the culprit. Methane crystals are lighter than water. They have frozen in the colder temperatures below the surface and made the trap too buoyant. Various solutions are being parsed out: a smaller box, methanol to un-freeze the methane, raising the box to warmer temperatures (but then still allowing a gap). Nobody is giving up. None of these stop-gaps are full solutions. And until a full solution, things will get worse in the Gulf.
The best round-up article (comprehensive, even-handed) I've found is at Associated Press.
BP's Timeline of Operations (shipments, actions, processes) with the Joint Response Team, at the BP site.
States of Emergency
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Forecast for May 11 is here. (pdf format: it takes a minute to load. It looks really bad for Louisiana's Atchafalaya Bay (pronounced "chuff-a-lie-ah"). Louisiana's coastline has 3.5 million acres of coastal wetlands, or 40% of all of the coastal wetlands in the lower 48 states, so a lot is at stake already. Among other important things, like oxygen production, the barrier islands and wetlands protect the coast from other seaborne disasters such as hurricanes.
The oil may drift fairly easily to Mobile Bay and then Pensacola some time after that. This disaster is just multiplying.
Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes (Counties, ya'all) have both declared a state of emergency May 9, 2010. Terrebonne Parish already has a Coast Guard approved plan. Lafourche Parish is meeting with officials today. The governor had already declared an emergency on April 29th--for Plaquemines, St. Tammany, Orleans, and Jefferson Parish.
The Feds have already named the spill "of national significance", which clears the way for Federal assistance.
Mississippi's governor declared a state of emergency on April 30; Alabama's gov declared their state of emergency on May 1. Florida's governor declared a state of emergency for areas around the Panhandle coast on May 1. On May 3, he expanded the state of emergency to include Big Bend and Tampa Bay areas.
More Blowhards and Plenty Blowback on the Blowout
The Congressional hearings with independent oil CEOs start with some private sessions on Tuesday, and move into full howl through the next few weeks. There is nothing so ugly and so beside the point (in my opinion) as a Congressional hearing on oil. The Katrina hearing was an exceedingly bad, over-acted operas by both participants and spectators. That was during the titularly 'oil-friendly' Bush administration. This is going to be another disaster, nothing will get done there. I will probably report on those in future. It's an eye-opener, all right.
I hope the know-nothing pols on either side of the carpet leave these engineers and the Coast Guard to do their job. They are working as fast, smart, and hard as possible. They deserve credit for a good solid effort. Let's give that credit, and let them stick with it. We'll get to the punishments when we can take a better stock of the damage. Remedies come first.