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MAY 3, 2010 5:46PM

Could Missing Acoustic Switch Have Averted Oil Spill?

Rate: 14 Flag

As five separate crisis teams, comprised of BP employees, federal officials and even some of BP’s competitors, work feverishly in training rooms at BP’s Houston office, the Deepwater Horizon wellhead continues to spew up to 200,000 gallons of oil a day into the muddy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. With the fishing industry in the Gulf at a standstill from Texas to Pensacola, Florida, and dead marine life washing up on the shores of Louisiana and Mississippi, the effects of the massive explosion that killed eleven men are just beginning to be realized.

There is still no answer as to why the blowout preventer did not close, preventing the oil from leaking from the wellhead. Crisis teams are trying several different approaches to contain the spill, from injecting dispersants into the sea floor, to trying to close the malfunctioning blowout preventer, to drilling two relief wells.

Environmental Policy Expert, Richard Charter, says that an acoustic switch, which was not installed on the Deepwater Horizon, could have prevented the spill even after the blowout preventer failed to cap the flow.  The $500,000 piece of back up equipment has the ability to shut down the well remotely, even if the well is damaged or evacuated. The acoustic switch is not required by US law. Rigs in other countries are required to have one. BP’s response to the acoustic switch is that they don’t have the same good track record as the submersibles, which are now in use.

 With damage estimates looming as large, or even larger, than that of the Exxon Valdez disaster, crews are scrambling to protect oyster beds and marshland, but placing booms to keep the oil from reaching the shore admittedly is a meager effort. Disaster teams are working 24 hours a day to find solutions to problems that are increasing in scope with each passing day.

 ABC News

KPRC Local Houston

CBS News

Houston Chronicle

CNN

 

 

 

 

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They have to get this thing plugged. I have a feeling that after initially underestimating the problem, now they are lowering expectations. Which means that anything that isn't a worst case is seen as good.

This could just be wishful thinking on my part, but right now, BP looks like they have a lot of not great options, but one or more of them could work.
Hopefully this is a lesson learned, at a very high price. My kingdom for an acoustic switch.
It's like the finger in the dike story from Holland. Maybe someone has a "finger" idea that can plug this horrific mess. But we are such arrogant beings, and so helpless in the face of nature. When will we learn to be humble and respect its power, and not overreach.
I keep hearing and reading about people comparing this to Katrina. But it's not the same thing at all. We did this to ourselves.
This is such a sad situation. I don't know if a piece of back-up equipment could have stopped this disaster or not. When man figures out that he can't tame nature, we may be on our way to some resolutions.
It always comes down to the bottom line doesn't it. $500,000 was just to expensive and might have effected bonuses, who knows. Living in Houston, I know you are aware of BP's track record for safety conserns....it sucks.
BP has an atrocious track record when it comes to matters of safety. When this first happened, and we heard it was BP who had the rig leased, it was no big surprise at all.
Maybe the idea of switching to other fuels will be MORE appealing now.

Good report.
no.more.BP.for.Me-ee.
That is so interesting. I had no idea how the thing worked, just that it broke. I wonder if we will get regulation requiring acoustic switches now? My bet is no way...
Listened to the heartbreaking details of this on NPR, on my hour long commute into work. So much to tell, and all of it tragic. Unbelievable.
Another Challenger O-ring thing?
news on another blog [dennis loo].. cheney's task force was responsible for not requiring the acoustic switches. note halliburton was involved in the concrete for the blowout preventer, which is said to have failed [huffpost]
The Europeans are so ahead of us on this.
Where are the regulatory commissions we pay for? Where is the plan b? How do you drill without thinking about the consequences and preparing in case of? Sickening. You and I could never get away with such negligence in our work.
Thank you all for your thought-provoking comments. There are so many players in this disaster - BP, with its blatant disregard for safety that goes so far back, Cameron, who manufactured the faulty blowout preventer, Halliburton who did the cementing, even rumored human error on the rig floor, a crucial step that was skipped.

How BP has managed to keep going all these years, despite numerous blasts and explosions, is beyond me. Everyone who is paying attention has wondered about that. Maybe this time, something will change. That it took something of this magnitude is horrifying.

Nick, I'm not sure they underestimated the problem at first, they were too busy covering their asses to properly assess what they were dealing with. But, that's just my opinion after what I've witnessed here in Houston from BP over the years.

Buffy, I don't think this will do much to spurn action on switching to other fuels. Big Oil is too entrenched in our economy. The tentacles run too deep. My husband is in the oil industry, so I understand perhaps more than most how it would affect a huge portion of our populace. This may force some change in the way things are done safety-wise, but that may be all we can hope for. If that even happens. OSHA hasn't been able to effect much of a change, after all...

Froggy - It is a man-made disaster, agreed, but at the root is greed, in my opinion. BP is notorious for skimping on safety. Had another company leased this rig, this might not have ever happened.

Bonnie - this is not a Republican vs Democrat issue. Our country runs on oil and gas and we're not prepared to just dump that and turn to alternate fuels. The infrastructure isn't there, plus it would be disastrous for a huge portion of the economy - Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, etc. Drilling for oil is not the issue. Drilling for oil SAFELY is the issue.
I meant "spur action", of course, not "spurn action." My kingdom for a comment editor, dear OS.
Greed. Risk anything and everything for one more coin. What happened to honesty and integrity and caring for your neighbor? What beauty and natural wealth will pay the price for human greed? This time. How many more times?
UB ... interesting info. But what might have been wasn't. What we need now is a solution to the immediate problem, then concern ourselves with how to avoid it in the future. {{R}}
Rod - I agree. However, living in Houston, and having been witness to the chaos of BP's blatant disregard for safety issues on numerous occasions, it's hard to ignore the two ton elephant in the living room.
Thanks UB. The fact is that this whole thing, like most things, could have been preventable. Should they ever get it cleaned up, how's anyone going to feel about eating oysters or shrimp from the Gulf? The whole thing is tragic, especially seeing the oil slicked animals make me sad and sick.
Finally someone simply asking why and not pointing fingers. Three safety systems have failed and considering that this is almost never been experienced, why should we think that another system would have helped. What if the break was below the Christmas tree? Too many questions and not enough professionals. Armchair quarterbacks do not state facts in MOST cases. I love open debate, but can't stand the hate speech and finger pointing.
Offshore oil drills--unsafe at any distance.


Imagine what the Bushites could have done to Alaska.