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World watches and waits for environmental disaster...

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It's strange. Less than 24 hours ago I submitted an article about how oil companies want to drill in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. I briefly remarked that this is something we cannot permit to happen, because no matter how careful the oil companies are the risk of a spill and ecological disaster occuring is far too high. Now I find an article from the BBC News about the world's largest oil rig providing a frightening example of what I was writing about yesterday: disaster can, and will, happen at any time.

For those of you keeping up on this: the rig just sank. This story's scarce on details, but I'm sure we'll be hearing more. [ -- Micah ]

The oil rig, a 40-story, $350 million dollar structure which is located off the coast of Brazil, suffered a series of crippling explosions Thursday which killed ten of the workers on board. The explosions damaged one of its support columns, causing it to sink 13 feet into the sea and list dangerously to one side at 30 degrees (engineers have since corrected the list to 24 degrees). I also found an article written today (Sunday) stating that the rig has been stabilized. "Stabilized" is a rather vague term when you consider this rig has 1.5 million litres of oil on board, and if it should suffer any further damage we're likely to have yet another crude-oil based ecological disaster on our hands. Officials from the oil company which owns the offshore drilling platform state that there have been no detectable leaks from the rig as of this time. What is truly worrisome is that if you research this company, you'll see that its reputation has been tarnished by two immense oil spills in the past two years alone, and several other accidents which have killed a large number of workers. According to the BBC article, January 2000 saw one of the company's tankers spilling one million litres (264 thousand gallons) of oil, which polluted Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay. Not long after that in July 2000, 4 million litres (1.05 million gallons) of crude oil spilled from a broken pipeline into the Iguacu river in southern Brazil. Yes, the company has ships standing by to contain a spill in case one should occur, but it's hard to rest assured they'll be able to contain it in time. It is also important to recall that any marine animals in the area will almost certainly be harmed should a leak occur, no matter how quickly the engineers respond.

With occurences this common it is clear that we can't risk a reserve like the AWR to an industry this prone to detrimental accidents. Yes, our country has an insatiable appetite for crude and the various products it produces such as diesel, gasoline, heating oil and plastics. It's important that we work to procure reserves, but not at the potential cost of thousands of acres of land and countless plants and animals. Our current shipping and piping lanes endanger our environment enough as it is. Please, take the time to speak out to your governmental representatives to let them know that this cannot be allowed to occur. There's more than enough evidence around us to show that we're NOT in the wrong for wanting to protect our wilderness - it clearly needs to be, with the trackrecord left over the last few years.

-Feren

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Your rating: None

I look at this issue differently. Accidents can happen anywhere; but they are far less likely where modern safety standards are enforced. Plus; there is a big difference in environmental standards in the US compared to many other oil-producing countries.

I know I would rather see oil produced from a portion of Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (using the best technology and environmentally sensitive methods) rather than some third world country where environmental restrictions are 'go burn 50 square miles of rain forest; just show us the money first'. Not to mention the lower safety standards in such third world countries. (remember those gasoline pipeline explosions in Africa where villagers tried stealing gas and got toasted?)

I stand behind responsible exploration of ANWR and other 'set aside' areas.

Richard Reid
Captain; Webship Corwinda
http://www.furnation.com/corwinda

Your rating: None

While I would agree with you, Katra, I still just have a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. Modern safety standards or no, accidents simply happen; that's why they're called accidents. When dealing with something as nasty as petrol, and in these volumes, the accidents (when they do happen) are just that much more destructive. The Exxon Valdez tanker wasn't run by Petrobras, and they sure didn't mean to run the ship aground, but it happened anyways, and I'm sure you remember the results. Yes, it was an isolated incident due to extreme stupidity/negligence, but it still happened -- and when it did the cost was immense.

Yes, there is the concept of "acceptable risk," I'm aware of that. Every day that we have those tankers and pipelines run without incident we prove the odds that nothing will happen. But that one out of every five million chance is still there, hanging around, waiting for the coin to come up tails. Like Valdez, you never know when it's going to turn up, even if it shouldn't. By opening the ANWR to exploration, reasonable and responsible or otherwise, we're defeating the purpose of originally creating that refuge.

-Feren
"We use them for divine retribution."

Your rating: None

I'm not surprised that it's Petrobras at the center of this. That company has, by U.S. standards, a laughable concern for safety both for its production gear and for its people. It is not a good example to use as proof that accidents can happen anywhere as they are a company so ripe for disaster that this was inevitable. If you can find a massive leak in the trans-alaskan pipeline then you'll have some serious evidence for your claim.

On the arctic issue, I'm torn. I see the need for the power, but I also see horrific waste everywhere I turn here. Giant SUVs on the freeway. Few models of hybrid vehicles. Do you know I just took a trip to San Francisco and found it better lit up than Vegas? People seem to think that the good power-fairy will save them or something, and there is no such thing.

At the same time I know that some places need to be left alone so that things can continue to function as the creator set them up to do. If we can co-exist with nature, great. I'm all for that. But mother nature is a valuable commodity too and shouldn't be destroyed just so Ford can continue selling SUVs to commuters. If you can put in an oversight group to make certain the oil companies do not endanger the wilderness there, I'd support the artic drilling. But I don't trust the oil companies to guard the wilderness of their own volition.

-Shockwave

Reality is not only stranger than we think, it's stranger than we CAN think!

Your rating: None

I think what a lot of people fail to realize is that oil spills aren't the biggest issue here. Oil spills get a lot of attention, but the real tragedy would simply be the development of the area.

See, drilling rigs don't exist in a vacuum. Where there's a drilling rig, there will be roads. Where there are roads, there will be vehicles: vehicles that drip gas and oil and coolant, and rust, and puff hydrocarbons into the air. And who drives these vehicles? Who maintains the rigs? People. People need places to live, places to eat, places to relax. People need buildings. Buildings mean supply lines. Supply lines mean more roads that need to be built. Where will the road materials come from? The local area. The area's vital streambeds will be stripped of gravel, hills will be leveled, trees would be chopped down.

And instead of the aurora, at night you will see oil flares.

The footprint of development would be more destructive to the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge than a thousand oil spills.

And for what? A pittance of oil. There's practically nothing there. The very *best* estimates I've read have been a mere 1.8 billion barrels. That's nothing; that's less than 100 days' supply at the current rate of consumption. The conodont data and the seismic evidence just isn't there to support a large oil field.

Drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge would be nothing more than a token action to make the public think that the administration is doing something about the cost of oil, when in reality they're spitting into the wind - and forever destroying one of our country's greatest natural treasures in the process.

I am not amused.

Your rating: None

Well said.

-Feren
"We use them for divine retribution."

Your rating: None

This is just little pessimistic me thats talking, but I think we should be braced for more disasters like this. As the world slowly turns to new areas of oil and gas exploration, this means that we either have to go into the extreme weather zones (upup north) or into deep water. Both areas are very high risk... With exteme weather, you also get greater unpredicability in loads imposed on structures there, and to be honest, engineers used to design in relatively warm weather will not remember to think of everything. (Another ting is that "regular" steel isn't up to the job. It gets very brittle around -20 deg C.) The same goes in a lesser extent also on deep water exploration. The Capos field which this rig was on has a average water depth of 1100 m. This gives for increased loads on equipment, and therefore higher risk during both construction and operation. (The probability for failure with "professional" operators is the same during deepwater and shallow water fields, but the consequence of failure increases with waterdepth). As a side note, I'm really suprised that the oil in the rig hasn't leaked yet. Sure enough, the oil in the reservoar is safe (unless the rig landed on the wellhead....), but the oil inside the rig would be quite at risk during impact with the seabed.

Cheers,
Fery.

Your rating: None

Ups... my bad.

Just checked with Petrobras , and the rig's leaking. Approx 350000 liters have been spilled, but most have been recovered.

FeryD.

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About the author

Feren (Jason Olsen)read storiescontact (login required)

    a network engineer and Black panther from Chicago, Illinois, interested in furry literature, art, and camaros

    Sometimes network engineer. Sometimes coder. Sometimes ranting editorial writer.