Since the BP incident, the oil industry has pledged more than $1 billion to develop systems to cap a leaking underwater well, and the government has imposed a series of rules to prevent another major catastrophic event .
Less progress was made on the cleanup part of the spill process, to the disappointment of the government and environmental constituencies. Currently, it could take more than several weeks to install a containment system after a deepwater blowout. That could mean hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil would be poured into the ocean. The oil industry is under greater pressure since the hurricane season is underway. There are new technologies on the horizon. Disaster Recovery Planning and an up-to-date Contingency Plan are still very important lines of defense in case a catastrophic oil spill ever happens again.
Booms and skimmers are still the main line of defense in case of a major spill. Booms serve as floating barriers to keep oil off shore. These are made from vinyl, foam or polypropylene, a common plastic which repels water and attracts oil. Chemical dispersants are another classic line of defense for keeping oil off the once pristine coastlines. The damage from the Gulf spill did not reach apocalyptic scenarios. Over a year later, oil is still washing up on some beaches .
After the Exxon Valdez disaster, the oil industry formed the Marine Spill Response Corporation to help battle catastrophic spills. During the BP oil spill, the MSRC deployed some 42 skimmers, 65,000 feet of boom and a fleet of other vessels and equipment.
The EPA Regional Administrator has set forth facilities that could reasonably be expected to cause "substantial harm" to the environment by discharging oil into or on navigable waters. These facilities are required to prepare and submit Facility Response Plans (FRPs). The Oil Pollution Prevention regulation includes two methods by which a facility may be identified as posing substantial harm:
o Through a self-selection process; or o By a determination of the EPA Regional Administrator.
The EPA Regional Administrator may consider factors similar to the self-selection criteria, as well as other factors, including:
o Type of transfer operations o Oil storage capacity o A Lack of secondary containment o Proximity to fish, wildlife or drinking water intakes o The Spill history
In addition, the EPA Regional Administrator has the discretion to determine whether or not a facility poses significant and substantial harm. 1)
SkyTruth, SouthWings, and Waterkeeper Alliance launched the Gulf Monitoring Consortium: an innovative partnership that is systematically monitoring oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico with satellite images and mapping, aerial reconnaissance and photography, and on-the-water observation and sampling. This unique effort led by three non-profit organizations will collect and publish images, observations and sampling data of the Gulf of Mexico to rapidly respond to reported and suspected oil pollution incidents. SkyTruth, SouthWings and the Waterkeeper Alliance worked collaboratively during the 2010 Gulf disaster to use their unique expertise to bring the truth about the spill to the public.
The natural fit of the services and tools of these organizations working together will help ensure that future disasters are discovered and documented, and that the story is fully presented to the public. This newly formed alliance will actively bear witness to current, ongoing, and future oil pollution to fill the information gap exposed since the tragic BP / Deepwater Horizon explosion one year ago . 2)
Enviro Voraxial Technology, Inc. has developed a unique Submersible Voraxial® Separator. The Submersible Voraxial Separator will be the principal element in EVTN's strategic initiative to penetrate the oil spill recovery market. Management believes the new Submersible Voraxial design is the only oil-water separator that can operate in the water to treat oil slicks. It can also operate hundreds of feet below the ocean surface to treat underwater oil spills and oil plumes.
Unlike conventional oil spill recovery methods which require the skimmed oil/water mixture to be transferred from the ocean onto the vessel for oil-water separation, the Submersible Voraxial performs oil-water separation in the ocean. By using this method, the skimming vessels will be 90% more efficient, capture ten times more oil and clean the oil spill ten times faster than conventional methods.
The Submersible Voraxial is available in different sizes. A single Submersible Voraxial® Separator can process over 7,200,000 gallons of oil-water mixture per day, a rate over twenty times greater than conventional oil spill recovery separators. The compactness and low energy requirements enable the Voraxial® to be secured on virtually any size vessel for both deep sea and close to shore oil spill recovery.
After evaluating over a hundred thousand oil spill cleanup suggestions, BP sent a technology team to EVTN's Fort Lauderdale facility to observe a Voraxial Separator cleaning a simulated oil spill. EVTN received favorable comments regarding the performance of the Voraxial and significant interest in the Submersible Voraxial. EVTN subsequently received a purchase order to test its Submersible Voraxial as part of BP's Rapid Attack Team program. As stated by BP, "The Rapid Attack Tactic may revolutionize our near shore operations 3)
There are disaster possibilities in the Gulf other than oil spills. The possibilities include hurricanes, Tsunamis and underwater earthquakes. An earthquake in any coastal region might lead to a tsunami. The event depends upon the kind of motion caused by the earthquake. A tsunami requires a massive displacement of water. In the case of the recent Asian tsunami, a part of the earth's crust collapsed as two tectonic plates collided displacing a lot of water subsequently causing a huge upswelling that led to the tsunami event.
If all the conditions precedent are met - a big earthquake can lead to displacement of the earth's crust precipitating a massive displacement of water thereby leading to a dangerous tsunami in the Gulf of Mexico or anywhere along the coastal USA.
Earthquakes don't always create tsunamis because such events rarely happen along a subduction zone. A subduction zone describes a condition wherein two tectonic plates move toward one another, converge and lift, releasing a tremendous amount of pressure . This dynamic becomes the focal point for a tsunami.
Luckily, the rates of subduction are very slow to occur during the year, with the average rate of convergence being well under a foot per year. More tsunamis are created around Alaska and Japan because the tectonic plates in these vicinities move vertically and are subduction zone spheres as opposed to the California San Andreas fault which has horizontally moving tectonic plates.
A map on the USGS website shows the relative extent of influence of the New Madrid Faultline, which is quite dramatic. An 1895 Charleston, MO quake covered the eastern half of the US, including the states central to the New Madrid fault line i.e. Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.
The impact reached at least half of the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Iowa, and crossed the border into New York and Florida. An important issue to consider is the possibility of earth tremors beneath the sea in the region of the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the potential impact of a major earthquake along the New Madrid Faultine and the fallout as far as the Gulf and oil platforms in that area. 4)
The most widely felt tremors in North America were a series of four that hit near New Madrid, Missouri in the 54 days from December 16, 1811 through February 7, 1812. They ranged from magnitude 7.6 to 8.2. The largest was felt from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. New Madrid also represents an intracontinental fault system. 5)