The BP Oil Spill and Deepwater Drilling
by Colin Skinner
Jul 07, 2011 | 2104 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which lasted from April through July, was called "the worst environmental disaster the U.S. has faced" by Carol Browner, the former energy and climate advisor to the Obama administration. Thousands of seabirds and hundreds of turtles and dolphins washed up dead on Gulf Coast beaches. The economic toll has been similarly enormous—fishing and tourism industries in Louisiana and Florida are facing losses in the billions of dollars.

In May 2010, one month after the oil rig explosion, President Obama created the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Deepwater Drilling. The organization was charged with identifying the root causes of the disaster and advising the President on how to improve oil spill response and prevention.

Sam Sankar, who served as deputy chief counsel to the Commission before it was terminated earlier this year, comes to Telluride on Tuesday, July 12, to host a TSRC Town Talk about some of the Commission’s major findings. “The BP Oil Spill and Deepwater Drilling: Lessons from the Gulf” will be held from 6-7:15 p.m. in the Palm Theatre. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.

Extracting oil from deep under the ocean is a daunting and expensive engineering feat. People often wonder why it is necessary to get oil out at sea in the first place. Sankar explained that the unique geology of regions like the Gulf of Mexico has given rise to large oil fields of unusual quality. “This oil flows very readily through rocks and pores,” he said. “These are great places to get oil from.

The challenge is actually getting there.”And what a formidable challenge that is. First, a drilling platform floating in the ocean must maintain its position directly over the stationary wellhead. Second, complex safety mechanisms located a mile beneath the ocean surface are inaccessible for maintenance or repair. Third, the only way to monitor what is happening at the bottom of the well, four miles deep, is through indirect means, like pressure gauges and sediment analysis. “You have all kinds of data, and you have a lot of smart people trying to figure out what that data means, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know what’s going on down there,” Sankar said.So what went wrong in the weeks and months leading up to the disaster? “If people were paying attention at the right time and in the right ways, this never would have happened,” Sankar said. “They were simple mistakes that people make everyday. It’s just that these had big consequences.”

The Oil Spill Commission presented its final report to the President last January. Attend the Town Talk this Tuesday to learn what we can do to protect our economy and our environment from future disasters. For more information, visit" or call TSRC director Nana Naisbitt at 970-708-0004.
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