The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Click on this graphic for a better look!

All I can ask is what kind of engineering went into the technology of this oil rig and its attendant technology. In responsible engineering, the flow of the oil would require a positive outflow mechanism, meaning as long as someone was applying power or pressure, the oil would flow. In the event of an emergency, the valve would immediately shut without the application of power or pressure to the system, thus automatically sealing the flow of oil as long as it took for someone to hook up another mobile platform and reconnect to the positive outflow mechanism and accept a new stream of oil. I am not an engineer but I have to ask why this simple engineering principle was overlooked in light of this ecological catastrophe. I cannot believe that I am the first person to consider a mechanism that in the event of a disaster simply stops the flow of oil from the system. I am certain that this is a design flaw that should be corrected immediately on all future oil mechanisms, particularly ones that exist on sea going oil rigs. Considering the cost of one of these rigs, I cannot imagine it would add prohibitively to the cost of the overall system. (After a bit of research, it would seem such a mechanism is already part of the system, but it failed to activate and could not be activated remotely, making it a not-so-failsafe-failsafe!)

The Deepwater Horizon is the name of the rig and I have included a link to its physical specifications for the technologically curious. Offshore drilling is inherently dangerous. This yearn alone, there have been three fires on rigs in the Gulf. Since 2001, 69 people have died in accidents. (The worst industry disaster remains the Piper Alpha catastrophe off Aberdeen, in 1988, when 167 workers died.) The Deepwater Horizon was designed to avoid such disasters. It was at the technological frontier, a “semi-submersible” rig intended for ultra-deep water, where rigid support structures are impossible. Instead, it sat on pontoons equipped with thrusters that reacted to the tides to keep it in place. Six months ago it drilled to a record depth of 35,000ft. That well was also drilled for BP, not far from the site of last week’s disaster. It is still unclear what caused the accident but it appears to have been a blowout — a sudden spike in pressure that sends oil or gas bursting up to the surface. If that happens, the blowout preventor, a guillotine-type valve on the seafloor, triggers automatically to cut the flow. It didn’t. BP sent remote-control submersibles to close it manually but they failed, which is why the rig continued to burn.

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