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Posted at 10:27 AM ET, 08/26/2011

Oil spill: Revisiting the Well From Hell

BP splashed an ROV last night to take another gander at the Macondo well. Conclusion: Still dead. Has not sprung back to life to torment us all.

It’s emanating some tiny bubbles of nitrogen, the company said — or what they assume is nitrogen since they saw the same thing last year and tested it and it was nitrogen. But no sign of oil.

Lots of no-doubt-nervous government folks were watching that video feed, BP notes in its early morning press release:

“Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) video inspection was conducted in the presence of representatives from the Gulf Coast Incident Management Team (GCIMT) (MC252 Unified Command) located in New Orleans. GCIMT members watching the live video feed included representatives of the US Coast Guard, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, and representatives from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.”

BP went back to well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon after the Press-Register in Mobile sent a reporter to the site Tuesday. On a day so calm the gulf was like glass, he saw patches of oily sheen about a mile from ground zero. BP has been trying to beat down rumors that Macondo is leaking for a couple of weeks now, and the Press-Register report put a lot of folks in high gear at BP headquarters and with the Coast Guard and other federal agencies. But no one in recent days has seen any more sheen. Could be the conditions (easier to see sheen when you’ve got no wave action). Or maybe it was an ephemeral event, a burp of oil from one of the pipes down there, or even from the rig itself, which is still a mile down and half-buried in muck.

We recall that, last summer, the doomsday scenario was that in capping the well they would trigger an underground blowout and sent hydrocarbons into the formation and up into the gulf. That didn’t happen. And they stared at this thing a long time. I can’t imagine that a year after it was throttled with a mile of cement the well has come back to life in some way.

But the bigger picture in the gulf isn’t terribly reassuring. The place is littered with abandoned wells, old pipes, old platforms — infrastructure everywhere.

Let’s see what it says in A Hole At the Bottom of the Sea :

“The northern Gulf of Mexico is dotted with oil platforms and lined with pipes that run along the seafloor. The continental shelf has been transformed into a machine—a vast, amazing apparatus—for the extraction and transportation of crude oil and natural gas.”

The blog SkyTruth keeps tabs on, and curates satellite images of, oil spills in the gulf, some of which come from abandoned wells. The Associated Press had a great story last year in which it revealed that there are thousands of these old wells, some of which need to be recapped.

The gulf also has a lot of natural seeps. Whenever there’s oil spotted, the big companies can say it’s probably just a natural event (and indeed the Coast Guard said yesterday that a natural seep was the most likely source of the oil seen by the Press-Register). But the bigger truth is that the gulf is a mess, a “minefield” as the AP put it, and messes don’t tend to clean themselves up over time. We’re going to see a lot more oily blobs, and maybe worse, for years to come.

By  |  10:27 AM ET, 08/26/2011

 
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