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BP Based Spill Plans On Faulty Govt Data

From the Wall Street Journal:

BP Relied on Faulty U.S. Data


JUNE 24, 2010

BP PLC and other big oil companies based their plans for responding to a big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on U.S. government projections that gave very low odds of oil hitting shore, even in the case of a spill much larger than the current one.

The government models, which oil companies are required to use but have not been updated since 2004, assumed that most of the oil would rapidly evaporate or get broken up by waves or weather. In the weeks since the Deepwater Horizon caught fire and sank, real life has proven these models, prepared by the Interior Department’s Mineral Management Service, wrong

Further, government models don’t address how oil released a mile below the surface would behave—despite years of concern among government scientists and oil companies about deep-water spills

The government’s optimistic forecasts reinforced the oil industry’s confidence in its spill-prevention technology, leading to decisions that left both oil companies and the government ill-prepared for the disaster that has unfolded in the Gulf since April 20…

Note that the the oil companies are “required to use” these inaccurate federal government models. So, naturally, the federal government will assume some of the blame for the slow response to the spill and it will shoulder some of the cost of the clean up and reparations. (Just kidding.)

Researchers have spent the past decade trying to improve modeling of oil spills. The biggest challenge: to update the models to reflect the new reality of deep-water oil drilling. Spills thousands of feet below the surface behave very differently than spills on the surface. Underwater currents, for example, can grab plumes of oil and transport them far from the scene of the initial spill, scientists say. Deep-water releases tend to break into smaller oil slicks, further complicating efforts to forecast where they’ll go.

MMS said in early 2000, in a notice to lessees, that it planned to require oil companies operating in deep-water to use new oil-spill predictions specifically designed for deep water.

That regulation never came into effect. Oil companies today still base their contingency plans on the government’s models, designed only for surface spills.

In 2001, the then-head of the MMS environmental division wrote a paper that warned "the oil spill trajectory models currently used by the oil industry for the preparation of oil spill response plans may not be adequate for deep water."

Since then, MMS researchers have experimented with new models specifically designed to simulate deep-water oil spills. In 2005, after one such experiment, the MMS modeling team wrote in a paper that "spill response plans need to be upgraded" to deal with potential deep-water releases. But the models haven’t incorporated new deep-water simulations…

So there is a ‘paper trail’ of evidence that the federal regulators at the MMS knew that their models were probably inadequate. Funny how we are just now hearing about this.

House lawmakers accused BP, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and other companies last week of using "cookie cutter" contingency plans that contained numerous errors and omissions.

Exxon Chief Executive Rex Tillerson pointed out that much of the company’s response plan "is prescribed by regulation, including the models that are used to project different scenarios for oil spills."

Of course, Congress will now hold hearings to determine how they should be punished for their failure to ensure that the MMS models are up to date. (Just kidding, again.)

The MMS spill trajectory model is known as OSRA, an acronym for "oil spill risk analysis." The model simulated currents and winds in the Gulf to calculate where oil slicks would travel over a period of three, 10, and 30 days.

That model projected that a spill of oil on the surface in the Mississippi Canyon area, located 68 miles offshore, would have just an 11% chance of making landfall in Plaquemines Parish, La., after 30 days. In reality, Plaquemines, the area hardest hit by the current spill, got its first tar balls 22 days after the explosion.

The bulk of the Gulf Coast, according to the model which projects spill trajectories for 30 days maximum, would not see oil reach shore even with a catastrophic offshore spill.

We are reminded of the old saying, “close enough for government work.”

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, June 24th, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

One Response to “BP Based Spill Plans On Faulty Govt Data”

  1. proreason says:

    This isn’t good news.

    It’s cover for the Moron’s criminally slow response.

    We’ll be hearing about it 24×7 within a few days.

    Bush did it. His minions prepared the plan. The boy king only followed the advice he was given.

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