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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Safety and Gulf Oil Recovery Operations

Something Admiral Thad Allen said during the July 1 press briefing resonated with me. When asked why the Super Skimmer A Whale hadn't been allowed to start recovery operations, Allen referred to the regulatory approval process with the E.P.A. and U.S.C.G. (see other posts here), and then said somethng that actually made sense, namely that the Coast Guard had to review the practical side of placing a vessel that large in such close proximity to the oil spill containment area, where the oil was aggregated, thick, and highly recoverable.

The A Whale is indeed a huge vessel. It's super tanker size. And because of its size and configuration (single screw, one bow thruster, as indicated by the single propeller symbol on its bow), it is not very maneuverable. One false move in the containment area and all the work BP has done to fit the LMRP Cap and the other BOP containment and recovery devices goes down the proverbial tubes, not to mention the risk to human lives if a collision takes place around vessels engaged in highly dangerous gas and oil operations.

But where there's a will there's a way. First of all, the A Whale can begin operations in the loop current area, where it seems oil is being funneled by the natural pumping action of the Gulf. Secondly, if it became more practical for the A Whale to assume operations in the containment area, where the oil is contiguous, it can (perhaps) be stationed on a pair of deep water anchors while smaller, more maneuverable OSRVs boom the slick into it. The big advantage of the A Whale is it's ability to store in its hold 500,000 barrels of oil.

Lastly, I have to question Admiral Thad Allen's implication that because the oil spill has divided into many smaller spill or slick areas it has reached a point where it may be impractical for the A Whale to work. The photo below, taken on June 14th, suggests otherwise.


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