Optimism for the Gulf at Red State

Is the Deepwater Oil Spill debacle going to go the way of last February’s Hawaiian tsunami? I can only hope.

Ever since the spill, I’ve been bracing myself for the inevitable Exxon-Valdez-times-a-hundred environmental apocalypse that has been prophesied for the Gulf Coast. But each night comes, and still no heart-rending images of fouled beaches and animals smothered in sticky black muck. Instead, we have reports of a tar ball here and there and a few dolphins that died from unknown causes.

Could it be that the environmentalists are, like Rahm Emanuel, not wasting a good crisis in their ongoing quest to transform us into a rickshaw nation? I honestly don’t know. Disaster may hit the Gulf Coast tomorrow.

The latest doom scenario is the suffocation of Gulf sea life by vast plumes of emulsified oil and sea water. The New York Times:

The plumes are depleting the oxygen dissolved in the gulf, worrying scientists, who fear that the oxygen level could eventually fall so low as to kill off much of the sea life near the plumes. …

Given their size, the plumes cannot possibly be made of pure oil, but more likely consist of fine droplets of oil suspended in a far greater quantity of water, Dr. Joye said. She added that in places, at least, the plumes might be the consistency of a thin salad dressing.

Happily, though, we have Vladimir at Red State sprinkling optimistic croutons and bacon over the Grey Lady’s gloominess.

So just one of the plumes is 10 mi x 3 mi x 300 feet thick? That seems really big. In fact, it’s 2.5 E+11 cubic feet, or 45 billion barrels of “salad dressing.” Let’s take a third of that, to allow for thinning of this plume in all dimensions: that leaves 15 billion barrels of oil & sea water emulsion.

The extreme high end of the rate of spill is 80,000 barrels per day (not that I believe that number, which is sixteen times the “official” estimate). Over 28 days, that’s 2.24 million barrels of oil to date.

If all the oil from the biggest spill estimate were in this single plume, crude oil accounts for less than 0.00015 of the volume (that’s 0.015%, or 150 parts per million). That’s about three drops per liter of sea water. Even given all the most conservative possible assumptions, that’s a mighty weak salad dressing.

We know it’s not right. Much of the oil has made it to the surface, and a lot of that has evaporated. Some has been burned, some has been recovered. You have to question whether oil in water in such a dilute concentration would have the oxygen-depleting effect described in the article. And remember, this is only one of several plumes.

Folks, this is good news. It means the dispersant is working, breaking up the oil into tiny droplets and dispersing them widely. Mother Nature handles dispersed oil all the time, oil from the natural seeps that account for well over half the oil in the marine environment. Bacteria just love the stuff.

Well math is definitely not my strong point, but I can see that Vladimir crunched the New York Times’ worst case numbers, and still found that the oil-to-water ratio in those plumes would have to be mighty weak.

Mother Nature is resilient, with amazing abilities to clean up and recover from disasters. She should be, because she makes messes beyond anything we could ever dream of. And, by the way, she is a notorious oil leaker herself.

It may well be that the Gulf Coast comes out of this much better than the case for drilling in the U.S.

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