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More On Gulf Disaster

July 19, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 29

With all the media hype, most of it repetitive, the cover story on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a sharp and welcome contrast, and a good one (C&EN, June 14, page 15).

Of course, to my thinking, the dispersants should never have been used. Was the purpose to reduce the amount of oil coming to the surface and thereby reduce public awareness of the volume? They should have let the oil surface and had ships and tankers ready to pick it up.

The dispersed oil will travel farther, maybe as far as the Chesapeake Bay, and will be consumed by far more organisms than if it had sat in layers on the surface. My interest was also spiked with the mention of Span and Tween surfactants being in the dispersants, as they were key to my occupation: origination and applications.

Bill Griffin
Chestertown, Md.

The cover story on the Gulf oil spill seems to contain two schools of thought on oil containment. One, which is the method being used, is to apply dispersant chemicals and let the oil plume meander underwater. Another possibility would be to truly contain the plume and vacuum skim the oil from the water’s surface or use Kevin Costner’s centrifuge method to separate the oil and water.

The article states that a 0.5-mm-diameter oil droplet takes two days to reach the surface and is less toxic than slowly meandering and dispersant-treated dissolved oil. I proposed to BP in a suggestion e-mail to use an Ocean Thermal Gradient Pump (OTGP)—four of them, to be precise—to “artificially upwell” the oil plume, contain it with booms, and skim it or treat it. This type of OTGP pump has been researched by Oregon State University for artificially upwelling water.

This approach would prevent the oil from meandering and spreading the toxic dissolved oil and dispersant chemicals. As the undissolved oil is allowed less time in the water and is contained in a smaller nonmeandering plume, it could be skimmed by the more advanced European skimmers and thus reduce the amount that makes it to the beaches and wetlands.

Wayne G. Paul
Stockton, Calif.

I agree with Rudy Baum’s editorial with respect to BP (C&EN, June 14, page 3), but I think he is being totally unrealistic with respect to the Minerals Management Service (MMS). The way Congress and the industry react to any suggestion that oil companies be held to a reasonable standard of safety, or even a suggestion that drilling would be slowed, makes it almost impossible for any agency to crack the whip and enforce any standard.

When you consider what went on between 2000 and 2008 in Washington, D.C., we can only be grateful that we didn’t have many such disasters. Did MMS do its job? No. Should it have done its job? Of course. Could it have done its job and continued to get any funding? I doubt it. Any attempt to slow down the pace of drilling for the sake of safety would have gotten the same response as that of the federal judge who overturned the moratorium on current and new drilling. He said that one accident is no reason to stop, that the government hadn’t shown that it might happen again.

Do you think anyone would have paid any attention before it even happened once? Unfortunately, we live at a time when financial interests control our government from top to bottom; just look at the Wall Street debacle. The states and even labor were indignant about a six-month moratorium. What do you think would have happened if MMS had held up any effort to drill?

Werner S. Zimmt



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