Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Just How Wrong Were They About the BP Oil Spill?

H/T to Mike Miles at 90 Miles From Tyranny for this link to an article on how the dire predictions about the BP Deepwater Horizons spill never came to pass. The article is co-authored by one of my favorite economists, Stephen Moore. If you remember, the 2010 blowout released 3 million barrels of oil deep in the Gulf of Mexico.  I vividly recall watching the oil blowing out of the well and thinking the hydrostatic pressure at that depth is around 2200 pounds per square inch, so if the oil was at lower pressure, there would be no "spill".  The water would push down the bore and cap the oil by itself.  Instead, the oil was blowing out.  It had to be under more pressure than that; if it was a surface well oil would be coming out at incredible rates.  I was marveling at how much pressure the oil must be under in its rock. 
But the good news on this fifth anniversary is that the lasting ecological damage from the spill that was originally feared, has not happened. The dire predictions by the media and the major environmental groups proved wildly off base.
Why?  A combination of reasons.  Eco-groups always overestimate the sensitivity of the environment to disruptions.  In this case, the tremendous hydrostatic pressure helped.  The dispersants and skimming equipment helped.  The natural response helped.  It seems most people don't know the floor of the gulf of Mexico seeps oil all the time and has for geologic times.  Bacteria developed long ago that feed on that oil.  These bacteria were "fertilized" by the oil spill, and "bloomed" - increased in numbers greatly - digested the oil, and died off.
Go read.  The article is short but full of good news, for example:
Some of the apocalyptic damage estimated proved to be mere propaganda. The National Center for Atmospheric Research predicted at the time that oil would enter the so-called “loop current”, reaching Florida’s Atlantic coast within a week. Synte Peacock, a NCAR scientist, warned “the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida.” Not to be outdone, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers breathlessly reported that “there will be tar balls all the way up the East Coast, all the way to Europe.”

But the oil didn’t make it to Tampa—let alone Europe as the requisite combination of winds and current failed to materialize. By the end of July, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco admitted that “For southern Florida, the Florida Keys, and the Eastern Seaboard, the coast remains clear … ”
(Image from Fox News, late in the period before the well was finally capped).
Letting the article have the last words:
Most in the environmental movement portray the ecology of our planet as fragile and weak. No. The story of horrific accidents like this and natural ecological occurrences like Katrina, is that Mother Nature adapts and she has awesome healing powers.

The Gulf recovery has been swift and impressive and the doomsayers were thankfully wrong.


  1. Many years ago while swimming off Dolphin Island Alabama I noticed lumps of crude a sheen on the water and incredibly lumps of congeled crude the size of Volkswagens half buried in the sand. Locals told me that oil was always present on the Gulf Coast.

  2. Not that it never making it here to Tampa prevented lots of businesses from filing against BP and getting a slice of the pay outs.

  3. Anon, I seem to recall reading that the reason they started looking for oil in the Gulf area in the first place was the oil seeps and tar balls that came ashore there all the time.

    The most interesting thing, though, was reading that oil wells which were declared used up and empty have refilled themselves. They let them sit for a while without pumping oil, go back, and there's oil flowing.

  4. In the mid/late-90's, when the global warming hysterics we gaining steam, I remember watching a group of academics testifying before a Congressional subcommittee regarding the results of their .gov-funded study of arctic climate change "damage". I was a biology grad student at the time, and listened with interest. None of their results were conclusive of any changes, but the lead scientist spent a great deal of time emphasizing "possible" and "potential future" changes. That's when the unholy alliance of government funded science dawned on naive me.

    Even when there's no political advantage for the government (ie. environmental studies for the military) many of the scientists I worked with exaggerated potential climate change risks - even creating them from whole cloth. They did so because - if you say "everything appears to be within statistical norms" how much additional study money are you likely to get?

    To sum - never trust someone who's paycheck is dependent on scaring you to the greatest extent possible.

  5. Remember when 'they' said 10,000 years before Mount St Helen's would replenish? How about Chernoble? Again, wildlife and trees abound.