Hurricane season

As BP continues to work on its containment, the Gulf Coast oil spill is being given different senses of scope all the time. Two recent examples offer very different perspectives on the spill. Meanwhile, tropical storm Alex looks set to disrupt operations from afar.

The USA’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has released a timelapse series of pictures, taken from two of the agency’s orbital satellites. The pictures offer a space-based point of view of the spill, tracking it since its beginning as it spreads and changes shape due to weather conditions, currents and the use of oil-dispersing chemicals.

Meanwhile, a no less compelling ground-eye view of the spill’s consequences has been broadcast by Russia Today, filming in Louisiana. The video shows the aftermath of a rainfall which has left puddles of oil on the city’s streets.

Although they offer very different views of the disaster, both videos drive home its scale in a way that BP is unlikely to appreciate at the moment. Still, it’s not all bad news for the company. There had been concerns that tropical storm Alex, expected to become big enough soon to be reclassified as Hurricane Alex, would hit the area around the oil spill. However, the storm now appears to be heading towards Mexico, with its predicted trajectory carrying it well away from the spill area.

This is fortunate for BP; experts say that favourable wind and tidal patterns, as well as Mississippi River currents countering the flow from the Gulf, have spared the wetlands the worst of the oil. A direct hit by a hurricane on the area could hurl oil-soaked water inland, severely increasing the impact on the environment and the company’s far from glowing reputation.

However, the storm will not leave the spill unaffected. While BP may have avoided direct disaster, the company’s senior vice-president Kent Wells admitted that the storm is expected to make sea conditions too rough to connect various parts of the new floating riser system together, delaying its completion to the middle part of next week.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen has said that the current operation of transferring oil onto the Discoverer Enterprise containment ship, which is currently siphoning around 28,000 barrels a day, could also be disrupted. However, he added that the storm was unlikely to affect the two relief wells that are currently BP’s long-term hope for stopping the leak altogether.

Aside from disruption to the relief effort, there has been disagreement over whether the storm, even at a distance of 600 miles, will have an adverse effect on the slick itself. Admiral Allen has claimed that the oil, which was generally heading east, has now turned north, already affected by the storm system. However, Dr. Piers Chapman, chair of Texas A&M University’s oceanography department, has argued that the storm may in fact have a positive effect, breaking down the oil slick into smaller patches that will evaporate more quickly.

Soon-to-be-Hurricane Alex will affect more than the physical aspects of this spill. The markets have already lurched in response to fears that it would hit directly, and failed to respond strongly to the news that it would not. Analyst Tim Evans has predicted that the approaching hurrican season will bring a “long and choppy summer” if that reaction is any indication.

Clearly, though, BP’s greatest concern will be a hurricane that affects the region directly. If that happens, not only will recovery operations be devastated, but there will be a far greater influx of oil than Russia Today recorded in Louisiana.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: