Sensors Mag

Plug, Baby, Plug

May 28, 2010 By: Melanie Martella, Sensors

E-mail Melanie Martella

I can't be the only one with my fingers crossed, waiting to find out whether BP's top kill attempt will finally stop the disastrous flow of oil caused when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded. And I'm hoping like crazy that it works and that the drilling mud doesn't cause the broken riser pipe to break further, making the whole situation even worse. But I'll tell you right now that I have a much better understanding of, and appreciation for, the complications involved in deep-water drilling than I did a month ago, and I suspect that I am not alone in that.

For starters, I hadn't really thought about the conditions involved in working under 5000 ft. of water. It's damn cold, it's dark, and the pressures are nontrivial. And that's before you add in thousands of gallons of oil (and methane hydrates, just to make things more interesting) spewing forth and showing no inclination to cease spewing. The scope of the disaster is appalling. The uncertainty over when it's going to end is devastating. But when I consider how much information has been made available and how quickly that information has been disseminated, I find it flat-out astonishing.

I mean, we can watch a live video feed of the oil flowing out and (at the moment) the mix of oil and drilling mud while everyone waits to see whether the top kill method works underwater. We can view satellite images of the slick. We can view (and, if you're very smart, analyze) the images of the underwater oil plumes to make determinations about just how much oil is spewing forth. We've got underwater robots zipping around both to help with the underwater manipulations and collect data for scientists interested in the health and welfare of that section of the ocean. Not to mention the unwelcome discovery that the oil is more widely distributed than hoped. And that doesn't even consider the technologies that are normally used to make drilling for oil as safe and efficient as possible.

I wish I had some witty and insightful way to end this particular piece, but I'm coming up blank. It's just too huge and depressing and devastating. The technology that's being used to map and assess this spill is wicked cool, I just wish it weren't getting such a workout.

About the Author: Melanie Martella

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