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Gulf Oil Spill - The Greatest Disaster Since The Flood?

Politics / Environmental Issues Jun 23, 2010 - 01:23 AM GMT

By: Submissions


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleJoshua S. Burnett writes: Most articles begin with a purpose statement revealing what the author desires to convince the reader of.  This article is different.  These few paragraphs begin with a plea for someone to tell me that I’ve got the evidence all wrong and that what I see and know is a smoke filled illusion void of reality.  I want someone who knows differently to tell me.  So as you read this article please understand that I’m not attempting to be a fear-mongerer.  Please know I’m no prophet or guru, just a guy who looks at all the evidence he has and draws conclusions.  And if you know I’m wrong and why, please write and tell me.

First, let’s review the facts:

  1. The spill has continued, unimpeded, for two months now.
  2. No advancement has been made on actually plugging the leak.
  3. Every attempt at plugging the leak thus far has failed, and failed totally.  It’s not as if we’ve made progress and fallen just short.  We haven’t done jack.
  4. Not only have we not made any progress in plugging the leak, the estimates of how much oil is actually leaking have grown steadily to the point where the official  rate is now twelve times higher than initially released (from 5k bbl/day to 60k bbl/day) and the private estimates double the official rate (120k bbl/day).
  5. Before this, Exxon Valdez was the worst oil spill in American history.  That took months for the initial cleanup and much of the oil spilled was unrecoverable (boom operations, the bread and butter of oil cleanup, only captures 20% of spilled crude) and continues to contaminate the area, years afterward.  If current official estimates are to be believed (and they’re on the very low end of plausibility) we’ve got 15 Exxon Valdez’s already spilled in the Gulf.  The equivalent of another Exxon Valdez is spilled every four days (every two days if private estimates of leak rates are true).
  6. We’re now in hurricane season.  We’ve averaged 11 named storm systems per season for the past 53 years.
  7. Oil generally floats to the top of the water (exceptions to be explained later) which is the first liquid to be picked up by storm systems. 
  8. One quart  of oil contaminates 250,000 gallons of water.
  9. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is located right off the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Just considering these facts here’s what I would consider to be the expected outcome (not the worst case): first, we wouldn’t need anything more than a tropical storm (of which we can expect 11 in the geographical vicinity this year) to pick up a massive quantity of oil and rain it all over the coast to an inland distance of several hundred miles (it isn’t uncommon for hard rain from a tropical storm to reach as far north as Tennessee).  This oil will destroy all vegetation it lands on and poison any surface water and probably shallow water tables.  These water sources are what all local wildlife subsists on and the source for all city water purification I know of.  You obviously see the problem here.  I can see some of the hardier trees surviving if we get enough pure rainfall immediately following a tropical storm or hurricane drenching, but all this would do is to rinse the oil into ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and the water table; cleaning this up would be a multiple year nightmare; recovery for the region would be measured in decades.

But that’s not all of it; here’s where I outline my “worst case” scenario.  The main reason they’re having such incredible problems capping the darn thing is not because of depth; it’s because of internal well pressure.  In the pre-drilling geological surveys a massive methane pocket was discovered coinciding with the oil deposits; this pocket is sitting at a pressure of 100,000 psi.  Current engineering technology doesn’t exist to contain something at 100,000 psi, meaning efforts to cap this puppy are useless.  The presence of this methane pocket is becoming harder to ignore as 40-70% of the emissions from the leak are now comprised of natural gas (and we’re still blowing out 60,000-120,000 barrels of oil a day).  Best estimates put the amount of methane leaking at 2,900 cubic feet for every barrel of oil spilled (with an estimated 4.5-9.0 billion cubic feet of methane leaked so far… and the dang thing is STILL in six digit psi).

The secondary concern here is the pressure and what happens if (more like when) it is discovered that the oil leak can’t actually be capped as it spews with that amount of internal force.  The primary concern is what happens if/when the methane pocket ruptures; some estimates put its size at 15-20 miles wide (at 100,000 pounds of pressure per square inch).

If the methane bubble explodes, it would create a tsunami that would wipe out anything within dozens (and possibly hundreds) of miles of the Gulf Coast in all directions (view this animation of the 2009 tsunami in Samoa and how it spread).  The tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 wiped out between 150,000-300,000 people, some as far away as South Africa.  This was caused by an earthquake that shifted the ocean floor by meters.  An explosion of this size would shift the ocean floor for miles.  The Gulf is touched by the Mississippi River and opens into the Caribbean where it is exposed to the Panama Canal. 

I’ve just outlined what I think would be the worst case scenario.  So, for fairness sake, let’s turn our attention to the best case scenario.  To do that let’s assume a few things:

  1. The oil leak is capped today (a virtual impossibility, since BP’s most optimistic estimates don’t even put sufficient siphoning capability in the region until mid/late July).  Or, let’s assume the oil runs out (yet another virtual impossibility seeing how it is still spewing out of the ground at 100,000 psi; this tells us there’s quite a bit more where that came from).  But let’s assume one of these two possibilities.
  2. We’ve got the equivalent of between 15 and 30 Exxon Valdez’s that have spilled in the Gulf.  One of the inherent traits of oil is that it separates from water and rises to the top; but this inherent trait can be temporarily suspended.  Think back to grade school when one of your teachers brought in colored water and oil mixed in a two liter bottle; if you shook it hard enough you could get the two to mechanically mix and it would take a period of time for the two to separate.  That’s with the strength of a fourth grader.  One of the problems revealed in this video is that much of the oil, spewing out at 100,000 psi, is still sitting at the bottom of the Gulf and spreading outward from there.  This has severe long term implications for the fishing and shipping industries across the Gulf states.  As large a deal as other industries are made of in the Gulf States it is the Gulf itself that drives them; without a living Gulf fishing, shrimping, crabbing, oystering, and tourism are all gone.  With them goes the economic viability of the area.
  3. With immediate concern I see the possibility of a large quantity of oil being dropped across the coast as virtually unavoidable, and with it goes the large scale poisoning of flora and fauna… and there too goes the long term economic viability of the coast.

Best case?  Oil rains down within 300 miles of the Gulf Coast, poisoning flora and fauna and turning the major parts of the Gulf States into disaster areas.  Large scale evacuations will have to be made in any contaminated areas simply due to the carcinogenic risk of the oil; this will create large refugee camps outside of the immediate disaster areas and the economic ripple effect will be felt nationwide; this will obviously impact the world economic scene in a negative fashion.

That’s the best case scenario.

Worst case? The methane bubble explodes, causing a tsunami that wipes out 80% of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.  Large portions of Texas are also destroyed.  The Gulf islands and Mexico will be in the same boat.  All of the oil platforms currently drilling in the Gulf would be torn away from their moorings, creating further oil leaks that would exacerbate the problems already there.

Does all of this sound fantastic and like I’m completely off of my rocker?  I know it does to me, and I’m writing the dang article.  But I just can’t get away from the fact that this is where the trail of evidence leads me.  Three and a half million barrels of oil don’t just disappear.  A methane bubble that size at those pressures doesn’t just quit pumping.  So I’m asking someone to tell me that I’m nuts, and why.  Tell me that none of my reasoning makes sense and what the real answers are.

By Joshua S. Burnett

Email Josh at

© 2010 Copyright Joshua S. Burnett - All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

© 2005-2017 - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


24 Jun 10, 11:57
Gulf Oil Spill-The Greatest Disaster Since The Flood?

Catholic private seers having been predicting all of the above. Prepare your soul

Fred Gerdes
24 Jun 10, 12:35
The Reasonable Case

Now by the time the well is eventually capped, a lot of oil will have been released. This is not good for the marine environment, but your concern that this oil will be translocated 300 miles inland by a rainstorm is unfounded. First, due to criminal behavior by BP, much of the oil has been treated with dispersant which prevents it from floating or coalescing. This oil will stay in the deep gulf for years, because normal removal mechanisms (bacterial decomposition) will not work well at low temperatures and oxygen levels.

Some minor and lighter crude components will float, and the lightest of these, hydrocarbons of less than about 20 carbon length, will be evaporated and transported by rain. The amount of such light hydrocarbons is pretty minor compared to the amount of rain involved in a hurricane, so the resulting inland oil impact will be minor, with some sheen on ditches, maybe some accumulated layer in larger water bodies. The odor would be unpleasant, but re-evaporation and biodegradation will make short work of the oily rain components. No massive chemical cloud of death occurs, no deforestation.

The Gulf Coast will not have to be evacuated for 300 miles inland. Some towns within 5 to 15 miles of the coast may have problems if the tidal surge brings in large amounts of tar, which is the portion of the crude remaining after the light components has been evaporated (into the rain).

Fred Gerdes
24 Jun 10, 13:03
The Reasonable Case

As to the methane bubble issue, there is a lot of methane in the formation, under pressure, but the formation pressure is not greatly higher than overburden pressure of both water and rock down to formation depth. By carrying sand towards the currently high-flow hole, the gas is creating channels in the formation which will over time increase the flow substantially, such that if the well is not capped before the sand erodes the casing to failure, it will erode a rather large, uncased, passage to the gulf floor, which will then flow for years. Other shallower wells have been lost this way in the Gulf, and they flowed for years.

This formation is thought to contain some 2.5 billion barrels of oil, so loss of the well would be a serious environmental disaster, as some 25% of that volume would likely be ejected before the formation pressure fell off. But the well itself does not increase the likelihood of the formation blowing its top and creating a sunami. More likely it decreases that hazard by relieving the formation pressure. When very large fields are produced fast, some subsidence is likely, so there is a risk, after maybe most of a billion barrels have escaped, that the formation could subside substantially. The Pelly Field in Baytown sank about 30 feet (after 25 years of production) causing serious foundation, structural, and pipeline damage for 10 miles out from the field in several directions.

Should this subsidence occur over a large area of the Gulf floor, a sunami of some magnitude would be created. However, such sudden subsidence events have been relatively rare, as the support zone spreads at the angle of repose of the mile or two of strata above the formation, thus gradual subsidence over a larger area is the normal response to removing the oil/gas and its formation pressure.

Fred Gerdes
24 Jun 10, 13:10
Who Is Responsible?

The saddest thing about the BP blowout is that our government knew the hazards of drilling in the unstable formation, and they encouraged BP to hurry completion, apparently to the extent that BP cut corners, did sloppy cementing work, and in general maximized the risks in order to complete the well and make this large quantity of oil available in time for a potential loss of Middle East oil supply which was deemed likely to occur when Israel attacks Iran's nuclear installations, scheduled for sometime this summer.

24 Jun 10, 17:10
deepwater horizon

Seen these claims too. We'll never know the truth or otherwise but it would be ironic if drowning in an oil slick became what saved us from a nuclear winter.

Susan Waigwa
28 Jun 10, 08:30
Gulf Oil Spill - The Greatest Disaster Since The Flood?

I am no expert at what you have written on the oil gusher, but I’ve been watching, and if, like me, have read the warnings to America by Dumitru Duduman, you will wonder with me whether this is not what is going to cause America to burn. If a tsunami or a powerful tornado were to happen and the oils are pushed inland, and for some reason, a lighting strikes, I believe a lot of America will burn and this could be the oil that sets aflame America. This is no accident and I believe the finger of God is right on this one. However, let us watch how things progress before we can make any conclusions, but my heart is fearful for America.

I also see this thing from an enemies point of view (I am thinking as one, though I’d never be an enemy of America, as America has brought about the freedom that most in the civilized and Christian nations enjoy). We know very well that Russia, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela have wanted an opportunity to attack America and cause real damage to her. Will they use this as an opportunity? Will they watch as the oil continues to gush and use a submarine to light it to burn America from one side and then enter through another to kill by whatever means and also use biological weapons?

As I said, let us wait and see but my heart bleeds for Americans who are too blind to see. If I was in America, I would run for my life, though nowhere is very safe.

Have a most blessed day, now Robert, won’t you.

29 Jun 10, 15:16
too apocalyptic

Actually, the secondary wells are nearing completion and there is a high probability that they will be able to shut down the flow with what they call the "bottom kill." There's a chance the well head could tip over and further damage the casing below and maybe even negate the "bottom kill," but so far it looks as though the plan is working. What you're going to get is a lot of environmental damage like you're seeing and a lot of economic pain. All the stuff about death clouds and so on is paranoia. You'll probably get contaminated fish for a long time and a lot of dead sea caused by the oil settling to the bottom. This is bad enough without bringing in end-of-the-world scenarios. What is happening now is plenty bad.

Matty in Florida
30 Jun 10, 15:54
Worse than Biblical - Gulf Mess For Real

I am responding to your request in your "Gulf Oil Spill - The Greatest Disaster Since The Flood?" article ( I have a couple degrees' worth of education in Marine Studies - followed by about 20 years' more, in *real life* - so I think my general understanding of Earth Sciences and Physics can put you straight(er) than what you've either heard or imagined, in the above.

1- The Gulf methane reservoir is not going to explode. There is *no oxygen* down there for it to explode with. If otherwise, then it (and every other gas deposit like it around the world - many of which occur in active earthquake zones, no less) would be exploding all the time, as there's more than enough energy down there to get things started. Quick example: Southern California has loads of oil and gas - but when was the last time its fossil fuels exploded in a giant crater (technically, a "caldera")? Relax.

2- No hurricane or tropical storm is going to "rain oil" all over the SouthEast USA. You are confusing a hurricane with a *tornado* - called a "waterspout", when not on land - which can suck up things as large as cars. Hurricanes get their water from *evaporation*, not by sucking it up wholesale. Quick proof: If hurricanes sucked up surface seawater, then their rainfall would be salty (which, BTW would wipe out almost all plantlife about as effectively as oil would). But it's not. Put your mind completely at ease there, too.

3- The BP well cannot be capped - that's true - but that can't possibly be due to pressures that are "beyond our technology", as you heard - either your figures for the pressure are 'way off, or the materials/technology are really that good. Again, if otherwise then how could they ever control the flow from these or so many other wells like them, around the world, in the first place? It's the same pressure inside a well that's under control, as in one that's out of control. No, what's currently challenging all of them (according to the best info I've seen) is that the failure(s) is *down-hole* - so that whenever they try to apply closure at the top, the oil just rockets up *around* the pipe - which only erodes the foundation around the wellhead - so they have to back off, immediately. And in every new attempt, you hear them say they have to "see how the well responds". So far, it has responded every time with a big "F-You, I'm coming through"!

Clearly, the failure is a *long* way down-hole - such that they can't get at it, to do anything in the slightest. Not before they complete the obvious step - exactly what *best industry-safety practice* called for, in the first place: to drill a *relief well* into the bad shaft *below the point(s) of failure* and completely divert the flow. The "safety" being that the alternate well was *supposed* to be drilled right *alongside* the first one - from the very start - and at the same rate. Thus, in the event of a failure the delay is only for you to redirect the second bore into the side of the failed well, for the diversion. Again, according to the best info I've seen, they're frantically working on (at least) this relief well(s) right now - 3 months late, with another month or so to go.

Meantime, they might could *collapse* the failed well - again, 'way *down-hole*, and for a significant length of the shaft - by which the weight of *the earth itself* could be (more than) enough to plug it, for good. Consider why they had to *drill* - and drill *so far* - just to get at it, in the first place. Again, if otherwise then why don't we routinely seeing all the other high-pressure deposits around the world from time to time just naturally geysering their oil and gas straight into the sky (or the oceans) like so many grimy Old Faithfuls?

Again, the latter would have zero chance of causing a continental-scale natural gas detonation - but I would worry significantly about triggering an earthquake on one of the nearby fault zones - including the New Madrid fault zone, up the Mississippi. The latter could produce a big one - people would be killed, and a lot more property destroyed - but nothing like your Methane Armageddon fantasy.

In any case, you're also right about the Gulf. It's already killed - between the oil and all that shit they dumped on it - and we will be treated to the horror of watching it die, creature by creature, cancer by cancer, never to revive - at least, certainly not in our lifetimes.

So, while you need not be terrified, you *should* be horrified - we *all* should - not because of the apocalyptic holocausts you heard/imagined, but because of the *real governments and corporations* which - if allowed to continue on, "too big to fail" - will surely make good on these, ultimate threats against our lives and wellbeing.

I recommend you ponder and have nightmares about *that* - and think what we need to do *about that*, sir.

Semper Fi,

-Matty in Florida

Bob Wright
02 Jul 10, 13:37
BP fix

BP is trying to cap the leak by plugging it but you can't simply build something around it or even drop a cone over it. There's just too much pressure. What they need to do is simply take a hollow 30ft long, 1 ft thick cylindrical steel drum and attach it to the seafloor around the oil leak. This way there's no psi attacking the drum or anchoring process. Once it's suffiently anchored, it's top will close like a space hatch.

Done! Total cost, $20 million.

Josh Burnett
05 Jul 10, 00:10
Follow up

Follow up article is here:

10 Jul 10, 15:21

On the subject of the methane exploding. All the talk of no ignition source underwater is not relevant. There was never a statement regarding combustion. Explosions do not necessarily require ignition. Classic example. A dry ice bomb.

Here is the explosive potential. We all heard of ice formation on the well head while they were trying to plug it. If you study even basic oceanography, you will learn that deep water does not freeze and is very stable. so what is the ice forming.... Methane. The potential for explosion is seawater rushing into a large trapped section of frozen methane and exploding do to temperature differential. Dry Ice Bomb...

Frank TIllman
10 Jul 10, 17:04

One word "Ixtoc" look it up

Shelby Moore (author of "End Game, Gold Investors Destroyed")
16 Jul 10, 19:08
BP is lying about well being capped?

And someone needs to tell Denninger:

10 Oct 11, 20:05
Greatest Disaster since the flood

In my opinion, The greatest disaster on earth is the explosion of human population ...

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