Oil spill could go on for years, experts say

By John Byrne
Friday, May 14, 2010 9:12 EDT
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The retired chairman of an energy investment banking firm told National Geographic in little-noticed comments Thursday that efforts to stop the oil leak under the Gulf of Mexico could prove fruitless and than oil could gush into the ocean for years.

Matthew Simmons, retired chair of the energy-industry investment bank Simmons & Company, said that BP and the US military’s engineers are more or less clueless about cutting off the flow.

“We don’t have any idea how to stop this,” Simmons said. The former banker mocked a proposal to try and plug the leak with trash, saying it was a “joke.”

Simmons noted that the pressure at 5,000 feet undersea — where the well site is located — is so high, that containment efforts are likely often to fail. At 5,000 feet underwater, blocking elements have to be able to hold even with pressures off 40,000 pounds per square inch.

Incoming American Association of Petroleum Geologists chief David Resink says the oil reservoir that is feeding the spill is colossal.

“You’re talking about a reservoir that could have tens of millions of barrels in it,” Resink said. At the current spill rate, it “would take years to deplete,” he added.

According to a scientific analysis of footage from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico showing the leak, National Public Radio claimed Thursday that the growing ecological disaster is actually ten times worse than previously estimated, saying the rushing torrent of oil pouring into the ocean is equivalent to one Exxon-Valdez spill every four days.

That’s more than 70,000 barrels a day — when the U.S. Coast Guard had placed the figure at a seemingly modest 5,000 barrels a day.

Until this point in human history, the Exxon-Valdez disaster was just one of the worst oil spills ever, with nearly 11 million gallons of crude lost to the murky depths.

The Deepwater Horizon well has been jetting oil unabated for just short of one month at time of this writing. Already, the pollution exceeds a scale which most individual humans can fully grasp.

With earlier reporting by Stephen Webster.

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