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Talk About Things Happening..

May 3, 2010

As a kind of catchup exercise on the news of late I’d been through to the local ‘environmental’ blogging source which happens also to double in qualified (if sometimes partisan) commentariat. There, the topic of Peak Oil had surfaced, prompted I’d thought by consideration of the unfolding disaster in the Mexican Gulf. BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Sad to say, at the point of asking a question of the commentariat as to whether the above rig was in actual production or not, a small opinionated series of responses were to provide more heat than light, so to say. Loss of production did not matter, one argued for another, since the company or enzed’s suppliers would supply from another source and so on. Else, no answer to my specific question. As I say disappointing.

So the next morning RNZ’s Morning Report came up with the specific in a dialogue with an oil industry specialist. To wit, the rig concerned was not a production installation, but one of exploration. At the depths involved we might also assume this somewhat experimental as well. And thus, perhaps of significant interest to any proposed deepwater — <i>a la</i> Deep South Pacific — explorations of anticipated value to enzed and/or its possible economic returns.

That said, and given what has happened we ought more closely scrutinize any such projects’ thinking. Considerations.. Face the facts of modern technology does not always make things doable.. at least the way proponents of it would have governments and all of us believe.

H/t I linked to <a href=””>John M. Greer</a> whose blog is both US onshore and sourced for what gives in the disaster. His take is part of a topic about complexity. Following from Tainter’s view(Complex Societies) he says how additional layers of complexity — modern technology, or derivative financial instruments — also fall to the axe of diminishing returns.. of which he paints a picture of no returns inclusive.. And whilst that can be made to fit any particular circumstances, it IMO, also requires we examine such prospects. Preferably at the outset—not when disaster has struck.

Very good for its exposition, why not take a look at the more pertinent points:—

Deepwater drilling is one example. It’s complicated stuff, far more expensive and demanding than the methods used to extract oil that happens to be conveniently located under dry land, and when the standard problems faced by oilmen everywhere crop up, responding to those problems involves a whole new world of complexity and risk. One of those standard problems is the risk of a blowout: a sudden surge of crude oil and natural gas that can come bursting up through a well at any point between the moment it’s first drilled and the moment the relatively sturdy structure that handles production is in place.

That’s almost certainly what happened to Deepwater Horizon. It’s a common enough event in drilling for oil, and it’s dangerous even when it happens on dry land and there’s someplace for the drilling crew to run. When the well begins almost a mile underwater, though, there’s the additional problem that nobody has the tools to handle a deepwater blowout if the underwater valves meant to shut it off at the wellhead should fail. That’s also happened to Deepwater Horizon, and if the current efforts to trigger the valves via robot submersibles don’t succeed – and they’ve shown no sign of succeeding so far – the only option left to the BP response crews is to jerry-rig techniques designed for shallow waters and hope they can be made to work 5000 feet under the sea. In the meantime, five thousand barrels a day of crude oil fountain out into the Gulf from the crumpled pipe.

… the decision to add an additional layer of complexity to an already complex problem was an attempt to maintain business as usual, while the simpler option that was refused would have required the decision makers to abandon business as usual and accept a degree of austerity and limitation very few people find congenial these days. That’s not inherent in the relationship between complexity and simplicity, but it does tend to be a very common feature of the way that relationship works out in practice just now. We have an extraordinarily complex society; for some three centuries, attempts to manage problems by increasing complexity have paid off more often than not, which is why we have such a complex society; and this has led to the kind of superstition discussed in last week’s post – the unthinking assumption that what worked in the past will continue to work in the present and the future.

And of course it has not. To date.

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