Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Sailing Life

I remember one night somebody called the police in Key West and I answered the phone, as was my fate that night. It must have been past midnight Up North just as it was down here but whoever it was Up There had drink taken ( as the Irish say) and they had decided tonight was as good a time as any to find out where their long lost missing friend/relative/sibling might be. "He's staying in a hotel" they said.
"Good," I replied, waiting for more.
"It's by the water..." they said as though that should settle exactly which hotel it was.
It's rather the same way with marinas, there are lots in Key West and they are all on the water. Conch harbor just happens to be one of the more upscale ones. When I say "upscale" I mean eye-watering expensive.
And like all ivory towers Conch Harbor has rules, lots of them.

It so happened I was an invited guest and as such I was carrying, as usual, my pocket camera, which meant I might as well take some pictures of this delightful place. I was a guest of Neil's crew Tim and Tiina and the four of us went out to lunch. Neil started out the meal by studying the choices in barbecue sauce at Turtle Kraals.

I had the shrimp po'boy, Tim went for brisket and the austere Tiina, dieting, enjoyed a fresh air sandwich. Neil was an engineer before he retired to the Santa Cruz mountains in California,where he developed a company that developed solar power projects. Nowadays he sails around on a 58-foot sailboat, picking up crew as he goes.Tiina, joined Neil in Cancun for the 360 mile passage to Key West, where Tim came to join his girlfriend for the 600 mile passage to Georgetown, South Carolina. I think a 58 footer is too small a space to share with a couple of lovebirds but Neil's mind was on his wife who was getting her retina re-attached in the nation's capital after a diving accident.Conch Harbor is on Caroline at Grinnell, a corner of lush landscaping and home to Prime 951 a steak house well liked by visitors to Key West.I came here once for a fund raiser but it's not really my kind of place, perhaps it is too plush or perhaps it is simply aimed at guests who seek amenity that is not of interest to me. Its a nice enough spot, no doubt.Swimming is okay though even if other forms of locomotion are severely restricted.This is the sort of place Hemingway would have found happiness I expect, much as he cultivated the working class stiff image, the adventurer portrayed in his books.This was the sailing boat (in it's $200-a-night berth) that came from Santa Cruz to Key West with Neil and his wife on board.All too often people forget to show the inside of the boat which frequently remains a mystery to people not used to going sailing. I thought a tour might be in order.Tribute draws eight and a half feet and spent low tide aground which is not something that would happen to sport fishing boats, the normal residents of this place. Looking down the hatch we see the chart table and nowadays that involved a computer as electronic navigation is the primary way to get around. I reluctantly embraced a lap top as a navigation tool and loved it immediately.My chart table on my 32 footer was of similar proportions but my catamaran had two hulls to Tribute's one. This is the main sitting area frequently called the saloon. The settee on this boat has nice square corners and vertical backrests which make for comfortable sitting though compound curves are more fashionable among people who don't sail very much but like interior design. The galley where the cooking gets done. Lots of counter space and a tight U shape to keep you in place when the boat is leaning and bouncing.The owner's bedroom at the back of the boat. Notice the black round fans above the bed to keep the occupants from suffocating in the tropics. This boat has central air and heat so the owner has lots of repairs and bills to think about. Everything you bring on a boat will break sooner or later. Sailors talk about B.O.A.T. units: Break Out Another Thousand. Traveling by sailboat is a matter of learning to fix your boat in exotic places at vast expense. Thats why Neil has a work bench, with a broken electric motor on it... The guest cabin forward to the left, which doubles as the library.The front of the boat, the pointy place is where there is the most motion and Tribute stores sails and ropes and stuff up there. Very sensible. Lots of boats put beds here which makes them impossible to use when the boat is moving.

The chart table showing the traditional paper chart of the Keys which will continue to reveal the boat's position after the computer breaks. (Remember: everything you bring on the boat breaks sooner or later). Tim is looking forward to taking off on his own boat when his 13 year old daughter flies the coop.Tiina plans to be there, perhaps not in a red, shore going dress. Me? I'm glad I did the sailing thing in my youth and I expect I will, most likely, do it again at some time in the future. For now I enjoy being ashore. Tim and Tiina were enjoying each other last time I saw them.

Tim called yesterday from Georgetown, South Carolina saying they had a great 72-hour trip, arrived ahead of the rain and Tiina wants more sailing in her life. All's well that ends well.

Mother of All Gushers

From Paul Noel of Pure Energy News this article discussing the issues we face with the Gulf of Mexico broken oil rig. The US Coastguard has not denied the well might be spewing oil at the rate of 100,000 barrels per day at this point. As you will read the concern now is that this vast underwater field of oil and gas, said to be the largest of its kind in the world, may cause a cave in of the roof of the well, allowing all the material inside to pour up into the Gulf of Mexico. I also found noteworthy his pointing out the fact, not previously mentioned, that the oil rig was not US flagged and not subject to US oversight.
Here at home there are public meetings with volunteers getting ready to organize to meet any oil that gets caught in the Loop Current, a likely outcome, and will thus be brought down Florida's West Coast to the Keys which will probably be wrecked. How we are supposed to save the reef, the mangroves and what is essentially an estuarine, porous environment with booms and detergent is beyond me. I am going out in my boat as much as possible to enjoy the water before the worst happens. Hoping it never does.

I really do think that the situation is getting further and further out of hand.

By yesterday morning, the nature of the crude had changed, indicating that the spill was collapsing the rock structures. How much I cannot say. If it is collapsing the rock structures, the least that can be said is that the rock is fragmenting and blowing up the tube with the oil. With that going on you have a high pressure abrasive sand blaster working on the kinks in the pipe eroding it causing the very real risk of increasing the leaks.

More than that is the very real risk of causing the casing to become unstable and literally blowing it up the well bringing the hole to totally open condition. Another risk arises because according to reports the crew was cementing the exterior of the casing when this happens. As a result, the well, if this was not properly completed, could begin to blow outside the casing. Another possible scenario is a sea floor collapse. If that happens Katie bar the door.

Possible Fix

I do not see any good possibilities from humans further fracturing the rock particularly at higher levels. That is the cap rock that is holding the deposit together.

I do see a possible use of explosives for favorable outcome. If a properly sized charge were applied in a shaped fashion around the drill pipe at some distance from it say 5 feet or so it is entirely possible that an explosive charge could pinch the pipe off similar to a hydraulic clamp. The resulting situation would vastly reduce the spill. Once you clamped off the pipe much more substantially say down to 1 foot or less opening the resulting pipe could be charge cut above the location and a tapered pipe fitted to it to collect any leaking oil. The end result would be to contain the spill and dramatically control any leaks because drill mud could then be entered into the pipe fitted to the exterior. In the end, the pipe could be controlled that way. The size of a charge to do this would be a few pounds not megatons.

A nuclear detonation carries the real risk of giving us the full doomsday scenario on this well. I just don't like doing that. There is no coming back from the brink when you do that one. If it works, which I see as unlikely, great. If it doesn't work, there is now a maybe a hole 1/4 mile across leaking oil. That looks worse than any possible outcomes otherwise.

Oil Deposit Capacity

The BP people are not talking, but this well is into a deposit that easily could top 500,000 barrels production per day for 10 or 15 years. Letting that all go in one blast seems more than foolish.

The deposit is one I have known about since 1988. The deposit is very big. The central pressure in the deposit is 165 to 170 thousand PSI. It contains so much hydrocarbon that you simply cannot imagine it. In published reports, BP estimated a blow out could reach near 200,000 Barrels per day (165,000) They may have estimated a flow rate on a 5 foot pipe. The deposit is well able to surpass this.

The oil industry has knowledge of the deposit more than they admit. The deposit is 100 miles off shore. They are drilling into the edge of the deposit to leak it down gently to be able to produce from the deposit. The deposit is so large that while I have never heard exact numbers it was described to me to be either the largest or the second largest oil deposit ever found. It is mostly a natural gas deposit. That is another reason not to blast too willy nilly there. The natural gas that could be released is really way beyond the oil in quantity. It is like 10,000 times the oil in the deposit.

It is this deposit that has me reminding people of what the Shell geologist told me about the deposit. This was the quote, "Energy shortage..., Hell! We are afraid of running out of air to burn." The deposit is very large. It covers an area off shore something like 25,000 square miles. Natural Gas and Oil is leaking out of the deposit as far inland as Central Alabama and way over into Florida and even over to Louisiana almost as far as Texas. This is a really massive deposit. Punching holes in the deposit is a really scary event as we are now seeing.

Rig and Pipe Info

The pipe is a fairly rigid pipe and sticks up out of the Blow out prevention device for some distance before it bends over and kinks off. The distance is not long but is enough to do what I suggested. Explosive forming of metals is a standard technology and under water it is easier. The charge focuses very predictably.

Imaging a long straw that is 1 mile long and has kinked over in several locations. This is about what you have. I have seen the submarine photos from early on. Just a really big straw. It has about a 1.5 or 2 foot diameter drill pipe in the center with about a 10 inch hole down the center. I am not exactly sure on the drill pipe size. The casing here is very thick steel. It has to handle massive pressures.

The rig is quite some distance away from the well. It may be a 1/4 mile or more away. It sort of bent over and then kinked the pipe as it went down.

I guess the size here sort of bends the imagination. This rig has a deck area of about 3 to 4 acres. It had a crew quarters on board that had about 120 people in it. (Imagine a big hotel here.) The hotel on the rig was about 4 stories high. You just cannot imagine until you see these rigs how big they are. If you want to see one go to Mobile Bay. Gulf High Island 2 and other rigs in the area can be seen clearly for 90 miles from Pensacola Florida. The towers go up 1100 feet. You can take the ferry right between two rigs if you go from Fort Morgan to Dauphin Island. There is no comparison to these rig anywhere in the world. They are the biggest ever built bar none.

Controls That Should Have Been In Place

By the way, I am not against drilling it, I am just against doing so without proper controls.

The rig that was drilling was not a US Flagged rig. That means US Inspectors were not allowed on board the rig to inspect it. As a matter of National Security under the GATT the USA has a right to demand US Only in various technology. The USA should never allow a foreign flag vessel to drill for oil in the US Economic Zone (200 mile limit).
Acoustic automated shut of devices should be required.
I think US Federal Inspectors should have to be resident on and inspecting rigs like this 24/7.
I think that the drilling should be required to do some smaller holes that deliberately miss the main deposit that test the structure before main drilling operations happen.
Careful procedures should be in place to set up wells before they hit the main deposit. The well casing should have to be inserted well before the drill hits the deposit and it should have to be cemented in at least 2 weeks prior to finishing the hole down to the oil or gas. This is to give the cement time to set. The casing should have ridging to make this cement have a tight wedged grip on the miles of rock around it. This is required because the lift pressure on a pipe in this case could easily reach 20 million pounds of lift. This is an insane amount of up pressure. Even at 70,000 psi it would lift about 140 million pounds. (almost 64,000 long tons!)

Haste from Economic Pressure

I suspect that the series of disasters we have seen in mines around the world and in the USA regards coal and oil are the product of pushing the crews and developments too fast due to the high economic pressures. This happened the last time (Sago and others) when the economic pressure started rising.

The economic pressures on the energy prices are stunning. Everyone is trying to keep their economy going. You can measure the economic output of a nation directly with the energy consumption day to day. The USA dropped its energy consumption in the current downturn (depression) by about 24%. It is now rising again. We are about 19% down and rising. The current situation is that the developments in oil/gas and coal are not keeping pace with what is going to be the demand shortly. They cannot even hope to meet the demand.

This is why I said that Alternative Energy is the only hope.

They can push the pedal to the metal (figuratively speaking) and there is not going to be a speed up much. Since human demand is going to force increases in supply towards 3 times the current level in less than 30 years, we are looking at a big hole with no hope of fixing it.

Air pollution world wide is reaching levels that are at the limits of the environment to take the demands. This increase in energy has to come from somewhere else.

Nuclear power doesn't have the potential. It turns out to run out of fuel in about 30 years. Worse yet solving the problem with nuclear doesn't do anything but boil away scarce fresh water supplies. All combustion does this. The only solutions are ones where the energy comes from somewhere else. Solar and Wind are good options. As you are also aware, the hard core alternatives are there in magnetic power etc. This has to come.

The alternatives to drilling US Waters for oil if we solve this with oil are to depend more and more on hostile powers for oil. Funding your enemies is insane. Drilling in US waters risks ever increasing threats of what we have going on right now.

The collapse of rock structures is even more scary. Mexico has one entire state that is being held up by nitrogen injection wells that would sink if that gas is released. This is not funny stuff. I know I get punched by the "know nothings" out there with political agenda, but I will risk it. If you will note the Oil and Gas people pretty much don't say anything against me. They know. I have been to some of their events and they actually like what I have to say. They cannot say it for fear of their jobs.

If one estimates the cost of a barrel of oil from the Middle East, the US Armed Forces cost added in would drive it to about $2000/barrel. If people paid this at the pump they would be demanding what I say with force so high you couldn't hear anything else. If you factor in the cost of spills and such domestic oil probably costs $500/barrel or more. This is just insane.

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Paul Noel, 52, works as Software Engineer (as Contractor) for the US Army at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. He has a vast experience base including education across a wide area of technical skills and sciences. He supplies technical expertise in all areas required for new products development associated with the US Army office he works in. He supplies extensive expertise in understanding the Oil and Gas industry as well.

Born in Lynnwood Washington, he came to Huntsville Alabama, when his father moved to be part of NASA’s effort to put men on the moon. Neal Armstrong may have gotten the ride, but his father’s computers did the driving.

Paul is also a founding member of the New Energy Congress.