The Corner

No, We Can’t

Read this piece.

It’s technical, but not intractably so, if you’re willing to concentrate for half an hour and chase down the links.

It’s also deeply pessimistic about our chances of doing anything much about the Gulf oil spill.

In brief:

● BP drills a hole down through many layers of rock, of different strength and consistency, to the oil.

● The oil will then come up through this bore hole at great pressure.

● You do NOT want that pressure forcing the oil sideways into upper levels of the drilled-through rock.

● So you line the bore hole with steel casing, and cement in the space between casing and bore hole wall. This is deep-drilling S.O.P.

● Evidence from the Top Kill failure suggests that this casing-cement system is now fatally compromised.

So we have “down hole leaks” — oil under colossal pressure forcing its way sideways into below-sea-bed rock formations.

● If you had (which of course we don’t) some massive cork to jam into the top of the bore hole and stop the gusher, all that sideways-leaked oil would just come bursting out through fissures opening up in the sea floor.

● For miles around.

● And even though we don’t have such a cork, the bore hole might collapse in on itself, with the same effect.

As the writer says: “The very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more.”

In slightly different words: The best we can hope for is that the thing just goes on gushing through the bore hole indefinitely. (Or until we can drill enough relief wells to reduce the pressure. Don’t hold your breath.)

I’m as horrified as anyone by this — if the guy has got it right, and I’ve understood him correctly. At the same time, as a constitutional pessimist, I’ll own to a certain grim satisfaction. The infantile optimism of post-JFK America may have met its match down there in the Gulf. Nature is not mocked.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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