Sailing the Seas of Tea

After 23 days we’re up to over 4.9 million gallons (by the 210,000 gallon/day estimate) of Texas tea out there mucking up the scene. Some 3.8 million gallons of “oily liquid” have been recovered via skimming according to BP. Said “oily liquid” is estimated to containing 10% oil, so that takes 378,000 gallons of crude out of the Gulf to be dealt with elsewhere. I could find no cohesive estimates of the amount of oil that has been burned off but I’m guessing it’s pretty low since there are several factors working against this practice. The main one is that the flash point of crude oil is somewhere around 140°F. That means that the atmosphere around the oil needs to be 140°F for it to vaporize into an ignitable mixture in the air. For the fire to keep going, the temperature must be maintained. That’s not exactly feasible with surface water temperatures in the 70’s and air temperatures only slightly above that. Another major malfunction with the torching idea is the amount of greenhouse gasses that would be emitted from such an act. About 22 lbs of CO2 cruises off into the atmosphere per gallon of incinerated crude oil. To wrap a little perspective around it, the emissions from one third of the oil that is floating around in the Gulf of Mexico would equal the estimated emissions from the worst day of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcanic eruption in Iceland. You know, the one that largely shut down European air travel for days on end. Burning is a useful tool where oil is concentrated, isolated, and the immediate atmospheric conditions permit, but will hopefully remains a small part of the clean-up effort.

The oiled wildlife scene, thankfully, has been slow. In an effort to illustrate the reasons behind this I spent nearly an hour, fruitlessly searching for a current map of actual oil coverage. This examination left two possibilities ringing in my head. 1) Either I’m not typing the right key words into the search engines or 2) there just aren’t any out there. I found trajectories and estimates galore but no actual coverage maps or comprehensive aerial photos for any time in the past four days.  Can anyone out there point me in the right direction if I’m missing the mark here? The most useful and continuous sets of graphic information we have to help us grasp the gravity of this thing are trajectory maps from NOAA.

oil trajectory for today 5-13-10

oil trajectory for tomorrow 5-14-10

oil trajectory for the day after tomorrow 5-15-10

The oil that’s reaching shore now has traveled 60+ miles from it’s source and there’s plenty more where that came from. So as I sit here, comfortable in my Oakland, California residence, thanks to NOAA I can better visualize the fact that there’s a long haul ahead of us and I should savor the cushiness of my couch and quietude of my house while I’m able. The phone will be ringing soon enough and I’ll be on a plane southeast bound.

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