The Murky Business Of Stopping Oil Spills

Six years before Deepwater Horizon exploded in April 2010, the force of Hurricane Ivan blew an offshore drilling platform off its legs and into the Gulf of Mexico. For the last 14 years, that well’s pipes, long buried in mud and debris have been spilling oil into the Gulf every single day. That makes it the longest-running spill in history. Every day for fourteen years. Let that sink in for a bit.

Taylor Energy’s platform sat just 10 miles off the coast, much closer to the Louisiana shore than Deepwater Horizon was. Since the hurricane hit, Taylor has tried a number of unsuccessful things to stop the spill. They’ve only been able to plug 9 of the 25 broken pipes so far. The rest are buried deep in mud and debris. Why on Earth haven’t you heard about this before? Taylor spent six years covering it up. And they might have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for pesky watchdog groups surveying the Gulf after Deepwater Horizon exploded.

So how are oil spills stopped, anyway? The answer depends on many things. Most immediately, the answer depends whether the spill happened onshore or offshore, and the inciting incident that caused the spill. Underwater oil spills are much more difficult to stop because of the weight and existence of the ocean. In Taylor Energy’s case, the muddy Gulf bed has become a murky tomb for the broken and buried pipes, which makes it even more messy.

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Retrotechtacular: Pipeline To The Arctic

They said it couldn’t be done, and perhaps it shouldn’t have been attempted. Shouldas and couldas aside, the oil crisis of the 1970s paved the legislative way for an 800-mile pipeline across the Alaskan frontier, and so the project began. The 48-inch diameter pipe sections would be milled in Japan and shipped to Alaska. Sounds simple enough. But of course, it wasn’t, since the black gold was under Prudhoe Bay in Alaska’s North Slope, far away from her balmy southern climes.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was constructed in three sections: from Valdez to Fairbanks, Fairbanks to a point in the Brooks Pass, and south from Prudhoe Bay to the mountain handoff. Getting pipe to the Valdez and Fairbanks is no big deal, but there is no rail, no highway, and no standard maritime passage to Prudhoe Bay. How on earth would they get 157 miles worth of 58-foot sections of pipe weighing over 8 tons each up to the bubblin’ crude?

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