It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Oilicane

Lots of speculation about what happens to the oil in a hurricane.

I think the good news is the hurricane disperses and breaks up the oil, hastening its disintegration. The bad news is, sans top kill, the current setup (presuming it more or less works) requires a container ship on site, and that in the event of a reasonable hurricane strike probability, the ship will have to high-tail it on out of there.

The completely imaginary news is that the oil will substantially pollute the hurricane.

Consider a typical (not extraordinary) landfalling hurricane. How much water does it drop on land? Well, let's give it a 500 km square area on which it drops an average of 10 cm of rain. (I think this is really low.) OK, so we have 5e5*5e5*1e-1 m^3 of water or 2.5e13 liters or 6.6e12 gallons. Now the worst case leakage seems to be about 1e5 1e6 gallons/day. Let's imagine this goes on for 100 days, NONE of it evaporates and EVERY DROP of it somehow gets sucked up into the (smallish) hurricane and ALL of that is dropped on land. (All very implausible assumptions, aimed at the worst case.) Then the oil content in the rain would be a hair over one part ten parts per million.

I think people are imagining their houses being covered in that orange goop. Numbers cut both ways, and in this case they are on your side.

xkcd gets it right.

5 comments:

dhogaza said...

It's the storm surge that's the concern, as a good-sized one would push oil far deeper into the bayou wetlands.

Not to mention destroy all the booms that have been deployed.

Michael Tobis said...

Well, Katrina destroyed a lot more wetlands (which are already stressed, remember) than BP has so far, so a big storm surge in Louisiana would destroy wetlands, oil or not.

I have no idea what a big storm would do to the booms or to Bobby J's sandpiles. That's a point.

David B. Benson said...

There is quite a good chance we will find out. Promises to be an active hurricane season.

David B. Benson said...

Jeff Masters on The OilCane

dhogaza said...

"Well, Katrina destroyed a lot more wetlands (which are already stressed, remember) than BP has so far, so a big storm surge in Louisiana would destroy wetlands, oil or not."

Sure, of course. But much of the 75% of the wetlands east of the mississippi not destroyed by katrina would've been oiled if katrina had been passing over a massive oil slick hanging off the coast.

The oil damage isn't permanent. I'm not trying to downplay Katrina.