Tuesday, August 30, 2011

no man is an island

“Let’s blow this fascist popsicle stand!  Purchase a small island somewhere, and start our own country.” 
– Montgomery Burns

Getting away from it all by starting a country is an interesting idea but it appears there are no spare uninhabited islands that don't already belong to some larger country that frowns on claim jumpers. Remember the entire British Navy setting sail for the Falklands? Since it's difficult, bordering on impossible, to find places that don't fall under some national jurisdiction there are those who have become enthusiastic about turning abandoned oil rigs into their own separate countries.

These ideas always seem to be presented by people who have better skills making architectural photo-shop models than they do in the real world where things tend to get messy. In fact, things already are pretty messy. Did you know there are 27,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico, many of which are already abandoned? Since I thought I'd limit this post to old oil drilling platforms as potential living spaces there's not much reason to mention that according to The American Petroleum Institute there are approximately 2.5 million abandoned oil wells in the continental US. I had to mention it because we can't solve problems we don't know about. It seems that ever since the first well was drilled in the US in 1859 the practice has been to walk away shortly thereafter. It's far from being a strictly American problem as experts in the subject have estimated there are likely to be 20-30 million of them globally. Many were wildcatted long before there were any capping techniques or regulations and far too many have never been identified. Capping has usually involved nothing more than pouring some cement down the hole and, as we know from looking at highways and bridges that haven't been continually repaired, things can go badly wrong.

Anyway, back to our abandoned oil platform home sweet home. Although I believe the concept to be fairly chimeric - how many of you would enjoy sitting on a palm tree planted oil platform during hurricane season in the Gulf? - there might be some advantages insofar as people having a reason to monitor further oil and gas leaks. The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster came as a profound shock and wake-up call last year when many of us first learned about the dangerous practice of deep water drilling. The oil industry, inarguably the wealthiest enterprise in the history of humanity, has opted to spend a small portion of its profits by influencing governments to deregulate or not enforce laws on the books. Oil and gas leaks continue to cause massive damage to the environment as a whole and to the ocean in particular.

There are so many problems in the world right now and this is a very small blog but I have to point out the old saying that ignorance of the law is no excuse under the law. It's quite obvious that the same rule should apply equally to environmental crimes. The fact is that there are no islands left where we can start again. As Bill McKibben said:

"We've built a new Earth.
It's not as nice as the old one;
It's the greatest mistake humans have ever made,
One that we will pay for literally forever.
We live on a new planet.
What happens next is up to us."

Sayonara from Eric Bates on Vimeo.

The oil companies have money enough to pay for superfund clean-ups of the areas already defiled. Perhaps the day will come when the uber rich will realize there are no islands for them to run to either.

We live in hope.


Vincent said...

The top one looks pretty but I see nowhere on it to hang lines of washing to dry. Nowhere for the cat or dog to do its business. Nowhere to go for a walk.

So I agree with you that there won't be many takers for derelict platforms.

Thing is, you don't get many people who pick up their dropped litter (not where I live anyhow). Corporations invariably have worse morals than the average private citizen.

So Susan, you brought up the topic, let me ask you two questions. Is there a law that says don't litter the sea with scrap on stilts? Is there a police force to enforce the law?

Only with two yeses will your tidy-up campaign stand a chance, I think (as a non-expert).

susan said...

vincent - Although I always find contradictory issues interesting to explore, I'm invariably reluctant to post mini-essays about them because doing anything sensible in the world as we know it is well beyond what I understand of human nature. It's typical for archeologists to learn the most about ancient people by sorting through their midden piles. We've been throwing away bones, banana skins, pots, glass, rusty metal, plastic and everything else we no longer have a use for since before we climbed down from the trees.

So, no to both questions. However, I don't like to think we're totally doomed by our idiocy even if that is the truth and that's why I go against my own better judgement and write the occasional post about the incompatible subjects of ecology and economy.

jams o donnell said...

I suppose in theory recycling oil platforms is not a bad idea but who in their right minds would want to live there!

I wonder how profitable oil would be if the companies were forced to clean up every bit of the mess they have made of places... the Niger delta springs to mind

gfid said...

some offshore drilling platforms are anchored, and floating, or built on barges that maintain drilling position mechanically, with no attachment to the sea floor, so could rise with the water level... others are on 'legs' affixed to the sea floor... which would go under along with everything else..... i can see the idea of converting the things to 'tropical islands' appealing to a certain segment of society - the ones who think oil is god, and don't hang out their washing or walk the dog, or pick up their litter, in particular - with the right hype-meisters doing promotion, it could be made quite fashionable. the drilling platforms are not built to last long, though, so how safe would they be?

so now i have to tell you about my friend, who was environmental inspector for the government of Alberta in our area not too long ago. about 7 years ago, she was notified of a site where, as you mention, the concrete capping was not doing its job - if indeed the (probably natural gas, as that was what they were after mostly when it was drilled in the 60's or 70's) well had ever been capped at all. it seems, this had been a favorite picnic spot for the locals for more than a decade and a half, before she came on board. there was seepage.... just water, so no one was worried. interesting that it was salt water, though - who'd ever guess that!!!? and if you held a match to it, the water would burn. it was in a really pretty spot, overlooking the Peace River, so folks would get together there, and roast wieners over the flaming seep, and the kids would play in the little salt water stream that ran down the hill to the river.

when she tested the water, it was highly radioactive, and the gas coming off it was toxic. the previous inspector had known about the site, but never done anything about it because he liked his cushy job and didn't want to make trouble.

gfid said...

apologies for blog hogging.... something came over me.... just remembering that story makes my blood boil.

marja-leena said...

Fascinating and depressing really, Susan! I'm pessimistic, much as I still hope there's a future for our grandkids and great grandkids.

gfid, I've heard that story, as we used to live in the Peace River area of north BC. I could tell you a few moe hair raising ones. No, oil and gas corporations have no conscience.

Spadoman said...

The ocean isn't the only place where abandoned structures exisit. And in most cases, as I'm sure is the case with left-over oil platforms, the corporation pays something for upkeep and taxes of some kind.
Take the case of the iron ore loading platform in Ashland, WI. It has ceased operations since 1972, yet it still stands. Canadian Pacific railway, the owners of this 'dock' and the land, pay to maintain it and fix safety concerns when called to their attention.They also pay taxes on the land they own.
No wonder they don't let people set up a homestead on pieces of industry that are no longer in use.
I didn't realize there were so many derelict oil platforms. Your article is informative and provokes thought. I have found enough places to hide out without squatting out in the middle of the ocean.
Good job susan.

Randal Graves said...

To do that you need a trillion-dollar bill and everyone knows ours was stolen by Fidel.

susan said...

jams - We just witnessed the back end of a hurricane and I know for sure I wouldn't enjoy sitting on an oil platform in the midst of a fresh one.

When profit doesn't include all the factors of what constitutes wealth that question isn't allowed.

gfid - Tying a bunch of old ships together might be a better plan but still not attractive or very safe in the long term. So much of this stuff is about tax avoidance and data havens that my head hurts to consider who'd want to take part.

The story about your friend the environmental inspector was amazing. I looked for some information about radiation in the context of old oil well and found this explanation from a physicist:

'The other day, I was talking to a local Heath Physics professional here in Nevada and the conversation drifted onto to subject of radiation in old oil well pipes. He explained that the oil,
under pressure will allow radium-226 to plate-out onto the pipe walls and be part of the scale that accumulates there. Normally radium is in equilibrium with U238, the parent from which it comes. The plating-out process disturbs this equilibrium and removes only the radium, leaving the uranium to flush away with the oil. He went on to tell about some tests he did in Texas where he found the radiation level figures very very high. High enough that a common Geiger Counter like we have access to will pin the meter.'

It's really unfortunate, but not surprising, the former inspector ignored the situation. You have to wonder how many of those people will get cancer years from now and will never know why.

ps: I don't mind long comments at all. The whole idea of blogging in my opinion is trying to have something of a conversation and learning new things.

marja-leena - I think our pessimism is simply being realistic. Next is to promise ourselves not to be fooled again and that's the hard part. What we want for our children and grandchildren is a harmonious future.

spadoman - The article I linked to in the post is a much longer description about just how many abandoned wells there are on land. Apparently, they used to use branches, rocks, and old cannonballs to fill the oldest ones. There are some places where buildings have been erected over old wells that are still seeping methane and explosions have happened. Since they sucked up all the oil on land they haven't improved their safety measures when they drill offshore.

It really is a scary situation but I thought I should post about it anyway. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.

randal - Have you been watching Fox news again?

Gina said...

I was just watching a documentary on eco-terrorism. How do folks who are protesting environmental destruction of the planet get such a bad rep, forced to prison sentences, when the real terrorists (the energy industries) wreak havoc on the planet, its animals and its people.

clairesgarden said...

there is... or pehaps was now.. a fuel tank sitting in the middle of the clyde and i often thought the platform would be a great place to put a house. fabulous views anyway... until the sea rises and washes it all away...

Ol'Buzzard said...

Not only is all land owned, but with the uncontrolled population increase the world is more crowded. Also, we have lost our innocents. Skepticism is the morality of the day.

Lisa said...

Too bad we can't photoshop some sense into our collective self.

Thank you for this thought-provoking and fascinating post, Susan.

susan said...

gina - I agree it's sad and disgusting.

claire - It might at least be a nice place for a picnic.

ol'buzzard - Yes, numbers are a big problem.

lisa - I don't see that happening but who knows?

linda said...

hmmmm... we lived a stone's throw from an old dump site for 25 years and believed the county that the rainbow sheen on puddles and weird murky yuk coming out of the earth was peachy keen......now I fight a ridiculous boat load of autoimmune problems and thinking about a metals test just for the fun of it! what to do, I have no idea....I won't live where I can't hang out the wash from time to time! I guess the house on the rig will need to be little to accommodate my needs...maybe not the best way to go but how about putting the idiots running this country there for a contemplative time of silence?

crap....how depressing BUT also gratitude to you for an eye-opening post.... xxx

susan said...

linda - So much damage has been done without any thought or planning at all that it seems to me quite likely an awful lot of physical problems people have been subjected to might actually have been avoided. I think it's a good idea you have to send the idiots off for some 'quiet time' on rusty platforms and oil barges so they can think things through.

I don't want to write depressing posts but sometimes it seems best to let people know what I've found. I'm glad you understand.

Sean Jeating said...

I heard it's said the solution is 42.

Good on you, Susan.

susan said...

sean - My favorite was 'So long and thanks for all the fish'. :-)