Five Weeks of Oil and the Top Kill Maneuver

For those following the progress of BP's "top kill" maneuver, whether via reports or their underwater webcam, it's hard to tell what exactly is going on. It seemed that the injection of drilling mud, assisted by the previously unsuccessful "junk shot" method (which involves shooting shredded tires into the gushing vent), has stemmed the flow of oil...but now it's even more murky. With new estimates of the amount of oil already escapes easily eclipsing the Exxon Valdez spill, we can only hope that BP doesn't have to stop and restart the process as it did last night. Fortunately, we have geologist Chris Rowan of Highly Allochthonous to explain how top kill is supposed to work.

In the past few hours, there seems to have been a big set back; some kind of explosive event may have occurred during the "junk shot" part of this morning maneuvers, and while the underwater camera stopped recording for a while, current feeds show it venting mud/oil at furious rate. (The blogs Pas au-Delà and The Oil Drum have been my go-to sources for live coverage, but would be happy to see some others in the comments.)

Back here at SB, we're very fortunate to have the The Pump Handle crew and Speakeasy Science covering the public health aspects of both the spill and the clean-up (considering the the dispersants currently being used might be more toxic than the oil itself).

If you're following this story, you need to read all of The Pump Handle's BP posts, though I'd recommend starting with "Trying to keep track of the Gulf Investigations."

As for Speakeasy Science, Deborah Blum has a must read post on the toxic chemistry of the oil itself: Crude Comments. Her posts on the dispersants are also vital: "A Lethal Concentration" and "Dishwashing in the Gulf, Part 1, Part 2."

With the way things are going, it looks like we're going to be relying on their coverage for some time to come.

Update: Well, that took long. "'Top Kill' Fails to Plug Leak; BP Readies Next Approach"

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