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More Thoughts on the BP Oil Spill

|Includes: BP p.l.c. (BP)

We really are in uncharted waters.

On one hand, the BP oil spill was unprecedented in size. The problem was that some other things are unprecedented in size, such as the depth and conditions of the deepwater activity, at least in the Gulf of Mexico.

There are two things that pretty much define an oil well. One is flow rate. The other is pressure.

Flow rate is mostly desirable. That is, the better the flow of oil, the more oil you can get in a shorter time, and the more money you'll make.

Pressure is the other key variable. Normally, pressure is good. The problem with most onshore wells is that there is too LITTLE pressure. Meaning that too much oil stays in the ground.

Offshore, or at least deep offshore, is another matter. Pressure increases in SQUARED terms the deeper you go. The difference between 1,000 and 2,000 feet deep is not two, but two squared, or four.

Meaning that unprecedented depths lead to unprecedented pressures. And the problem is that we have little experience in dealing with "too much" pressure.

BP drilled a large hole, then tried to plug it, as it might have done elsewhere. This time, it didn't work, for reasons alluded to above.

Perhaps the whole industry needs to rethink the whole drilling protocol. Like smaller drill holes. Or more equipment and personnel available on standby for emergencies.

As an army gets more sophisticated, the "tail to teeth" (logistical support to fighting men) ratio rises. Perhaps a similar thing is needed here.