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Deeply Troubling


RIO DE JANEIRO – We’ve already spent some time covering the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and relating that to the Brazilian Pre-Salt exploration underway. One silver-lining is that it’s given Brazil some warning and time to consider the potential consequences of a similar disaster happening here, and increase safety precautions.

Stone Korshak, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Rio Times.

Reflecting quickly, on April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire destroyed the BP-licensed Transocean drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, located in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently a “blowout preventer”, intended to prevent release of crude oil, failed to activate.

The immediate challenge was how to stop a massive leak 1,500 meters (5,000 ft) below the surface of the water, and repair the gargantuan system of pipes and valves that sits next to the well on the ocean floor… as we know, many attempts failed for months.

This resulted in an underwater oil geyser that continued until July 15th, when it was temporarily closed by a massive cap. Relief wells to allow permanent termination of the flow are to be completed in August 2010. The spill has the potential to cause severe damage to the ecosystem of the Gulf coast and waters.

Early oil leak map off the Gulf of Mexico, image by Wikimedia/Creative Commons License.

In the worst case, the oil could affect oxygen levels in the water, cause annihilation to the food chain, seafood industries, and to life deep at sea and along hundreds of miles of coastline, requiring years or decades for the ecosystem to recover.

Now, we look at Brazil’s Pre-Salt exploration and drilling. These reserves are trapped around 4,000 meters (about 13,000 feet) under the sea floor, beneath layers of salt and rock. There is also around 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) of seawater between the seabed and the surface, further complicating the drilling process.

Pre-Salt oil fields off the coast of Brazil, image by Wikimedia/Creative Commons License.

It is impossible to calculate the impact to Brazil’s environment or economics from such a disaster. Although generally it is clear that it would be even more difficult to contain in terms of under-water depth. Not to mention the “developing” resources at the disposal of Brazil’s local and national government to combat the cause directly, and to pressure the responsible multinational businesses to react.

Reports indicate about seventy percent of the U.S. seafood industry is (was) coming from the Gulf of Mexico, and although it is not known as a global beach destination (lacking the title of being the number one sexiest beach in the world), it is still too soon to comprehend the impact on the Gulf tourism economy.

But, just image what it would do to Rio.

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