Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A-Whale's Tale: "Oil-eating Whale or ‘white elephant’?" (APC; BP; RIG)

Some question if tanker-turned-skimmer can make impact in Gulf

Photo via the LATimes

The fancifully named A Whale, a seagoing behemoth converted into what its owners are calling the world’s biggest oil skimmer, is being billed as a cleanup hitter in the effort to prevent millions of gallons of oil spewing from BP’s ruptured well from ever reaching shore. 

TMT, the Taiwanese company that owns the massive ship, estimates that it can suck as much as 500,000 barrels of oily water a day through its “jaws” — six ports cut into each side near its bow — and remove much of the crude through a “decanting” process using internal separation tanks.
“In the final stage, the filtered water can be returned to the ocean while the heavy oil residue is transferred to tankers for storage and final disposition,” TMT says in promotional materials outlining what it calls “the best solution to the Gulf of Mexico spill crisis.”

It will float across the Gulf “like a lawnmower cutting the grass,” effectively doubling the skimming capability of the oil response effort, CEO Nobu Su told reporters last week in Norfolk, Va., during a stopover at which company officials revealed what they hope will be the A Whale’s new mission.
But before the 1,115-foot-long ship with the big blue whale on funnel has even undergone testing, some experts are questioning whether it can fulfill those lofty expectations.

“I don’t think the concept is that bad, but I don’t see how in this situation it’s going to be a significant player,” said Dennis Bryant, a former Coast Guard officer who worked on implementing regulations required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 before retiring and starting a maritime consulting business in Gainesville, Fla.
“In a case like the Exxon Valdez spill, where you had a lot of oil on the surface in a confined area, a vessel like this could have gone in and sucked up a whole lot,” he said. “But in the Gulf, where the oil is pretty well dispersed over a vast area, I don’t see how it’s going to make a large dent.”

No commitment from BP Whether the A Whale, a Taiwanese-owned, Liberian-flagged ship, will even join the cleanup is unclear. TMT converted the oil/bulk ore carrier at a Portuguese shipyard over 10 days in early June without first obtaining a commitment from BP, which would need to sign the contract to enlist the ship in the spill response. Nor did it check with the U.S. government to ensure that the skimming operation would meet U.S. environmental and maritime standards.

Also, while the company says it conducted a successful test of the A Whale’s ability to draw in oily water using fire foam, the concept has not undergone outside review. And Bob Grantham, a spokesman for the TMT Offshore Group, said Thursday that it’s not yet clear how much oil can be removed from the water....MORE