DRILLING for oil is a balancing act. If the pressure of the working fluids in the well, or the strength of concrete holding the piping in place, cannot balance the immense pressure of the oil down below, then things get very bad, very quickly. On April 20th, for some reason as yet unknown, the pressure in a well that had been drilled by the Deepwater Horizon, a rig that BP, one of the world’s largest oil companies, was using to explore a new field in the Gulf of Mexico, got out of balance. The well blew its top, causing an explosion and subsequent fire which claimed the lives of 11 of the rig’s crew of 126 and eventually sent the rig itself to the bottom of the ocean, a mile below the surface and some 40 miles (64km) off the Louisiana coast.

石油钻井是一项压力平衡才能进行的作业。假如漏油井的受压流体的压力,或者说是固定输油管道的混凝土的强度不能承受喷涌而上的原油压力,那么情况将迅速变得更糟。4月20日,因为一些不知情的原因,世界上规模最大之一的英国石油公司所租用的用于开采墨西哥湾沿岸一片新油田的深水地平线号钻井平台,在钻一口油井时,突然井内的压力增大,失去了平衡。原油沿管道上涌,最终导致钻井平台发生爆炸,熊熊烈火致使126名工作人员中11名丧命,平台也随后沉陷1英里深的海底。出事地点距离路易斯安纳海岸线40(64公里)英里。

In the aftermath, oil started to seep to the surface. Since then the slick has grown inexorably, despite attempts to contain and disperse it. On the distant shore they watch with concern and a certain fatalism. “This is just like waiting for a hurricane,” says LeRoy Meaux, a Louisiana welder, as he works on fixing a winch to a barge. “Been there, done that.” What no one yet knows is whether the Gulf spill will, like some hurricanes, soon fade in the memories of all but those most directly affected, or whether, like Katrina, it will cause havoc that has repercussions much farther afield. Such an outcome is certainly possible. BP has its bottom line and reputation at risk. The technology of deepwater drilling, rightly celebrated for its ingenuity, faces the prospect of more critical assessment than it has received to date. And human livelihoods and natural habitats on the coasts of four states are in jeopardy at a time when offshore drilling is playing an important role in America’s national debate about the nature and security of the country’s energy supply.

事发后,原油开始渗出海面。尽管做了一些收集与驱散浮油的措施,但是随后浮油的面积越来越大,一切于事无补。远在路易斯安娜岸边的人们焦急地观望着,回天乏术。LeRoy Meaux是一名路易斯安纳州的电焊工人,他正将一个卷扬机焊接到一艘驳船上,说道:“这就像是在等待一场飓风那样,在这里,我只能做这些”。没有人知道这场墨西哥沿湾的浮油危机是否能像过去的几场飓风那样,能很快从那些遭受直接影响最为严重的人们的记忆中慢慢消失,或者是否就像卡特里娜飓风那样,造成的严重破坏,引发范围更为广泛的反思。这种结果是极有可能的。英国石油公司可能面临财政亏损与名誉受损的风险。深海钻井技术的确因其独创性而闻名,因这起漏油事件,直至今日,它已屡遭抨击,将来可能还会面临更多的批判性的评估。当近海石油开采在全美关于国家能源供应的安全与实质的辩论中扮演重要角色的时,墨西哥沿湾四个州的居民生计与动物栖息地却危机重重。

At the end of the tether  已是智穷才尽

On the sea floor beneath the Deepwater Horizon sat a device called a blowout preventer, capable of sealing off the well with a number of hydraulic systems, including one designed to slice right through the whole stack. Had it been activated beforehand it should have been able to contain the pressure in the well, saving the rig. Activated after the blowout, it would have done nothing to save the rig, but should still have been able to isolate the oil in the well from the sea above it. But neither of the two systems that should have activated the preventer after the blowout seems to have done so—or if they did, the preventer did not do its job. Oil continued to flow into the spindled and mutilated remains of the piping that had originally risen from the sea floor to the drilling platform, coming out of that wreckage at three different points and spreading over thousands of square kilometres.

深水地平线号下面的海底处有一个防喷装置,它利用多个液压装置,包含一个能完全切断这个管道的设备,便能够将漏油井堵住。假如能够预先激活它(防喷装置),那么就能够减轻漏油井的压力从而使钻井平台免遭破坏。但事发后才激活它,则不能挽救这个钻井平台,却仍然能够封住井内的原油而不与井上海面的浮油接触。但两套(液压)本该在事发后被激活的防喷系统,似乎均未实现上述功效(没能将井内的油与浮油分离)---或者如果他们被激活,防喷装置也未尽其能。因此原油继续涌入早已残缺不全的抽油管道中。这根管道是从海底一直连接到钻井平台。而原油则从不同的三处抽油管道残存处涌出,使浮油蔓延面积达到数千平方公里。更多信息请访问:http://www.24en.com/

The United States Coast Guard has estimated that 5,000 barrels of oil are being added to the slick every day. Ian MacDonald, a marine biologist at Florida State University who studies oil that comes out of natural seeps on the sea floor, estimates on the basis of pictures and maps from the coastguard that the rate may be as much as five times that. The largest accidental oil spill in history, which was also in the Gulf, was due to a 1979 blowout on a Mexican rig called Ixtoc-1 (see chart). Between June 1979 and March 1980 it released around 3.3m barrels. For comparison, the Exxon Valdez fiasco in Alaska in 1989, America’s most infamous oil spill, released just 260,000 barrels. At the coastguard rate the Deepwater Horizon leak would take years to match Ixtoc-1; at Mr MacDonald’s rate, months.

美国海岸警卫队估计目前每天有相当于5000桶的原油量加入到海上浮油的“队伍”。伊恩麦克唐纳是佛罗里达州立大学的一位海洋生物学家,研究海底原油自然泄漏问题,他利用来自海岸警备队的地图和图片为研究基础,估计每天泄油量可能是海岸警备队评价数量的5倍。历史上最大的意外泄油事件,恰好也发生在墨西哥湾,起因是1979年一座墨西哥人的钻井平台(Ixtoc-1)爆裂。在1979年到1980年之间,这座钻台泄油量约为330万桶。相比之下,1989年,阿拉斯加州埃克森瓦尔迪兹号油轮泄露,即美国历史上最臭名昭著的泄油事件,泄油总量也才26万桶。按照海岸警卫队的估计,深水地平线号泄露需要数年才能赶上Ixtoc-1。而依麦克唐纳的估计,仅数月就能赶上。

BP has developed a number of plans for stemming the flow before then. The one( most assured of success )requires the drilling of a new well that would intersect the existing one. Remarkably, there seems little doubt that threading such a well into the old one is possible, despite its being only seven inches across(宽) and 18,000 feet (5,500 metres) down. But more than one attempt may be needed, which is why BP has two rigs earmarked for relief wells. One has already started drilling; the other is expected to get under way shortly. Their work, though, will take months.

在此之前,英国石油公司已考虑到诸多堵漏计划。其实最有可能确保成功的是钻一个新井以横穿漏油井。引人注目的是:尽管漏油井直径仅数英寸,深度为18000英尺(5500米),但是钻新井横穿过它是可能的,这似乎可信。但仍需要更多的准备措施,因而英国石油公司为减压钻井而专门储备了2个钻井平台。一个平台已开始钻井,另一个也将很快开工。然而,完成这项工作将需数月。

Even if the leakage is only at the lower end of the estimates, months could add up to a great deal of oil on coastlines important for fishing, tourism and the environment. So the race is on for approaches that could work quicker. On May 5th remotely operated submersibles managed to seal off the smallest of the three leaks, which did not reduce the overall flow, but has simplified matters. BP is also building a pair of cofferdams that could sit over the leaks like inverted funnels(倒转的漏斗), with(借助) piping allowing the oil up to a drilling ship at the surface.

即使漏油数量是上述估算的较低值,但是数月之久会大量增加海岸沿线的浮油总量,况且那里对于捕鱼业、旅游业和环境都是至关重要的(浮油增加会影响这些产业)。所以,目前正进行着制定出更快捷的实施措施的竞赛。5月5日,几艘遥控潜艇成功地封住了三处漏油口中最小的一处,尽管这不能减少总泄油量,但是已经使情况变得简单些。BP公司也正建造两个能像倒转的漏斗般盖住漏油处的潜水箱,从而通过管道将漏油抽取进海面的钻井船内。

The first of these cofferdams is already built and due to be sunk by May 7th. No such system has been put together at this sort of depth before, so getting it to work is unlikely to be easy. There are, though, other options. While attempts to get the blowout preventer to shut off the flow entirely have so far failed, BP is investigating a technique called “top kill” that entails putting new pipe into the preventer through which to apply downward pressure(向下的压力).

第一个“倒置的漏斗”已经建好,预计5月7日投入水下。因为之前,一直没有如此规模的装置一同放入如此深的水底,所以要完成这个任务不可能轻松。不过还有别的援救方案。至今为止利用防喷装置封闭漏油口的尝试已宣告失败,但BP公司正研究一项“绝杀”技术---在防喷装置中放入新的管道由此产生向下的压力以封住漏油口。

Many local fishing boats have signed on as vessels of opportunity to help the coastguard; the rest are tied up at their docks, as fishing in the area is no longer permitted. The seafood industry is worth $2.4 billion to the state of Louisiana when fishing, processing, selling and cooking in restaurants are all taken into account, and a fishing ban will eat into that. Tuan Nguyen, a seafood wholesaler in the small community of Venice, Louisiana, says his business was shut down for eight months after Katrina, in 2005, and his savings were obliterated: “I don’t know what we’re going to do, because the bills are coming in every day.”

许多当地的渔船鉴于受雇纷纷参加到协助海岸警卫队的“清油大军”中;剩下的渔船因为这一地区已禁止捕鱼作业,便停泊在各自的码头。当把捕鱼、加工、销售和餐馆的烹制都计算在内,路易斯安纳州的海鲜产业价值24亿美元,所以颁布禁捕令将严重冲击这个产业。在路易斯安纳威尼斯社区从事海鲜批发的Tuan Nguyen谈道:“2005年卡塔里飓风后,关门停业达8个月,耗光了所有的积蓄”。他又沮丧地说道:“现在每天都有催款单飞至而来,我们真不知道应该做什么了!”

The first known animal victim of the spill was a northern gannet, currently recovering. Dead jellyfish and turtles are now washing up on the beaches, and fish are suffocating(奄奄一息). When the oil starts to wash up in quantity, the greatest environmental threat will be to the Louisiana wetlands. Oil on the fine white sand of the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coastlines would depress tourism, but workers could scrape it up and haul it away. The muddy lattice of marshes, bayous, and barrier islands that makes up southern Louisiana is different.

第一个已知的受漏油所害的动物是一只北方塘鹅,目前正在康复中。水母和乌龟的尸体不断地被冲刷到岸上,而鱼儿们奄奄一息。当裹着浮油的海水大肆冲刷海滩时,路易斯安纳湿地的生态环境将面临最严峻的威胁。当浮油向密士西比州、亚拉巴马州、佛罗里达州布满精细的白色沙粒的海滩袭来时,将使当地的旅游产业一蹶不振。而工人们不得不将沾满浮油的白色沙粒积攒在一起,以便拖走。而那分布得错落有致的湿地、海湾、堰洲岛曾使路易斯安纳州南部的风光绚丽多姿,现在这种格调已不复存在。

The erosion of these delicate environments was a pressing issue even before the spill, made worse by the damage Katrina did to barrier islands. If the oil penetrates the wetlands it could worsen the problem further by killing the vegetation that does its best to hold the marshes together. It(浮油) will also affect the wildlife therein. Mike Carloss, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, says the brown pelicans and terns in the area are already stressed by the seasonal demands of nest building and fighting for territory, and are thus particularly vulnerable.

泄油肆虐前,侵蚀这些脆弱的生态环境就是危急之事,而卡特里娜飓风对堰洲岛的伤害使得这些生态更加糟糕。假如浮油渗透到湿地,将使那里大片植被死亡,使问题变得更加糟糕,因为这些植被是同整个湿地“休戚与共”的。浮油也影响了那里的野生动物。麦克卡洛斯是路易斯安那野生动物与渔业保护局的一位生物学家,他表示这一地区的棕色塘鹅与燕鸥因季节性筑巢需求而争夺领地,他们本已“身心疲惫”,因此面对浮油的袭来,尤为脆弱。

One of the things that the fishing boats helping the coastguard can do to help is spread dispersants. Oil is dangerous to seabirds because it(浮油) dissolves the grease that insulates their feathers; they get cold and die. Dispersants cut the oil as washing-up liquid cuts the grease on dishes, allowing oil on the surface to spread down into the water. This lessens its effects on surfaces and shorelines, though it might make things worse for fish. Once dispersed ,the oil can then be broken down more easily by bacteria that have evolved to live off natural sources of hydrocarbons.

协助海岸警卫队的渔船所做的一件有用的事情就是散放分散剂。浮油对于海鸟而言是危险的,因为浮油会溶解动物的油脂,而这些油脂却能使海鸟的羽毛隔热否则它们就会感冒而死。分散剂清除浮油的原理就如同洗涤液除去器皿上的油腻物一般,使海面的浮油沉入水中。这样便能削弱它对海水表面与海岸所造成的威胁,尽管对于鱼类而言是更为糟糕的。一旦被(化学)分散,随后浮油就更容易被进化到以碳氢化合物等天然污染源为食的细菌降解。

To avoid contaminating the sea floor, most dispersants are used only in deep water. Today’s dispersants are not as toxic as those used on the big spills of the 1970s, but they still require care, and must be kept away from some sensitive places, such as reefs and spawning grounds.

为了防止对海底造成污染,绝大多数的分散剂只能在深海里使用。虽然今天的分散剂并不像上世纪70年代在重大漏油事故中所使用的那样有剧毒,但是仍要谨慎使用。使用时必须避开暗礁、产卵场等一些敏感海域。

Boom and bust 盛衰
There is only a short window—from a few hours to up to two days—in which dispersants are useful, says Simon Rickaby, a marine-pollution expert at Britain’s Institute of Marine Engineering Science and Technology. This is because the light fractions of an oil spill—as much as 40% of the total—will evaporate quite quickly (air-quality monitoring stations have been set up along the coast to make sure that this, in itself, does not become a health hazard). The oil left behind becomes thicker and forms a sort of mousse that is less susceptible to dispersants.
西蒙•雷克比是英国海洋工程与技术学院的一位研究海洋污染的专家,他表示:“分散剂的时效性很短暂—从几小时起到2天内有效”。这是因为一次原油泄露出的轻油----占所泄漏油量的百分之四十-----能很快蒸发(沿海岸已建立了数个空气质量监控站以确保所蒸发到空气的油不构成健康危害)。而剩下未蒸发的漏油则会变得更加黏稠,并形成海水油胶,这种物质不太容易被分散剂分解。

The need for early action, and the fact that the Deepwater Horizon spill is in much deeper water than most, has given rise to a new way of using dispersants. A remotely operated underwater vehicle with a “wand” rather like those used for weedkiller has been dispensing nine gallons a minute of dispersant thousands of feet below the surface, close to the leaks. The idea is to see if the slick can be broken up before it even reaches the surface.

需要提早地采取行动,加上与大多数情况相比,深水地平线号事发的海区水位更深,催生了分散剂使用的新方式。远程控制的潜水器安装的一根棒与除草机所安装的功能相似,它一直以来以每分钟9加仑的速度散播分散剂在离海面数千英尺深的水中,而这一区域靠近漏油处。利用这种方法是为观察能否利用分散剂在漏油浮出水面前将其分解掉。

As well as dispersants, some of the 200 or so boats and ships fighting the slick are deploying booms to prevent the oil getting into sensitive coastal locations and to corral it in places where it is concentrated enough to skim or, if the conditions are right, burn. A typical skimmer备 uses rotating drums or discs of plastic onto which the oil clings and is then scraped off by something like a windscreen wiper. Like dispersants, both burning and skimming need fresh oil—once things get mousseux there is much less that can be done.
除分散剂外,200艘左右与漏油作战的船舶中,有一些也正忙着在水面上布置水栅,防止浮油蔓延至一些易受损害的海岸,并将浮油聚集在几处,使其足够黏稠以便撇去,或者在适当条件下,将其烧除。一台标准撇油器使用旋转鼓轮或者塑料圆板,将油收集起来,再利用一个类似挡风玻璃刮水器的装置将其除掉。如同分散剂那样,烧除与撇除仅仅针对新露出的油---一旦浮油变成油胶态,便无法处理了。

By May 4th, 487,000 feet of booms had been deployed, and over 650,000 feet more were available for use. Success, though, will depend on the conditions. Currents draw water under the booms, while waves splash the oil over; strong winds capsize or sink them. Although bad weather, like that of the May Day weekend, keeps boats and booms at bay, it also acts as a dispersant itself, mixing the oil into the water. Over the coming weeks and months the prevailing weather will determine whether the oil stays reasonably contained or spreads farther afield.
截至5月4日,已有487000英尺长的水栅部署到位,另外超过650000英寸的水栅也将投入使用。然而清油行动成功取决于各方面的条件。洋流卷起水栅下的海水,同时海浪也拍打着原油;强劲的海风将水栅倾覆或者沉入海中。尽管,就像国际劳动节周末的天气那样,糟糕的天气情况使船只和水栅被滞留在海湾内,但它本身也有分散剂的作用,能将浮油沉入水中。在接下来的数周甚至数月里,盛行天气将决定是能适当地阻止浮油的飘散,还是会更广阔地蔓延。

The various efforts to deal with the crude were, as of May 5th, costing BP about $6m a day. The costs fall to BP because, as the majority shareholder in the consortium leasing the Deepwater Horizon (the junior partners are America’s Anadarko and Japan’s Mitsui) and the project’s operator, it is liable under American law for the costs of cleaning up. BP is also, at the moment, taking most of the blame from angry Louisianans and from stockmarkets. By May 5th its capitalisation had fallen by $30 billion, or about 16%.

到5月5日为止,各种对付原油的措施使英国石油公司每天花费600万美元。这些费用都由英国石油公司承担,因为,该公司作为集团租赁的大股东,租用了深水地平线号与项目的管理人员(次级合伙人是美国的阿纳达科公司与日本的三井公司)。因此按照美国法律,该公司承担“清油”的所有费用。与此同时,英国石油公司也成了愤怒的路易斯安纳人与证券市场所抨击的对象。截止5月5日,公司股票下跌了300亿美元,或约下跌16个点。

But a number of other companies played a role. Transocean, the world’s largest offshore-drilling firm, owned and ran the Deepwater Horizon. The blowout preventer was made by Cameron International, a specialist engineer. Then there is the cementing of the wellhead, a process which is necessarily tricky. When the cement is wet, its pressure serves to balance the forces inside the well; when it is dry its strength does. But as it sets from wet to dry things can go wrong. This process, which has been implicated in a number of blowouts, was carried out by Halliburton, an engineering-services firm. How blame is eventually allocated among these companies remains to be seen.
但是,许多其他公司也卷入其中。远洋石油公司是世界上最大的海底石油钻探公司,是深水地底线号钻井平台的所有人,并负责其运营。而防喷装置是卡梅伦国际(一家专业工程公司)承建。接着是油井井口的水泥灌浆,这是一项相当棘手的任务。当水泥未凝固时,水泥所形成的压力能平衡井内的力量。当水泥已凝固时,水泥的重量也能平衡井内的力量。但水泥从未凝固到凝固这段变化期,会发生事故。这个处理过程是由哈里伯顿公司(一家工程技术服务公司)执行,但其间遇受了多次的井喷(译者:说明这家公司没有按照安全与技术标准施工)。事故责任最终将如何在这些公司均摊仍需观望。

Meanwhile the costs of dealing with the spill are going up.The relief wells will cost $150m apiece, and the cofferdam experiment will cost millions, too. Cleaning up after a lot of oil hits the shore will raise the stakes considerably higher. Financial analysts forecast that in the worst case BP could spend as much as $12 billion fixing the mess, though it would later recoup some of that from its partners. That would be “utterly” within BP’s financial capabilities, a company spokesman says.
同时“清油”费用也在一路飙升。钻一口减压井将花费1.5亿美元(两口井就需3亿美元)。进行围堤试验也将花费几百万美元。此外,清理大片袭击海岸的浮油将大幅加剧危险情况。财政分析家预计:“但最糟糕的情况是:英国石油公司可能要花费多达120亿美元用于善后处理,即使后来能从其合作伙伴那里获得这笔费用的部分赔偿”。一位公司发言人表示:“这‘完全’在英国石油公司财政承受的范围之内”。

Being nasty to oil companies is never hard, and BP’s record over the past years has not endeared it to American public opinion. A fire at the company’s Texas City refinery in 2005 killed 15 workers and revealed what at the time was clearly a poor safety culture. The subsequent corporate soul-searching and reform was not particularly obvious to the public; the Alaskan North Slope’s largest-ever oil spill, in which at least 4,800 barrels of crude seeped out of a BP pipeline just a year later, was more noticeable. In 2007 the company paid more than $300m to settle an investigation into allegations that it had fixed the propane market in 2004. This all gives Washington the whip hand. BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, and Andy Inglis, the head of its upstream division, can look forward to a hard time on Capitol Hill in the weeks to come.

对石油公司的反感情绪从来没有这样强烈,而且过去几年英国石油公司的“伟绩”纪律使其不受美国舆论亲睐。2005年,该公司位于得克萨斯城的一家炼油厂发生爆炸,15名工人死亡,这一事故当时明确地揭露了该公司存在安全隐患。事发后,该公司并未明显向公众表示要集体反思和进行改革。仅仅一年后,更加引起人们的关注的是:在阿拉斯加北坡发生了该地区迄今最大的漏油事件,至少4800桶原油从该公司的输油管道溢出。2007年,该公司支付3亿多美元处理了因2004年被指控操控丙烷市场价格而遭受的调查。所有这些事件都使华盛顿政府决心“执鞭痛打”。未来几周,英国石油公司总裁托尼•海伍德和该公司上级部门的首脑Andy Inglis能预感到美国国会山上的痛苦时刻。