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Modern drilling equipment is so advanced, safe and effective that... oops, nevermind.

Editorial: Oil spills still a threat

One of the arguments made by those who favor offshore drilling for oil near Florida's coastline is that modern drilling equipment is so advanced, safe and effective that oil spills from rigs are virtually a thing of the past, so there's no real risk to Florida's beaches.


A drilling company today is fighting a spreading oil slick - it had covered about 1,800 square nautical miles of surface by earlier this week - in the Timor Sea near Australia. The rig responsible for the leak is reported to be one of the most modern in the world.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called the incident "appalling" and promised a federal investigation.

"Appalling" might turn out to be an understatement.

According to news reports, ships carrying equipment to fight the slick are expected on site today, more than a week after the leak began. And a rig that will drill a relief well into the fractured well and pump in mud to cap it off and stop the flow of leaking oil and gas isn't expected to leave Singapore until Tuesday ... and it will take four weeks to reach the leaking rig.

Oil company officials said they couldn't even estimate how much oil has leaked into the sea.
But the news get worse. Officials said it could take four weeks to drill the new well and cap off the old one, meaning the oil spill could span two months before it can be plugged.

More than a week after the accident happened officials were vague about the exact cause, saying a blowout occured about 11,500 feet below the ocean floor, which helps explain why it will take so long to drill to the problem area.

Meanwhile, in July an oil pipeline off Louisiana leaked 1,500 barrels of oil into the Gulf, creating a slick that covered 90 square miles, according to U.S. Coast Guard records.

No doubt today's drilling and production rigs are more advanced than in the past. But it still takes only a single spill to spread disaster across Florida's beaches.

You can keep with with the Timor Sea Drilling Spill on SkyTruths's blog here.