Rubén Capote outside of Tampa, Florida
Since he was a child, Rubén Capote knew that he wanted to dedicate himself to the study and prediction of the weather. It is a dream come true as a meteorologist for Telemundo 49, where he is in charge of bringing the weather forecast to viewers in Tampa on the west coast of Florida.
It all started with a school assignment in his native Cuba. The task was to watch the news and present a summary in front of the class. After watching the morning edition, Rubén chose the sports segment, but the next day his plan failed and he had to muddle through, “Like three guys before (my turn) … they gave the same news that I had memorized… I was left with no choice. And the other thing I had seen was the weather.” His teachers and classmates were delighted with the presentation of the weather and from then on, they often asked him to give the forecast in class. The die was cast.
His vocation for meteorology continued to grow and after finishing his university career, Rubén had the opportunity to work for oil facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. He found a position in a company dedicated to the commercialization of professional services, including natural risk analysis. A highly valued service among companies dedicated to oil exploitation because it allows them to improve the evaluation of the impact of natural phenomena and weather in operations and facilities, reducing the risk of accidents and loss of productivity.
Credit: Crédito: Rubén Capote. Rubén Capote on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico
“And I arrived there as a meteorologist precisely to analyze natural risks. I put the meteorological component, which is important in knowing the return period that a hurricane can affect you, how it can do it, the prevailing winds, hurricanes, severe storms, or intense rains…” says Rubén.
Rubén eventually also worked on simulating accidents related to platform operational failures. “If you have a leak of a toxic material… how does the polluting plume affect, what radius should you be in, how will the concentration move in the air… All this work was done through a numerical and mathematical modeling software” Rubén adds.
From the point of view of risk analysts, “the worst case scenario was having an accident, having a spill… it was one of the worst scenarios you could find,” Ruben tells us.
One of the clearest examples of the devastation that can be caused by an oil spill accident on the high seas is still alive in the collective memory; The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform from the British Petroleum (BP) company constitutes the largest marine oil spill in the history of the United States. 11 people died and a total of 134 million gallons of crude oil flowed after the explosion on April 20, 2010. Sealing the Macondo well took 87 days. More than a decade after the ecological catastrophe, the Gulf of Mexico continues to experience the effects of pollution.
Credit: AlamyStockPhoto/ScienceHistory. Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon on April 21, 2010
But regarding extraction tasks on the high seas, Rubén explains that it is not necessary to wait for large-scale accidents to learn about the negative effect that this activity has on the natural environment.
‘The routine itself, the day-to-day operations of facilities of this type… They are, let’s say, “dirty” facilities that generate waste both into the atmosphere and also spills of oil. And that, of course, ends up impacting the environment in the long run,” adds Rubén.
For example, one of the basic operations of these platforms related to the separation of liquid and gas from the extraction of oil from underwater deposits. The leftovers of the process are incinerated through a lighter or burner.
“That is the combustion of hydrocarbons. Every day we produce contaminants in the process of separating crude oil into gas, you are going to have that residue, [since] you are going to have a burner that sometimes cannot burn all the gas and there is little liquid that falls either to the land or to the sea. So, the impacts… can be catastrophic when this is done on a large scale,” , Rubén says.
Credit: Rubén Capote. Burner on an offshore oil platform
Scientific studies also indicate that the daily operations of extraction platforms, oil pipelines and refineries produce pollution that threatens human health and contributes to climate change. Offshore facilities release methane at levels 25 times higher than carbon dioxide on the planet. Both compounds are greenhouse gases that are highly harmful to the environment. Furthermore, the harm to people is undeniable. From the inhalation of microscopic particles in the air to the consumption of contaminated food and water, negative impacts on human beings manifest in chronic diseases such as asthma and, in many cases, as serious as cancer.
It is very difficult to find someone who shares the experience of working for oil platforms. Rubén is one of the few who offer his experience for the sake of awareness and empowerment of his community, to promote an active participation in environmental conservation. Although he says he is grateful for his professional experience on the high seas, he is now happy with the opportunity to serve his community, on a daily basis, as the meteorologist for Telemundo 49 in Tampa.
“At some point I decided to dedicate myself to what I loved since I was 11 years old, meteorology and reporting the weather. I arrived in this great country, [and] the opportunity to work in the media as a meteorologist opened up for me, which is what I studied… Now I dedicate myself to telling people when it is going to rain and when it is not, which also has its benefits” Ruben concludes.