Thursday 17 June 2010

Is BP Oil leak unstoppable? BOP tilting

Boris Johnson, Norman Tebbit and Toby Young, among other priority-warped pundits, may be screeching about BP dividends and imagined anti-British sentiment in the US, but there are more pressing concerns.

On May 14th I blogged about the possibility that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico may be unstoppable. Now spilling 150,000 barrels a day according to some estimates — not BP's — the nightmare scenario that the entire oil reserve may break open is now increasingly looking like a reality. [EDIT: official figure now around 40,000 barrels per day.] The Oil Drum — a website for oil industry geologists, engineers, technicians and other experts — carries this comment by dougr. I recommend you read it.

Essentially, there are signs that the well pipes below the Blow Out Preventer (BOP) may be being eroded to the point where the seabed collapses and the entire oil reserve is emptied into the ocean.

All the actions and few tid bits of information all lead to one inescapable conclusion. The well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking. Now you have some real data of how BP's actions are evidence of that, as well as some murky statement from "BP officials" confirming the same. ... It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot...the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop?...the more it will transfer to the leaks below. Just like a leaky garden hose with a nozzle on it. When you open up the nozzle? doesn't leak so bad, you close the nozzle? leaks real bad,
same dynamics. It is why they sawed the riser off...or tried to anyway...but they clipped it off, to relieve pressure on the leaks "down hole". I'm sure there was a bit of panic time after they crimp/pinched off the large riser pipe and the Diamond wire saw got stuck and failed...because that crimp diverted pressure and flow to the rupture down below.

A down hole leak is dangerous and damaging for several reasons.
There will be erosion throughout the entire beat up, beat on and beat down remainder of the "system" including that inaccessible leak. The same erosion I spoke about in the first post is still present and has never stopped, cannot be stopped, is impossible to stop and will always be present in and acting on anything that is left which has crude oil "Product" rushing through it. There are abrasives still present, swirling flow will create hot spots of wear and this erosion is relentless and will always be present until eventually it wears away enough material to break it's way out. It will slowly eat the bop away especially at the now pinched off riser head and it will flow more and more. Perhaps BP can outrun or keep up with that out flow with various suckage methods for a period of time, but eventually the well will win that race, just how long that race will be? one really knows....However now?...there are other problems that a down hole leak will and must produce that will compound this already bad situation.

This down hole leak will undermine the foundation of the seabed in and around the well area. It also weakens the only thing holding up the massive Blow Out Preventer's immense bulk of 450 tons. In fact?...we are beginning to the results of the well's total integrity beginning to fail due to the undermining being caused by the leaking well bore.

The first layer of the sea floor in the gulf is mostly lose material of sand and silt. It doesn't hold up anything and isn't meant to, what holds the entire subsea system of the Bop in place is the well itself. The very large steel connectors of the initial well head "spud" stabbed in to the sea floor. The Bop literally sits on top of the pipe and never touches the sea bed, it wouldn't do anything in way of support if it did. After several tens of feet the seabed does begin to support the well connection laterally (side to side) you couldn't put a 450 ton piece of machinery on top of a 100' tall pipe "in the air" and subject it to the side loads caused by the ocean currents and expect it not to bend over...unless that pipe was very much larger than the machine itself, which you all can see it is not. The well's piping in comparison is actually very much smaller than the Blow Out Preventer and strong as it may be, it relies on some support from the seabed to function and not literally fall over...and it is now showing signs of doing just that....falling over.

If you have been watching the live feed cams you may have noticed that some of the ROVs are using an inclinometer...and inclinometer is an instrument that measures "Incline" or tilt. The BOP is not supposed to be tilting...and after the riser clip off operation it has begun to...

... What is likely to happen now?

Well...none of what is likely to happen is good, in's about as bad as it gets. I am convinced the erosion and compromising of the entire system is accelerating and attacking more key structural areas of the well, the blow out preventer and surrounding strata holding it all up and together. This is evidenced by the tilt of the blow out preventer and the erosion which has exposed the well head connection. What eventually will happen is that the blow out preventer will literally tip over if they do not run supports to it as the currents push on it. I suspect they will run those supports as cables tied to anchors very soon, if they don't, they are inviting disaster that much sooner.

Eventually even that will be futile as the well casings cannot support the weight of the massive system above with out the cement bond to the earth and that bond is being eroded away. When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? won't be too long after that the entire system fails. BP must be aware of this, they are mapping the sea floor sonically and that is not a mere exercise. Our Gov't must be well aware too, they just are not telling us.

All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of" The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying I said...all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now? the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.

We are not even 2 months into it, barely half way by even optimistic estimates. The damage done by the leaked oil now is virtually immeasurable already and it will not get better, it can only get worse. No matter how much they can collect, there will still be thousands and thousands of gallons leaking out every minute, every hour of every day. We have 2 months left before the relief wells are even near in position and set up to take a kill shot and that is being optimistic as I said.

Over the next 2 months the mechanical situation also cannot improve, it can only get worse, getting better is an impossibility. While they may make some gains on collecting the leaked oil, the structural situation cannot heal itself. It will continue to erode and flow out more oil and eventually the inevitable collapse which cannot be stopped will happen. It is only a simple matter of who can "get there first" or the well.

... We need to prepare for the possibility of this blow out sending more oil into the gulf per week then what we already have now, because that is what a collapse of the system will cause. All the collection efforts that have captured oil will be erased in short order. The magnitude of this disaster will increase exponentially by the time we can do anything to halt it and our odds of actually even being able to halt it will go down.

Also carried by Mother Jones. Via @warrenellis and @stevesilberman.

BP is a multinational company, 49% non-British (Edit: 39% owned by Americans), having been privatised by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. Today's $20 billion fund Obama has made BP put aside for reparations plus future fines are beginning to look like chump change for an industry that may have poisoned irreparably the world's oceans.

Will criminal charges be brought?
Porn, cancer, drugs and gifts at the Minerals Management Service.
Collapsing seabed a possibility.

UPDATE: Friday 18th June 2010. "Scientists Warn Gulf Of Mexico Sea Floor Fractured Beyond Repair"
A dire report circulating in the Kremlin today that was prepared for Prime Minister Putin by Anatoly Sagalevich of Russia's Shirshov Institute of Oceanology warns that the Gulf of Mexico sea floor has been fractured “beyond all repair” and our World should begin preparing for an ecological disaster “beyond comprehension” unless “extraordinary measures” are undertaken to stop the massive flow of oil into our Planet’s eleventh largest body of water.

According to Sagalevich’s report, the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico is not just coming from the 22 inch well bore site being shown on American television, but from at least 18 other sites on the “fractured seafloor” with the largest being nearly 11 kilometers (7 miles) from where the Deepwater Horizon sank and is spewing into these precious waters an estimated 2 million gallons of oil a day.

Interesting to note in this report is Sagalevich stating that he and the other Russian scientists were required by the United States to sign documents forbidding them to report their findings to either the American public or media, and which they had to do in order to legally operate in US territorial waters.

As a prominent oil-industry insider, and one of the World's leading experts on peak oil, Simmons further warns that the US has only two options, “let the well run dry (taking 30 years, and probably ruining the Atlantic ocean) or nuking the well.”

UPDATE 2: Sunday 4th July 2010. Former BP chief Lord Browne's former lover is now assisting the American lawyer prosecuting BP and alleging that it is Browne's cost-cutting measures that left to such disasters as the Texan oil explosion in 2005 and the unstoppable Gulf of Mexico oil gusher. He is also the person brought in by David Cameron to lead the attack on the poor and make cuts of nearly £7 billion. I hope this doesn't descend into an orgy or homophobia and that everyone remembers Browne is a scumbag because of his class interest and not his sexuality.


M said...

I found that comment on The Oil Drum via Naked Capitalism, and a commenter at NC (an engineer who worked in the oil industry) believes that whether the casing is damaged or not, this will ultimately not endanger the ability to kill the blown well by relief wells.

Like I said earlier, it is not relevant to the ultimate killing of the well, because the only way to kill this well is from the bottom up. Once they intersect the wellbore down at 18,000’ subsea (which may present some difficulties) they will be able to kill the well. My suspicion is that after they kill the well, they will fill the wellbore with cement, by circulating it from the bottom up, and abandon the well. Chances are they will never go back into the well from the top to clean it up, and we will thus never know the exact path the blowout took (that is whether it was through channeling behind the casing annulus or up the casing due to a casing failure) or the condition of the well and its various structural components near the surface.

That said, if dougr’s apocalyptic scenario were to come true and the earth around the wellbore caved in, it might have an impact on mitigation efforts, that is on the ability to capture the oil that is escaping. But let me repeat, it would have no bearing on the ultimate ability to kill the well.

However, when will the relief wells succeed in doing this, that's another story. When Ixtoc I blew in 1979, it leaked for 10 months before they managed to plug it.

Madam Miaow said...

Many thanks, ASP, for injecting some hope here. It's such a wrist-slitting scenario of nightmare proportions. If the US doesn't seriously get to grips with environmental issues and green technology after this, then they have truly lost it.