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BP Failing to Plug the Leaks

Fools' Errand: Effort to Shut Down Gulf Well is Failing
by Dave Lindorff
The Coast Guard conceded Friday that the pressure has not built up as hoped in the blown-out BP Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico, raising concerns that the pipe that runs from the surface down through the bore to the oil reservoir 13,000 feet below the sea bottom has lost its integrity, and is allowing oil under high pressure to leak out into the surrounding concrete and rock outside the pipe, where it can and likely will make its way to the waters above.

There is visual evidence that this is happening.
 
While it has not been mentioned in news reports, one view taken of the sea floor taken by a videocam on the Hos ROV 1, one of the remote robot submersibles monitoring the wellhead, and on display on the BP website, beginning at about 2:48:40 Central Time showed clouds of muddy looking water suddenly spring up and begin obscuring the view of the sea floor.
 
Some of the billowing material was light colored, and could be mud pushed up by leaking methane gas. Some looked decidedly dark brown, like the oil that has been seen coming from the top of the blowout preventer (BOP).
 
[For complete article reference links, please see original at This Can't Be Happening here.]

A second rover, the Viking Poseidon ROV 1, which was not included in the live cams displayed from BP’s public access site, but which can be seen live here, also showed a large cloud of churning brown material billowing up from the sea floor beginning at 3:06:00 Central Time. (A number of other camera views show a lot of bubbles rising through the water, which officials claim is "normal" in ocean, though it wasn't happening earlier in the company's undersea videos, suggesting these bubbles may be leaking methane gas.)

If either of these video images are in fact oil or gas coming out of the ground around the wellhead, it would mean that the liner has been seriously breached somewhere below ground, and that there is no way to either stop the oil flow, or even collect it all from above the wellhead. That would certainly explain why the pressure at the stoppered wellhead has leveled off at about 6700 psi. That's well below the "8000-9000 psi" that until today was what the government and BP said would be full pressure, and is even below the new, improved target mentioned by retired Adm. Thad Allen, who now says a more modest 7500 psi would be okay. (Allen, trying to explain the low readings at the wellhead, claims that the underground pressure in the reservoir, 13,000 feet below the sea floor, could be lower by 15-20%, because of the 1-2 million barrels that have already escaped. His claim is patently absurd. This is a reservoir said to contain over 1 billion barrels of oil! Two million barrels would be just 0.2% of that amount. Furthermore, the reservoir isn't a rigid container like an oil tank. Its pressure derives from the weight of the 2.5 miles of crust and mile of water sitting atop it, which will continue to press down with the same force however much oil remains in the deposit. There might be a slight decrease as oil comes out, but not by that amount.)

The only hope of stopping this catastrophe would be the relief wells that have been drilled to within a few feet of the casing, several miles down below the surface of the earth.

The failure of the effort to cap the well above the BOP, as I wrote earlier, was pretty well foreordained when the same Viking Poseidon ROV 1, a month ago, showed a video of oil blasting out of cracks in the sea floor around the BOP, already proving that the casing had been breached.

It is possible that the pressure in the pipe was greater at that point, back on June 13, because the well opening, at the top of the BOP, was still crimped and holding back the gusher. Once that opening was cleared in preparation for installing the current cap, the oil was able to flow out more freely, which would have reduced the pressure on whatever leaks exist in the casing below ground.

But now, for reasons that still elude me, the government has allowed BP to try to shut down the well at the top, allowing the pressure in the whole casing to rise precipitously, and it appears the inevitable has happened: the oil and gas is pushing out the breaches in the casing, and is likely expanding the openings, too, making the breach worse than before.

The top of this blown out well should be opened up wide as soon as possible, and BP and the government should focus all efforts on those relief wells, and on trying to get this runaway well sealed at the bottom as soon as possible.

Trying to shut things off at the top was a fool’s errand, and can only have been driven by a BP and White House PR effort to show that something is being done. However, some things shouldn’t be done, and this is one of those things. The idea that the government and BP knew that shutting down the top of the well could lead to disaster, and that they went ahead and did it, knowing that it would only provide temporary relief at best anyhow, is insanity.

By the way, on Thursday I contacted both the BP and the government-run Unified Command press offices asking for an explanation as to how they could shut down the top of the well, when BP’s own cameras in June showed oil blowing out of cracks in the sea floor near the wellhead. Both offices promised to respond. To date, neither has.  
 
 
Hold on to Your Hats:
This Thing's Gonna Blow!

by Dave Lindorff

What the hell are they thinking in Washington, and down at the “Unified Command” in New Orleans, letting BP try to close off the oil volcano spewing out the top of the damaged Blowout Preventer (BOP) stack?

And what the hell is the mainstream press doing not asking about the clear evidence of oil or gas spewing out under pressure from cracks in the seafloor around the base of the BOP? (See the image of oil spewing from the sea floor here.)

Sure the initial partial closing of the valves is working, but they haven’t built up much pressure yet--just 6700psi, in an environment where the sea-floor pressure is already 5000 psi outside the pipe and on the ground surface--and a lot could go wrong. seriously wrong, with good reason to think it will. UPDATE: And it sure looks to my untrained eye as though the live feed called Hos ROV 1, Dive 17, on July 16 starting at 14:48:40 Central Time as it scans the sea floor shows something worrisome: some dark clouds and some lighter clouds, boiling up from the sea floor. A second ROV camera on a vehicle called the Viking Poseidon, not listed on the BP public viewing website, but available here, shows what appears to be considerable disturbance and opacity in the water around the wellhead beginning at 15:06:00 CST

I made a call to the media office of the Unified Command, the office set up to respond to public and media inquiries about the disaster, which is supposedly composed of people from the US Coast Guard, other federal agencies, and BP. When I mentioned the videos taken by BP’s own remote operating vehicles (ROVs) of the oil and/or gas spewing from cracks in the sea floor, I was told I had to call the press office in Houston, “because you’re asking us a question about the sub-surface well.”

But here’s the thing. The press office in Houston is not run by the Unified Command. The people at the office there answer the phone with the phrase: “BP Press.” They do this because they are BP employees, and the office is in BP headquarters.

This means if you want to know anything about the structural integrity of the well below the BOP, you have to get that information from BP, not from the government. That’s the same BP that told government regulators that they could handle any emergency. The same BP that assured us when the well blew that the spill was just leaking 1000 barrels of oil a day--a figure that appears to have been knowingly understated by a factor of 50 to 100.

Now, when I called BP I got a PR guy with a Brit accent named Toby Odone, who claimed he was “not aware of any oil leaking around the well itself.”

He also said, “We’re pretty certain that there is no oil leaking around the well that shouldn’t be there.”

How then to explain their own ROV videos, showing exactly that? Odone assured me he’d “get back” with an answer. So far, no answer.

Odone also said something else that was disturbing in its facileness. He said that the relief wells were within feet of the original bore, and that they had “not detected any hydrocarbons.” This, he assured me, meant that there was no leak from the casing. But I pointed out that those side wells had been drilled from a mile away, on a slant, so that they only approached the original well during the last quarter mile or so from the bottom of the 13000-foot bore. They were nowhere near the bore during the first several miles of casing, so they can offer no clue as to the integrity of the bore above the first quarter mile or so above the oil reservoir. Odone agreed that this was true.

I also put a call in to the US Energy Department, which is supposedly monitoring the science of this disaster and which put the attempted shut-down of the well on hold for 48 hours earlier this week while seismic tests were conducted to try and determine the integrity of the casing that goes from the BOP down to the oil reservoir. A press officer at the DOE asked me to provide a link to the ROV video of the oil leaking from the sea bed, and promised to get back to me with an explanation of the department's thinking about that. So far, no response or explanation. Clearly, though, the Energy Department is worried that shutting down the flow entirely at the top of the stack could cause such high pressures inside the casing that it will blow a crack in the pipe and allow the oil and gas to push upward outside of the control of the pipe.

That’s why they are closing the top of the pipe slowly, monitoring the pressure all the time. If they can shut it down and the pressure rises to 9000 lbs/square inch or more, which is roughly the pressure at which the oil is coming up from below ground, then they will know that the integrity of the pipe has been preserved, but if they cannot get the pressure to build beyond 6000 or so lbs/square inch, it would mean that the casing has been compromised, and they would not be able to shut the flow down from the top. leaving successful completion of a relief well as the only possible shut-down option.

But here’s the question: If we can already see oil, or perhaps gas, blowing out of cracks around the BOP, doesn’t this mean that somewhere below ground, the casing has already breached? And if it has already blown open, isn’t any attempt to shut down the flow and build up the pressure in the well just threatening to worsen whatever break already exists? Especially since BP and the government say that this "fix," even if it works and doesn't blow the tube or burst the damaged BOP, is only a temporary fix, until the relief well is drilled and the well is plugged at the bottom. Meanwhile, instead of this risky attempt to shut the well at the top, they could be just attaching pipes to collect all the oil in tankers on the surface, at minimal risk to the wellhead and the casing.

Why isn’t the Energy Department or the Coast Guard addressing this question of the threat to the well? Why has no reporter at the regular daily briefings hosted by retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen asked this question?

It seems to me a fairly safe prediction that as they crank shut the opening at the top of the well, the oil pushing up from below at 9000 lbs/square inch of pressure, or even 6000 lbs/square inch of pressure, is going to push through whatever leaks already exist in or around the well casing, and will be blowing up through the ground around the BOP. If it’s bursting out through those cracks already, while the pipe is wide open, there should be little doubt that it will burst out even more powerfully when the top of the pipe is capped. That’s grade-school physics.

And if things do go badly, as the oil and gas blow out of the casing and push their way up through the fractured well hole and the poorly set concrete that was put down there by Halliburton to fill the well bore, it will widen the pathways to the surface, probably following new fracture lines that will have it coming out even further from the well hole. In no time, we will have oil spewing from a wide are of sea floor which will make it impossible to collect.

I don’t claim to be a geologist, engineer or oil well expert, and I don’t want to be an alarmist, but having seen the images of oil spewing up from the sea floor, I have enough basic scientific understanding to know that the casing has to have been already breached, and that anything that increases the pressure on that damaged casing is only going to make things worse.

So why are they trying to close down the well from the top?

I’m just asking, because nobody else seems to be.
 
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