Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Continued........

I am going to try and keep updating the information on this spill as it becomes available, as well as providing as much information as I can find on what is going on.

This is the current projected spill data for Tuesday May 4, 2010 based on the NOAA models:

Projected Spill Outlook for May 5

This is a sequence map of how the spill has grown since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon.  It should update daily, and although I have included it in my previous posts, I will add it to each new post so that others do not need to go searching for it.
Oil Spill Tracker

This is a photograph of the spill from the air:

There is a member of another forum I visit who has been offering information to people as someone who is "in the industry", but not working for BP or TransOcean.   He is helping to explain things so as to make it easier for others to understand what happened.

Ok I will try to do my best to explain the situation, what has happened, and what options are present to kill the Macondo well without having to give everyone a crash course in drilling engineering.

          Terms you are going to hear a lot

OP (Blow Out Preventer): a stack of essentially giant gate valves that use hydraulic energy stored in the accumulator to close. 3 types: annular, pipe rams, and blind/shear rams. We need only concern ourselves with the last two.
Accumulator: a device for storing hydraulic energy with pressurized Nitrogen gas. In the event of a well control incident this energy is used to close the BOP
Pipe Rams: Type of BOP that uses two steel blocks that close in on each other. A semi-circle is cut in the middle of the ram that has the same diameter of the drill pipe. A rubber element provides the seal.
Blind/shear rams: Type of BOP used in emergency situations or when there is no pipe in the hole. Same concept as a pipe ram but without the hole in the middle. Designed to cut drill pipe in two when closed. Option of last resort.
Annulus: Space between two concentric cylinders. For instance between the casing and the side wall
Backside: another term for annulus
Casing: Pipe that is placed into a hole interval and cemented in place after drilling that hole interval has concluded
Pack off: Refers both to the act of sealing off an annulus and the device used to seal that space
Marine riser: Large diameter pipe that connects the rig on surface to the wellhead on the seafloor. Hydraulic lines, electrical cables, choke and kill lines are tethered to the marine riser
ROV: Remote Operated Vehicle
Mud: Fluid that is pumped down the drillpipe, out of the bit and up the annulus to the surface. Provides hydrostatic pressure to keep formation fluid from entering wellbore, cools the bit, and carries cuttings from the bottom hole to the surface
Kick: When pressure inside the wellbore is lower than the pore pressure in the formation and formation fluid invades the wellbore.
MD: Measured Depth, literally the length of the string of pipe it would take to reach TD
TVD: True Vertical Depth, the distance one must travel straight down to be even with the drillbit
TD: Total Depth (the final depth to which the well is to be drilled)
MWD: Measurement While Drilling, tools used to take directional surveys while drilling ahead. Communicates with surface using positive pressure pulses in the drill pipe.
A note about units: I will refer to pressure both in psi and lbs/gal (ppg). I know I know ppg is a density but multiply by .052 and you get a pressure gradient multiply that by TVD and you get a pressure. When I refer to something being a 9.3 ppg pressure that means I would need a column of fluid that weighs 9.3 ppg to that TVD to achieve the equivalent pressure. This is used when talking about mud weights and what it will take to kill a well.

Ok, on to the Q&A:

         Q: What happened?
A: We don’t know for sure. Here’s what we do know:
-BP had drilled the well to a TD of 18,360’ MD with 14 ppg mud
-7” casing was run in the hole
-Halliburton pumped cement in accordance with industry best practices and established procedure
-No problems were reported during this cement job
-After waiting 20 hours for the cement to set up, operations were underway to temporarily abandon the well in accordance with Minerals Management Service guidelines
-Sometime around 22:00 on 20 April 2010 there were two loud thuds and the call went out to abandon ship
-Interviews with the rig crew say that they attempted to close the blind/shear rams but they would not function
-11 people lost their lives

       Q: What do you think happened?
A: First let me preface this by saying that I am not a BP employee, I have no affiliation with BP nor do I have access to any information that is not available to the general public. What I am about to engage in is pure speculation based on the available facts and my knowledge of drilling engineering.
-The cement job while showing no issues on the pressure readings on surface failed to achieve a good bond between the side wall and the casing
-Because the backside that was not filled with cement (it is common practice to only pump the amount of cement required to cover you back into the previous string of casing) was probably filled with water (8.3 ppg) or other lighter fluid, formation fluids (most likely gas) began filling the backside.
-When cementing offshore the casing is set in the wellhead by use of a ported mandrel, this allows flow to go past and returns to be taken up the riser. After the cement job is finished a pack off is set to seal off the annulus.
-Unbeknownst to the rig crew on surface pressure was building underneath the pack off
-Eventually the pressure increased to the point it exceeded the pressure rating of the pack off and well began to flow up the backside.
-The rig crew would have at best 5-10 seconds to try to close the BOP before the bubble of gas reached the surface
-The catastrophic failure of the pack off in the well head likely damaged the BOP to the point that the rams will not function

Q: I thought BOPs were supposed to be failsafe!

A: OK that’s not really a question but here goes. API Specification 16A requires that all subsea BOPs be tested on surface to simulate 18 months of operation with daily opening and closing of all systems. It must also be pressure tested to 80% of the rated working pressure. It must hold this pressure with no pressure loss and no leaks upon visible inspection. There are three ways to function the BOP: 1. by using the control panels located on the rig floor and in the tool pushers office; 2. “manually” via ROV; 3. via the deadman’s switch which automatically closes the pipe rams in the event of the loss of hydraulic and electric power from surface. These 3 methods of functioning the BOP combined with the testing procedures provide drillers with an almost 100% certainty that the BOP will close when it is told to. However, it is possible to get to 100% certainty because anything with a moving part is liable to malfunction. Additionally there is a worker on the rig called the Subsea Engineer. His sole responsibility is monitoring the condition and maintaining the BOP and marine riser. The control systems are designed to be triple redundant but at some point a valve has to be physically closed.

Q: What’s this I hear about an acoustic switch? Is it true that BP lobbied against regulations to require them like in other countries?!

A: An acoustic switch is a device that transmits pressure pulses from surface, the receiver on bottom then “hears” these pulses and functions the BOP. Yes it is true that BP and many other operators lobbied against the requirement that all rigs in deepwater be outfitted with an acoustic switch. However, it should be noted that in this case it would not have offered any extra protection. The instant that the explosion took place and the rigs electrical and hydraulic system went offline, the deadman’s switch should have tripped and closed the blind/shear rams. However, the BOP had been rendered non-functional and would not close. No additional control system would have changed this fact.

Q: What can be done to stop the flow of oil?!

A: There are two things being done to stop the flow of oil right now. First, there are 5 ROVs working around the clock to try to get the BOP to close.

Second, a sixth generation semi-submersible rig from Transocean called Development Driller III is already on station and the seafloor package of guide bases and other equipment are being set in anticipation of spudding a relief well. A second rig from Transocean called Development Driller II has been pulled from the project it was working on and is currently steaming towards the location of the leak to spud a second relief well.

Q: Relief well? What the hell?

A: A well will be drilled from approximately half a mile away in the direction of the problem well. Once the bit gets close enough to the problem well MWD magnetic rangefinding will be used to intersect the problem well at it’s TD. At this point heavyweight mud (kill fluid) will be pumped into the problem well. As the annulus fills with this fluid the flow of formation fluid will stop. At this point cement will be pumped from the relief well into the problem well plugging it. This process should take between 90 and 120 days.

Q: 90 TO 120 DAYS?!?!?!? WHAT CAN BE DONE NOW!?

A: The best bet right now is to contain the oil that is flowing and bring it to surface in a controlled manner and place it on storage vessels. BP has ordered Wild Well Control in Houston to fabricate three large steel and concrete caissons to be lowered over where the oil is leaking and then manifolded together to bring the oil to surface via marine riser. Transocean drillship Discoverer Enterprise is presently steaming towards the blowout to assist in this effort. The caissons have been constructed and are expected to on station within the next week.

This is a plan that has been used successfully in shallower water (~500’ deep) but has never been attempted in deepwater. If it works, the amount of oil being discharged to the open sea should drop to almost zero.

Q: Why not just put a big a** bomb right above the wellhead and blow the f***r up? Isn’t that how they do it on land?
A: Explosives are used on land as a firefighting technique. When a well is blowing out on land the fluid usually catches on fire. Before the well can be capped the fire must be extinguished. Once all of the debris is cleared from around the wellhead, a barrel full of explosives is placed into the stream of hydrocarbons and detonated. For a split second after the explosion there is not enough oxygen being mixed with the flow of hydrocarbons to sustain combustion. The fire goes out and the well can be capped.

In this case, the well is not on fire (anymore) so the explosives would probably hurt more than they help. While it is possible that they explosion would cause the annulus to pack off, it is more likely that it would cause an “underground” blowout. This is when instead of flowing to the surface it goes into a formation instead…

         Q: Wait isn’t that a good thing?! No more oil on the surface!
A:…Not so fast slick. The oil would then start leaking up through the seafloor and instead of having one centralized flow of 5,000 bbl/day you have 100 scattered leaks of 50 bbl/day. Containment would be impossible. It would also become impossible to kill the well with a relief well as any fluids pumped into the problem well would go out into formation and then out the seabed.

Q: Oh…well, what are the odds that more oil starts flowing?
A: At the moment, the wellhead and BOP are intact and the leak is coming from a hole in the marine riser approximately 2’ above the ball joint on top of the BOP.

It is possible that the flow of oil which is carrying an unknown quantity of sand in it will continue to wash this hole out thus decreasing the back pressure the flow restriction is holding on the reservoir. This drop in pressure would cause the flowrate to increase. It is tough to determine how much it would increase or decrease.

           Q: How much oil is going to flow? I hear the block the well is located in contains up to a       BILLION barrels of reserves!

              A: Well hopefully it contains that much! But it is highly unlikely that a single well is capable of draining the entire block. This would take 5 to 6 wells. Without knowing the exact flowrate, bottom hole pressure and how they both change over time it is impossible to know how large of an area is actually being drained. The calculations are insanely complex and the software to run them costs tens of thousands of dollars. Reservoir engineers spend their careers trying to answer the question “how much will this well produce?” It’s just not a question that I can answer in this case. 

         Q: Holy shit that’s a lot of information! Anything else?

A: Ok time to go on a little personal jag where I stop talking about cold technical details and calculations and speak (type?) from the heart.

This is an unmitigated disaster for the industry. Not because of the amount of money it will cost to fix it, or because of the lost production from the well. 11 people are dead and there has been untold damage to the environment. We have made such substantial gains in safety and environmental protection. Most rigs in deepwater routinely go years without having an OSHA recordable incident. My attitude has always been that one accident is too many. And not because of any economic calculation that spending a little bit of money on safety saves a ton of money on the other side. Rather, we should be invested in safety simply because it is the right thing to do. Everyone has the right to go to work free from the reasonable fear that they will be injured or killed that day. It is with a heavy heart that I have followed the developments on this story, and I carry the families of those lost in my thoughts all the time.

Something Awful Forum Member "ch3cooh" Shares his Knowledge

These are some more photos of the Oil Rig on Fire & Collapsing, and the effort to put out the  fire.

One cannot look at those pictures without thinking about those 11 souls who lost their lives in this explosion and the family & friends they left behind.  Their names are:

Jason Anderson
Aaron Dale Burkeen
Donald Clark
Stephen Curtis
Roy Wyatt Kemp
Karl Kleppinger
Gordon Jones
Blair Manuel
Dewey Revette
Shane Roshto
Adam Weise

We know that this spill is bad for the Gulf, but it isn't only the Gulf that has to be concerned.  This spill is going to spread, and it is going to spread a lot. 

GULFPORT, Miss. (May 3, 2010)--The Gulf oil spill could be drawn into the what's called the Loop Current within a day and could eventually the slick could move along the Florida coast and into the

Florida Keys, scientists say.
Nick Shay, a physical oceanographer at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said Monday that once the oil enters the Loop Current, it likely will end up in the Keys and continue east into the Gulf Stream.

Click here to find out more!

Shay says the oil could affect Florida's beaches, coral reefs, fisheries and ecosystem within a week.

He described the Loop Current as being similar to a "conveyor belt."

It sweeps around the Gulf, through the Keys and right up the East Coast.

Shay says he couldn’t think of any scenario in which the oil doesn't eventually reach the Florida Keys.

Oil Spill Could Reach Loop Current Within 24 Hours

Newer information coming to light indicates that TransOcean had some ideas of the problems that they were facing as far as safety was concerned and took actions to insure that it was a top priority for everyone from the top down.

May 04, 2010, 3:39PM
Transocean Ltd., which owned the drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing a massive oil spill, eliminated bonuses for top executives last year because of concerns about safety problems at the company.

The company said in a regulatory filing on April 1 that it eliminated the bonuses "to underscore the company's commitment to safety" after four workers died in accidents in 2009 "and to increase the incentive for executive officers to promote ... the avoidance of future fatal accidents."

Owner of Rig involved in Gulf Oil Spill Had Safety Concerns

It seems that this is not the first time deaths have occurred with this company on their rigs.  They had 4 deaths in 2009, and 2 in 2008 as well.

CNN Spoke to Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist who says the chemical dispersant is toxic, much like the oil its intended to clean up.
(The audio is difficult at some points)

Riki Ott, PhD, is a community activist, a former commercial salmon "fisherm'am," and has a degree in marine toxicology with a specialty in oil pollution. She experienced firsthand the devastating effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill—and chose to do something about it.
She is the author of Sound Truth and Corporate Myth$: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Not One Drop: Promises, Betrayal, and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Chelsea Green, 2008). She is also the founder of three nonprofit organizations that deal with lingering harm from man-made environmental disaster.
Riki lives in Cordova, Alaska.

Lessons from the Exxon Valdez Spill

That nightmare is reoccurring now with BP’s deadly rig blowout off the Gulf Coast – with haunting parallels to the Exxon Valdez.

I was not at all surprised when officials reported zero spillage, then projected modest spillage, and then reported spill amounts five times higher than their earlier estimates.

As the spill continues, I imagine that even the newly reported amounts will continue to vastly underestimate the actual spillage.

Underreporting of spill volumes is common, even though lying about self-reported spill volume is illegal – and a breach of public trust.

Still, penalties are based on spill volume: Exxon likely saved itself several billion dollars by sticking with its low-end estimate of 11 million gallons and scuttling its high-end estimate of 38 million gallons, later validated by independent surveyors.

Sadly, it’s a foregone conclusion that BP’s promise to “do everything we can” to minimize the spill’s impact and stop the oil still hemorrhaging from the well nearly one mile under the sea off Louisiana’s coast will fade as its attention turns to minimizing its liability, including damaged public relations.

BP will likely leverage the billions of dollars it will spend on the cleanup to reduce its fines and lawsuit expenses, despite later recouping a large portion of the cleanup cost from insurers or writing it off as a business expense as Exxon did.

Such tactics saved Exxon billions of dollars in the civil settlement for damages to public lands and wildlife (in which damages were estimated at up to $8 billion; but for which Exxon paid just $900 million) and in the class action lawsuit filed by those whose livelihoods were curtailed by the spill (for which the original jury awarded $5 billion in punitive damages; but which Exxon fought for 20 years until the Supreme Court lessened its burden to just $507 million).

That Supreme Court decision strictly limited corporate liability and essentially removed the ability of future oil spill victims to hold corporations accountable to the people and the law.

A friend in New Orleans is concerned about the oil fumes now engulfing the southern part of town. He says it “smells pretty strong–stronger than standing in a busy mechanics shop, but not as bad as the bus station in Tijuana.”

State health officials are warning people who are sensitive to reduced air quality to stay indoors, but anyone who experiences the classic symptoms of crude oil overexposure–nausea, vomiting, headaches, or cold or flu-like symptoms–should seek medical help.

This is serious: Oil spill cleanups are regulated as hazardous waste cleanups because oil is, in fact, hazardous to health. Breathing oil fumes is extremely harmful.

After the 2002 Prestige oil spill off Galicia, Spain, and the 2007 Hebei Spirit oil spill in South Korea, medical doctors found fishermen and cleanup workers suffered from respiratory problems, central nervous system problems (headaches, nausea, dizziness, etc.), and even genetic damage (South Korea). I have attended two international conferences the past two years to share information with these doctors.

During the Exxon Valdez spill, health problems among cleanup workers became so widespread, so fast, that medical doctors, among others, sounded warnings. Dr. Robert Rigg, former Alaska medical director for Standard Alaska (BP), warned, “It is a known fact that neurologic changes (brain damage), skin disorders (including cancer), liver and kidney damage, cancer of other organ systems, and medical complications–secondary to exposure to working unprotected in (or inadequately protected)–can and will occur to workers exposed to crude oil and other petrochemical by-products. While short-term complaints, i.e., skin irritation, nausea, dizziness, pulmonary symptoms, etc., may be the initial signs of exposure and toxicity, the more serious long-term effects must be prevented.”[1]

Unfortunately, Exxon called the short-term symptoms, “the Valdez Crud,” and dismissed 6,722 cases of respiratory claims from cleanup workers as “colds or flu” using an exemption under OSHA’s hazardous waste cleanup reporting requirements.[2]

Sadly, sick Exxon cleanup workers were left to suffer and pay their own medical expenses. I know of many who have been disabled by their illnesses – or have died.

I have repeatedly warned Congress in letters and in person to strike that loophole because it exempts the very work-related injuries–chemical induced illnesses–that OSHA is supposedly designed to protect workers from.

Remember the “Katrina Crud” and the “911 Crud?” Standby for the “Gulf Crud” because our federal laws do not adequately protect worker safety or public health from the very real threat of breathing oil vapors, including low levels typically found in our industrial ports, our highways during rush hour traffic, and our urban cities.

Oil is not only harmful to people, it is deadly to wildlife. I am sickened to think of the short-term destruction and long-term devastation that will happen along America’s biologically rich coastal wetlands – a national treasure and a regional source of income.

In Alaska, the killing did not stop in 1989. Twenty-one years later, buried oil is still contaminating wildlife and Prince William Sound has not returned to pre-spill conditions – nor, honestly, will it. The remnant population of once-plentiful herring no longer supports commercial fisheries and barely sustains the ecosystem.

While local efforts to boom Louisiana’s fragile coasts to keep the oil out will help people feel productive and empowered (and this is important), it is an unfortunate truth that the booms have limited utility and effectiveness. In even mild sea conditions, oil will wash over and under boom. Further, underneath the visible oil slick, there is an invisible cloud of toxic oil dissolved into the water column and this dissolved oil is deadly to shrimp and fish eggs and marine life.

Still, the Gulf spill has one advantage over the Alaska spill – hot weather and the relatively warm ocean will speed the work of bacteria to degrade the Louisiana crude. Even so, the initial toxic hit is likely to harm generations of wildlife, similar to what happened in Prince William Sound.

The oil industry has had over 40 years – since the 1967 Torrey Canyon tanker spill in England – to make good on its promise to cleanup future oil spills. This latest spill highlights the harsh truth that the industry has failed to live up to its promise. It is time for Americans to demand of our leaders accountability and closure of fossil fuel industries – as we transition to new energies.

Lessons from the Exxon Valdez Spill

ProPublica has more information on the chemicals used to break up the oil spill:

The chemicals BP is now relying on to break up the steady flow of leaking oil from deep below the Gulf of Mexico could create a new set of environmental problems.
Even if the materials, called dispersants, are effective, BP has already bought up more than a third of the world’s supply. If the leak from 5,000 feet beneath the surface continues for weeks, or months, that stockpile could run out.
On Thursday BP began using the chemical compounds to dissolve the crude oil, both on the surface and deep below, deploying an estimated 100,000 gallons. Dispersing the oil is considered one of the best ways to protect birds and keep the slick from making landfall. But the dispersants contain harmful toxins of their own and can concentrate leftover oil toxins in the water, where they can kill fish and migrate great distances.
The exact makeup of the dispersants is kept secret under competitive trade laws, but a worker safety sheet for one product, called Corexit, says it includes 2-butoxyethanol, a compound associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses.
“There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil,” said Richard Charter, a foremost expert on marine biology and oil spills who is a senior policy advisor for Marine Programs for Defenders of Wildlife and is chairman of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “It’s a trade off – you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t -- of trying to minimize the damage coming to shore, but in so doing you may be more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore.”
BP did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Dispersants are mixtures of solvents, surfactants and other additives that break up the surface tension of an oil slick and make oil more soluble in water, according to a paper published by the National Academy of Sciences. They are spread over or in the water in very low concentration – a single gallon may cover several acres.
Once they are dispersed, the tiny droplets of oil are more likely to sink or remain suspended in deep water rather than floating to the surface and collecting in a continuous slick. Dispersed oil can spread quickly in three directions instead of two and is more easily dissipated by waves and turbulence that break it up further and help many of its most toxic hydrocarbons evaporate.
But the dispersed oil can also collect on the seabed, where it becomes food for microscopic organisms at the bottom of the food chain and eventually winds up in shellfish and other organisms. The evaporation process can also concentrate the toxic compounds left behind, particularly oil-derived compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.
According to a 2005 National Academy of Sciences report, the dispersants and the oil they leave behind can kill fish eggs. A study of oil dispersal in Coos Bay, Ore. found that PAH accumulated in mussels, the Academy’s paper noted. Another study examining fish health after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 found that PAHs affected the developing hearts of Pacific herring and pink salmon embryos. The research suggests the dispersal of the oil that’s leaking in the Gulf could affect the seafood industry there.
“One of the most difficult decisions that oil spill responders and natural resource managers face during a spill is evaluating the trade-offs associated with dispersant use,” said the Academy report, titled Oil Spill Dispersants, Efficacy and Effects. “There is insufficient understanding of the fate of dispersed oil in aquatic ecosystems.”
Chemicals Meant To Break Up BP Oil Spill Present New Environmental Concerns

More sure to follow.............


  1. Incredible information.thanks for posting it.

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