Saturday, June 19, 2010

Director James Cameron Produces More than Movies ~ Gulf Oil Well Solutions

James Cameron,  noted director of such films as recent blockbuster "Avatar", as well as "Titanic", The Terminator Series, and producer of many other films, is not just a famous director and producer, but he is also  a screenwriter, an editor and an inventor as well.
In mid-May, Cameron offered BP use of his private fleet of submarines, currently moored in Lake Baikal in the Russian federation. is considered an expert in the technology of deep-sea diving, having used submersibles in a succession of his films.

His 1989 film The Abyss is set underwater around an oil rig where a US nuclear submarine has crashed. The film was shot in a deep-sea canyon in the Caribbean known as the Cayman Trough. The make-believe oil company that owns the rig in Cameron's underwater thriller is called BP, standing for Benthic Petroleum.

In preparation for his 1997 blockbuster, Titanic, he created a new generation of mini remotely operated vessels (ROVs) that were small enough to enter the inside of the sunken ship.

He later returned to the site of the shipwreck to make a 3D documentary of the Titanic remains, Ghosts of the Abyss (2003).

In addition to his own submersible creations, Cameron has worked with the Russian-made Mir submarines on lease from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

He has filmed at depths of as much as two miles – twice the depth of the Deepwater Horizon well.

He once told the public radio network NPR: "There are four submersibles in the world right now that can go to 20,000 feet and, you know, that's like trying to explore an area the size of all the continents of the world put together with four Jeeps."

Cameron also works closely with fellow-Canadian Phil Nuytten, a designer of remotely- and human-controlled deep-sea vessels.

BP turned down the offer, but that didn't stop Cameron from plugging forward with his decision to help in some manner, and so he gathered together 28 experts to see what they could come up with.  The following is part of the report that his group issued:

On June 1, 2010 twenty-eight experts in marine engineering and science, as well as government and oil industry technical advisors, met at the EPA building in Washington to consider possible alternative solutions to capping or controlling the runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico.

The group included leading experts in deep ocean engineering, marine science, remotely operated vehicles, piloted submersibles, offshore oil operations and well control. Also attending were representatives of NOAA, EPA, and the Coast Guard.

Executive Summary
On June 1, 2010, at the invitation of James Cameron, a group of twenty-eight experts in deep ocean engineering and exploration met in Washington, DC. This group included representatives from marine industry, oceanography, government agencies, and ocean advocacy and represented a unique and powerful talent base focused on one purpose: to identify possible solutions to capping and ultimately controlling the runaway Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico.
At meetings end it was recognized that the situation was much more complicated than portrayed through the media and that the potential for making matters dramatically worse was significant. With that in mind this group recommended three near-term solutions.

1. Tap into the 8 additional 3” ports that currently exist
on the BOP to draw off more oil through the second
riser (2nd riser was established for the two 3” lines used
for the kill shot). Using this technique should allow the
capture of significantly more oil than is currently being
recovered. These lines will function in parallel with the
existing LMRP Cap while the new valve/cap is being
fabricated. These additional lines could also be used to
pump heavy mud, and then cement, in a repeat of the top
kill procedure should one be attempted.

2. Replace the existing LMRP Cap with a new cap
that produces a solid seal, and has a valve that can be
controlled from the surface to produce the necessary back
pressure for a more effective top kill procedure. The cap
would be mechanically locked over the existing flange at
the top of the BOP, using hydraulically actuated clamps,
then filled with cement, epoxy or ferrofluid to generate
a permanent seal. A rubber tube or skirt inside the cap
would keep a channel clear for the oil to flow through
while the sealant is injected. Variants on this cap/valve
concept include a temporary or permanent expanding
bladder inserted into the bore of the BOP if the bore is
unrestricted with drill pipe.

3. As an alternative to top kill, it may be possible to
engage the existing drill pipe with an overshot, using
high frequency sonar to image within the venting oil. If
sufficient unobstructed internal clearance exists through
that pipe it could have a tube inserted through it. The
object is to pump heavy mud into the well deep in the
hole. A version of this concept that incorporates an
expanding bladder cap (pipe through the middle of the
bladder) would combine the best of both concepts... back
pressure and deep injection of mud.

The optimal outcome is that some combination of these techniques could be used to kill the well, which is vastly superior to the current situation in which the cap system is estimated to be capturing only about half the oil, and the whole thing is vulnerable to work stoppage in the event of a hurricane. Killing the well is a 100% solution. In addition to consideration of the Deepwater Horizon well itself, the group discussed steps that should be taken to more efficiently manage similar environmental threats in the future.

These included encouragement for the deployment of long term undersea environmental monitoring systems, the establishment of environmental baselines, and the design and development of a rapid response capability consisting of an assortment of platforms and sensors.

(Subsequent to the meeting of the task force BP revealed there are three 16” rupture/burst disks in the well, the condition of which is not known. If their integrity has been compromised any effort at a top-kill has a very low probability of success and may further damage the integrity of the well.)

Conclusions and Recommendations

Regarding BP’s post-accident response, our general conclusion is that BP have assets on scene sufficient to deal with the problem. BP’s expertise is excellent at the engineering level, and the post-incident decisions made to date are, for the most part, correct, at least regarding well control, however we believe that more needs to be done.
Although the media have given the impression of sequential processing of the problem as each new procedure is attempted, it is clear that sufficient parallel processing has been applied to solve the problem on several fronts.  However, external advisory support and analysis from the deep ocean community should have been sought out, both by BP and government, at an early stage
The transparent flow of information from BP to responding agencies and from the marine science/engineering community to the government would have helped enormously. Obtaining critical information on flows, pressures and status of the well was beyond arduous and thus much of it was estimated or inferred.  Going forward, BP should avail itself of the analytical and engineering support offered by the deep ocean community, which is highly expert in deep vehicle design and operation, and in deep ocean operations at depths greater

than the well site.

BP should consider restricting BOP internal pressure at the top flange and then repeating the top-kill, because the LMRP cap is subject to leakage and forced removal in a hurricane. This would involve creating a new cap or plug containing a surface controlled valve. The valve would be used to meter the flow, maintain enough back pressure in the BOP and give the top-kill a greater chance to work. The new cap/plug would make a high pressure seal to the upper flange, as opposed to the LMRP cap’s “loose seal.”

A variant on this idea is using the existing drill pipe, already in the well, or an additional pipe or tube inserted through it (or replacing it) to inject heavy mud all the way to the bottom of the well and attempt a kill that way. BP should be asked if they have analyzed this. The opaque flow of the oil will require the use of high frequency multi-beam sonar to image the pipe’s position inside the BOP. To increase capture of oil, BP should add more 3” lines (same as the choke and kill lines) to take advantage of the multiple valve ports on the stack. This would require significant work with ROVs, but could happen after the LMRP cap is in place. Two and possibly as many as eight 3” lines could be added. These lines would pump more volume of oil to the surface without relying on the LMRP cap. They will also relieve the flow at the LMRP cap and provide backup if it fails or needs maintenance. In addition, they could be used to pump mud into the well bore at high volume in a second attempt at a topkill.

Combined with higher back pressure and fine control of BOP internal pressures from the proposed valve/cap, this could insure success months in advance of the relief well.

A major flaw in the current LMRP cap strategy is that it depends on the ship holding station without interruption. If a hurricane forces the ship to move, the well will vent without restriction into the sea. We predicted during the meeting that the flow would increase significantly when the riser was cut off, and it has more than the predicted 20%. This rate is the new normal any time the LMRP cap is removed because of weather or loss of function. With a minimum of two months required to complete the relief wells, we recommend that another attempt to kill the well be made soon.

BP has assets on scene sufficient to deal with the control of the well. The deep ocean community has vehicles that could assist, but they are unnecessary for work directly at the well, and integrating working styles with the offshore ROV operators already on the scene would be counter productive.

However, assets like ROV’s, 3D cameras, and manned submersibles from the deep ocean community should be employed by government agencies immediately to independently image and monitor the site and the midwater and benthic communities. Quantitative optical imaging in 3D and from uncompressed sources could be used to monitor flow rates. Acoustic volumetric monitoring similar to what has been accomplished at deep sea hydrothermal vent sites could be utilized. Right now the government is relying on the perpetrator’s poor-quality surveillance video of the crime scene.

Commander Greene of Coast Guard assured us that all command decisions were being made jointly between BP and USCG. But this can only truly happen if Incident Command has an independent flow of data and imaging, to make informed decisions. Currently it does not. We recommend independent imaging and data acquisition in situ within visual range of the work as it proceeds. This would allow the government to monitor progress, leakage, and scan for additional leaks and hazards, as well as have a data set for accident investigation, independent analysis of well control efforts, and flow measurement.

Coordination of all vehicles on the bottom is critical so as not to impede the critical work at the well site, but can be done. This group has extensive experience in operating multiple vehicles, both piloted and ROV, within a small theater of operations. Piloted vehicles and fiber-spooling vehicles could approach the well by traversing across the bottom from a deployment point outside the cluster of ships directly over the work site, so as to not interact with BP’s ROVs, tethers, and risers.

In addition to independent imaging and monitoring of the site, the responsible agencies should look to our group to assist with incident investigation. Phoenix has performed search and recovery operations for the US Navy under Sup/Salv. Lightstorm, working with the Russian Academy of Sciences Mir research subs, has carried out exterior and interior forensics studies at Titanic and Bismarck. (Both wrecks are at much greater depths than the blown out well.) Woods Hole has decades of experience with deep-sea surveys, bottom mosaics and marine archeology including the Titanic wreck site and Challenger debris field.

There is no better capability anywhere in the world.

Creating a definitive seafloor survey of the site, including the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon, will be a critical part of the accident investigation. Members of this group have extensive experience operating small fiberspooling ROVs inside shipwrecks hundreds of feet and several decks away from the entry point. It may be possible to recover valuable data from the Deepwater Horizon that could assist in understanding the accident. A comprehensive interior and exterior survey of the wreck should be performed as a basic part of the investigation. Our experience with wrecks is that “the steel does not lie.” Deepwater Horizon holds many answers to urgent questions.

Many of the people in the room will be involved in studies to determine the damage to the environment below the ocean’s surface. There was a strong level of commitment and desire to work cooperatively in an unprecedented way.  Typically these institutions organize vertically under their funding agencies (Navy, NOAA, NSF and others) and work in an uncoordinated fashion.

Dealing with the aftermath of the biggest environmental disaster in US history will require unprecedented coordination; all present were eager to work within this framework. Craig McLean of NOAA offered to function as a pro-tem hub for that effort, specifically in creating a master list of assets and capabilities.

One example of this kind of coordination is the need to establish a centralized database for existing Gulf samples, imaging, and research currently residing within many institutions and researchers. What the conditions were before the spill and how much good data exists is critical generating a baseline for the
upcoming studies. It will also be important to standardize the instrumentation, regardless of the vehicular platform, so that the same types of data are coming in from all measurement sites.

Different institutions have different ships, ROV’s, AUV’s, manned subs, and deep-sea capabilities, so it will be important to cast each one in its right role. We also concluded that this group represented an excellent nucleus for a Rapid Response Team to deal with deep ocean incidents environmental or otherwise.
(Such as the search still underway for the Air France black box.) There are precedents for this in earthquakes, submarine rescue, and aircraft disasters
The team would be international and have a webbased inventory of private-public sector deep-sea scientists, technical systems and scientific packages. It would have a central command structure. It would be an independent body that governments could call on for high-resolution imaging and scientific accuracy. It was agreed to follow up on this idea; one of our members offered to host a meeting on the subject at his institution.

We are finished with regard to our recommendations on the well control and oil capture task (unless specific recommendations are adopted and create ongoing engineering or execution roles for some of the members), but we believe that this is just the start of the conversation for the coordinated research, site survey, independent site monitoring, and rapid response concepts.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Oil Spill Page:

Despite the lampooning David Cameron took in the media for his offers to help, this report shows how important his help could be to the U.S. in their independent investigation into the Deepwater Horizon Explosion that resulted in the rig's sinking and creating the worst environmental disaster this country has ever faced.  His group is willing to work with helping BP to stop or reduce the flow of oil into the gulf, in assisting the U.S. in gathering evidence for the investigation, and to help create a group that would be capable of responding to disasters around the globe.

I am impressed with the report and am doubly impressed with Mr. Cameron's desire to help not just in this situation, but others that might arise.

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