Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BP About to Take its Best Shot at Shutting Massive Oil Leak

Thirty-six days after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 crew members and setting off a massive oil leak, BP may finally be ready to attempt to seal the drill site with a “top kill” of heavy mud followed by cement.

I’ve seen estimates of success at 60 to 70 percent, so keep your fingers crossed.

All of them. It’s a critical moment, the last best chance to stop the flow for weeks if not months. If this doesn’t work…

Here’s how BP describes the process:

“A total of 50,000 barrels of mud will be on location to kill the well – far more than necessary, but we want to be prepared for anything. Pumping capacity on location is more than 30,000 hydraulic horsepower.

The mud will be pumped down the 6-5/8 inch drill pipe (pipe is connected to the Q4000), then through 3-inch hoses, which go through the manifold on the seafloor. Then the mud moves through another set of 3-inch hoses attached to the Deepwater Horizon BOP choke and kill lines.

With the manifold, we can also pump the ‘junk shot’ if necessary to stop too much of the kill mud going out through the top of the BOP rather than going down into the well to stop the flow. By switching valves in the subsea manifold, we can inject the ‘bridging material’ (the junk), which will prevent such losses and enable the top kill to continue.

We’ve been testing the junk shot on-shore, looking at different configurations of what might restrict the flow out of the Deepwater Horizon riser and what types of materials would help shut it off. Materials in a junk shot can include well-known items such as pieces of tires, golf balls, and pieces of rope.”

After initialing declaring that public access to the video feed would be halted during the operation, BP relented last night and announced the feed would continue. It warned:

“Throughout the extended top kill procedure – which may take up to two days to complete – very significant changes in the appearance of the flows at the seabed may be expected. These will not provide a reliable indicator of the overall progress, or success or failure, of the top kill operation as a whole. BP will report on the progress of the operation as appropriate and on its outcome when complete.”

BP had suggested the operation could begin as early as dawn today, but as of 7:30 a.m., there is no indication from the video that operations had actually begun.

On Thursday, Interior Department officials are expected to deliver the results of a 30-day review of the offshore drilling program to President Obama, including recommendations for how tighten oversight. The next day, Obama is scheduled to visit the Gulf.

Congress has also been investigating, as The New York Times reports:

In the hours before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last month in the Gulf of Mexico, there were strong warning signs that something was terribly wrong with the well, according to a Congressional committee that was briefed on the accident by executives from BP.

Among the red flags, the panel said, were several equipment readings suggesting that gas was bubbling into the well, a potential sign of an impending blowout. Investigators also noted “other events in the 24 hours before the explosion that require further inquiry,” including a critical decision to replace heavy mud in the pipe rising from the seabed with seawater, possibly increasing the risk of an explosion.

…. Some of those who survived the explosion, including managers from BP and Transocean, are expected to testify at hearings in Louisiana to be held by the Coast Guard and the federal Minerals Management Service, beginning Wednesday.

The testimony may help clear up some of the uncertainties about the day of the accident, including who was making the decisions. But the new information from BP — combined with past testimony by executives, analysis of documents by The New York Times and interviews with independent drilling experts — is beginning to paint a picture of a complex operation that went awry just as it was drawing to a close.

Drilling logs from the Deepwater Horizon suggest that shortly after midnight on the morning of the explosion, attention had turned to temporarily plugging and capping the well so the rig could disconnect and move to another job. Halliburton, the contractor hired by BP to provide cementing services, had spent the past several weeks cementing each new segment of the well into place. Halliburton was also responsible for plugging it….

However, in testimony before Congressional hearings, Halliburton executives have said that the company adhered strictly to the specifications provided by BP for the cementing of the well.”

The only break we’ve seemed to get in this whole tragedy has been with the weather. NOAA predicts that it will continue to be calm, for the most part keeping the oil offshore, although portions of the Louisiana coast have already been hammered. Bad as it is, the only solace is that it could be much much worse.

Like I said, keep your fingers crossed, and pray.

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