The Gulf oil rig explosion – on the scene photos

Regular WUWT commenter Jimmy Haigh, a geologist by trade, sends along a PDF that is a compilation of on the scene photos taken right after the explosion and in the following two days. I’ve converted it to web format. These were taken by people on the scene during the rescue and firefighting operation. There’s also a narrative, done by a person “in the know”. You won’t find this at AP or Reuters.

Taken shortly after the explosion. Note the mast is still intact, visible through the flames.

You may have heard the news in the last week about the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig which caught fire, burned for two days, then sank in 5,000 ft of water in the Gulf of Mexico. There are still 11 men missing, and they are not expected to be found.

The rig belongs to Transocean, the world’s biggest offshore drilling contractor. The rig was originally contracted through the year 2013 to BP and was working on BP’s Macondo exploration well when the fire broke out. The rig costs about $500,000 per day to contract. The full drilling spread, with helicopters and support vessels and other services, will cost closer to $1,000,000 per day to operate in the course of drilling for oil and gas. The rig cost about $350,000,000 to build in 2001 and would cost at least double that to replace today.

The rig represents the cutting edge of drilling technology. It is a floating rig, capable of working in up to 10,000 ft water depth. The rig is not moored; It does not use anchors because it would be too costly and too heavy to suspend this mooring load from the floating structure. Rather, a triply-redundant computer system uses satellite positioning to control powerful thrusters that keep the rig on station within a few feet of its intended location, at all times. This is called Dynamic Positioning.

The rig had apparently just finished cementing steel casing in place at depths exceeding 18,000 ft. The next operation was to suspend the well so that the rig could move to its next drilling location, the idea being that a rig would return to this well later in order to complete the work necessary to bring the well into production.

It is thought that somehow formation fluids – oil /gas – got into the wellbore and were undetected until it was too late to take action. With a floating drilling rig setup, because it moves with the waves, currents, and winds, all of the main pressure control equipment sits on the seabed – the uppermost unmoving point in the well. This pressure control equipment – the Blowout Preventers, or ‘BOP’s” as they’re called, are controlled with redundant systems from the rig. In the event of a serious emergency, there are multiple Panic Buttons to hit, and even fail-safe Deadman systems that should be automatically engaged when something of this proportion breaks out. None of them were aparently activated, suggesting that the blowout was especially swift to escalate at the surface. The flames were visible up to about 35 miles away. Not the glow – the flames. They were 200 – 300 ft high.

All of this will be investigated and it will be some months before all of the particulars are known. For now, it is enough to say that this marvel of modern technology, which had been operating with an excellent safety record, has burned up and sunk taking souls with it.

The well still is apparently flowing oil, which is appearing at the surface as a slick. They have been working with remotely operated vehicles, or ROV’s which are essentially tethered miniature submarines with manipulator arms and other equipment that can perform work underwater while the operator sits on a vessel. These are what were used to explore the Titanic, among other things. Every floating rig has one on board and they are in constant use. In this case, they are deploying ROV’s from dedicated service vessels. They have been trying to close the well in using a specialized port on the BOP’s and a pumping arrangement on their ROV’s. They have been unsuccessful so far. Specialized pollution control vessels have been scrambled to start working the spill, skimming the oil up.

In the coming weeks they will move in at least one other rig to drill a fresh well that will intersect the blowing one at its pay zone. They will use technology that is capable of drilling from a floating rig, over 3 miles deep to an exact specific point in the earth – with a target radius of just a few feet plus or minus. Once they intersect their target, a heavy fluid will be pumped that exceeds the formation’s pressure, thus causing the flow to cease and rendering the well safe at last. It will take at least a couple of months to get this done, bringing all available technology to bear. It will be an ecological disaster if the well flows all of the while; Optimistically, it could bridge off downhole.

It’s a sad day when something like this happens to any rig, but even more so when it happens to something on the cutting edge of our capabilities.

The photos that follow show the progression of events over the 36 hours from catching fire to sinking.


First, what the rig looked like.

The drilling mast has toppled over here – they usually melt pretty fast when fire breaks out.

Support vessels using their fire fighting gear to cool the rig.

From about 10 miles away – dawn of Day 1

Support vessels using their fire fighting gear to cool the rig – note the list developing

About noon Day 1 – List is pronounced now

Early morning Day 2 – Note the hole burned through the aluminum helideck

Day 2, morning – settling quite low in the water now – fuel and oil slick forming

See also satellite images of the oil slick here

Support vessels using their fire fighting gear to cool the rig

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216 thoughts on “The Gulf oil rig explosion – on the scene photos

  1. Thanks for sharing this Anthony. There is no upside to this tragedy. From the loss of life, to the financial and environmental damages, everyone loses.

  2. Wow! This narrative and pictures puts context into the statement by David Hayes of Interior that no new wells will be drilled until the cause of this incident is known. I hadn’t realized that this was a new well. Who else is drilling in the Gulf? Are other nations drilling also?

  3. Thank you Mr Haigh, that’s more information than we’ve received since this began.

  4. are the flotation vessels used for some purpose? I would have thought they would be hatched off.

  5. Thank you for this in depth background article.

    It seems that the body of text is copied in twice, beginning with –
    “You may have heard the news in the last two days about the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig …

    [Thanx, fixed. ~dbs, mod.]

  6. Anyone know (outside of human risk) the pros and cons of trying to put the rig fire out?

  7. Great pictures and story. However, most of the narative is replicated; it should be edited so just one version is visible. Thanks for the story, Jimmy!

    REPLY: There’s a strange dupli-thing that happens with WordPress sometimes repeating text that is pasted in. I didn’t notice but is fixed now. -A

  8. the text appears to be duplicated.

    i really appreciate that you have posted this. you’re absolutely right there is no place else to find information like this.

    [Fixed, thanx. ~dbs, mod.]

  9. If you can pass a question on. I was aware this was a drilling rig and not a production platform, if they had just finished laying in a casing is it possible that they had steel in the well when it blew and that prevented the BOPs from closing?

    It was also reported that there were leaks in three locations, does anyone know where the main and secondary leaks are in the seabed systems around the well?

  10. Anthony/ Jimmy/or anyone else in the know: Based on what has transpired to date, how do you rate the “Stop the Leak” and “Clean up the Mess” operation? Currently have the strong impression that, if anything, the Feds have only made the problem worse by their slow and bumbling action/inaction.

    From a “climate” perspective – What does all this oil do to Gulf Coast weather? Hotter Summer, Cooler Summer, Machts Nichts?

  11. wOw! You won’t get this kind of info off the evening news.

    Thanks, Jimmy and Anthony.

  12. This just doesn’t make sense, if the well was just cased and cemented that would leave the well totally isolated from the down hole formation fluids. It might be possible that they did not control down hole pressure and some oil (and more importantly gas) was circulated up ahead of the cement slurry, but even that would give all sorts of obvious signs that would have set off alarms. There are panic buttons in several places on the platform that would have automatically shut in the well on the seabed, but none of them had been activated. The oil and gas was 18,000 feet deep, it does not blow out instantaneously. The well would have to displace thousands of gallons of fluid in the wellbore first.

    So a highly unlikely and sudden explosion occurs on a state of the art drilling rig, on the eve of Earth Day, just a few weeks after an announcement of increased offshore drilling.

    I think that the investigation of this disaster should also include a background check of everyone involved just to be prudent.

  13. Tragic. This business is not without risk; I just hope that they can activate BOPs. Have heard conflicting info on that point.

  14. Thanks – this answers a lot of questions that the MSM couldn’t think of asking. It’s getting to the point that if the news item has any technical angle, there’s no point in looking to the MSM for coverage.

    I guess it back to the drawing boards for BOPs, etc.

    Does anyone know what the pressure is at the wellhead?

    BTW, there’s a big chunk of duplicate text, but that’s probably been reported several times already.

  15. Something’s wrong with the numbers. You say the rig is capable of operating in up to 10,000 ft, and then in the next paragraph say it was drilling at 18,000 ft.

  16. Great photos…

    @Anthony:
    I think you have a double-paste in the body of the article (Repeats).

    [Fixed, thanx. ~dbs, mod.]

  17. Thank you for posting, Anthony! These are amazing, hellish photos….

    This is an interesting site for those curious about these types of disasters:

    http://www.oilrigdisasters.co.uk/

    I do remember the Piper Alpha explosion, and this site lists many more. Damn shame, since we cannot grow lax on oil & gas development.

    The spill is a bad one, all for the lack of purchase of a $500,000 secondary acoustic shutoff valve!!

  18. Thanks, fascinating stuff.

    But most of the text is repeated.

    [Fixed, thanx. ~dbs, mod.]

  19. First, may they RIP, those lost.
    Then, Thank You to Jimmy Haigh for a great report here and to Jeff L at 10:44 pm, 4/30 – Pat Moffitt at 11:19 pm, 4/30 – AleaJactaEst at 12:18 am, 5/1 – Carlos Goncalves at 5:22 am, 5/1 ALL on the previous post on this tragedy. And again, to you Anthony, for providing the form in which we can all participate, learn the facts AND ask questions. Truly astounding how vast and knowledgeable the “participants” here-in are.

    The Truth will set you free.

  20. Well we can expect all the crazy conspiracies to start coming out.

    Such a disaster, an utter catastrophe in every possible sense of what occurred. Off shore drilling is not paying off nearly as well as we’d like it to be. It’s good, but it’s costing a lot of lives, and these events are way too common, but not usually to this scale. The ecological effects are going to be bad to say the least.

  21. other nations drilling in the Gulf:Russia, China, possibly Venezuela….
    I know there are other planning…

  22. If closer off-shore drilling were allowed, the complexities of drilling in deeper water may be avoided.

  23. No upside R Gates? There better be an upside of advocating drilling on land in Alaska, and other onshore locations, so these type of incidents offshore can be reduced because demand is being met by onshore drilling.

  24. Pascvaks says:
    May 1, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Anthony/ Jimmy/or anyone else in the know: Based on what has transpired to date, how do you rate the “Stop the Leak” and “Clean up the Mess” operation? Currently have the strong impression that, if anything, the Feds have only made the problem worse by their slow and bumbling action/inaction.

    —————————————————————————————–

    President Obama was playing golf, as usual, and did nothing for days. But eventually he sent a S.W.A.T. team. (scratches head…)

  25. Sean Peake says:
    May 1, 2010 at 9:15 am
    Did anyone get off it or is it all hands lost?

    About 120 got to shore, some with injuries. 11 still missing and presumed dead.

  26. I found the answer to my question in the oildrum article link in the next story.
    The answer: “At such high pressures, some of the natural gas separated from the oil within the hydrocarbon stream and ignited causing the explosion.”

  27. snork says:
    May 1, 2010 at 9:55 am
    Something’s wrong with the numbers. You say the rig is capable of operating in up to 10,000 ft, and then in the next paragraph say it was drilling at 18,000 ft.

    Difference is depth of water vs. depth of drilling (water plus through the earth–18K ft).

  28. This is the probably the worst offshore disaster since Piper Alpha. You can be damn sure certain folks are going to misuse this accident to push for Cap&Trade and to defeat oil drilling and exploration.

  29. The huge piece of climate legislation poised to be officially introduced
    in the U.S. Congress currently includes provisions that would loosen
    rules for opening more coastal areas to off-shore drilling.

    The drilling industry has been saying, “The technology is settled
    and safe.”
    for a number of years.

    The U.S. opening up more off-shore sites was premised on such
    assuances by the drillers and the producers (like British Petroleum)
    given to regulators, legislators, environmental action groups, and the
    general public.

    Oooops !

  30. snork-
    The rig was capable of operating in up to 8,000′ of water depth. It was capable of drilling a further 30,000′ below the seabed. The rig specs ( taken from the TransOcean website ) appear below. I believe the 21″ diameter, Class H riser employed on the rig is rated to 15,000 PSI.

    Some of the leaking fluids are coming from the tangled “riser” pipe ( the “riser” is the pipe leading from the seabed wellhead assembly ( which includes the “Christmas tree” stack and seabed BOPs ). According to the Coast Guard, after the rig sank ( the rig is currently located on the seafloor at some distance from the wellhead ) the riser remained in place and currently ascends some 1,500′ above the sea before bending and returning to the seafloor.

    RIG SPECIFICATIONS:
    The DEEPWATER HORIZON is a Reading & Bates Falcon RBS8D design semi-submersible drilling unit capable of operating in harsh environments and water depths up to 8,000 ft (upgradeable to 10,000 ft) using 18¾in 15,000 psi BOP and 21in OD marine riser.

    Rig Type: 5th Generation Deepwater
    Design: Reading & Bates Falcon RBS-8D
    Builder: Hyundai Heavy Industries Shipyard, Ulsan, South Korea
    Year Built: 2001
    Classification ABS
    Flag: Marshall Islands
    Accommodation: 130 berths
    Helideck: Rated for S61-N helicopter
    Moonpool: 21 ft x 93 ft
    Station Keeping: Dynamically Positioned
    Max Drill Depth: 30,000 ft / 9,144 m
    Max Water Depth: 8,000 ft / 2,438 m

    Operating Conditions: Significant Wave: 29 ft;@ 10.1 sec; Wind: 60 knots; Current: 3.5 knots

    Storm Conditions: Significant Wave: 41 ft @ 15 sec; Wind: 103 knots; Current: 3.5 knots

    Technical Dimensions

    Length: 396 ft (121 m )
    Breadth: 256 ft (78 m )
    Depth: 136 ft (41 m )
    Operating Draft: 76 ft (23 m )
    Ocean Transit Draft: 29 ft (9 m )
    VDL – Operating 8,816 st 8,000 mt

    Capacities

    Liquid Mud: 4,435 bbls 24,900 cu ft 705 cu m
    Drill Water: 13,076 bbls 73,415 cu ft 2,078 cu m
    Potable Water: 7,456 bbls 41,862 cu ft 1,185 cu m
    Fuel Oil: 27,855 bbls 156,392 cu ft 4,426 cu m
    Bulk Mud: 13,625 cu ft 386 cu m
    Bulk Cement: 8,175 cu ft 231 cu m
    Sack Material: 10,000 sacks

    Drilling Equipment

    Derrick Dreco 242 ft x 48 ft x 48 ft, 2000 kips GNC

    Drawworks Hitec active heave compensating drawworks, 6900 hp rated input power continuous, 2 in drilling line

    Motion Compensator Hitec ASA Active Heave Compensator, 13.7 ft stroke, 500 st operating, 1000 st locked

    Top Drive: Varco TDS-8S, 750 st, 1150 hp with PH-100 pipe handler

    Rotary: Varco RST, 60.5in opening, 1000 st

    Pipe Handling: 2 x Varco PRS-6i Pipe Packers; Varco AR-3200 Iron Roughneck

    Mud Pumps: 4 x Continental Emsco FC-2200, 7500 psi

    Shale Shakers: 7 x Brandt LCM-2D CS linear motion / cascading shakers

    Desander: 2 x Brandt SRS-3 with 6 x 12in cones

    Desilter: Brandt LCM-2D/LMC with 40 x 4in cones over one linear motion shaker, 2400 gpm

    Mud Cleaner: See Desilter

    BOP: 2 x Cameron Type TL 18¾in 15K double preventers; 1 x Cameron Type TL 18¾in 15K single preventer; 1 x Cameron DWHC 18¾in 15K wellhead connector

    LMRP: 2 x Cameron DL 18¾in 10K annular; 1 x Cameron HC 18¾in 10K connector

    Diverter: Hydril 60 with 21¼in max bore size, 500 psi WP and 18in flowline and two outlets

    Control System: Cameron Multiplex Control System

    Riser: Vetco HMF-Classs H 21in OD riser; 90 ft long joints with C&K and booster and hydraulic supply lines

    Riser Tensioners: 6 x Hydralift Inline, 50f t stroke, 800 kips each

    Guideline Tensioners: N/A

    Podline Tensioners: N/A

    Choke & Kill: Stewart & Stevenson 3-1/16in, 15K, with 2 x adjustable chokes and 2 x hydraulic power chokes

    Cementing: Halliburton (third party equipment)

    Machinery

    Main Power: 6 x Wartsila 18V32 rated 9775 hp each, driving 6 x ABB AMG 0900xU10 7000 kW 11,000 volts AC generators

    Emergency Power: 1 x Caterpillar 3408 DITA driving 1 x Caterpillar SR4 370 kW 480 volts AC generator

    Power Distribution: 8 x ABB Sami-Megastar Thruster Drives, 5.5 MW and 6 x GE Drilling Drive Lineups 600 V 12 MW

    Deck Cranes: 2 x Liebherr, 150 ft boom, 80 mt @ 35 ft

    Thrusters: 8 x Kamewa rated 7375 hp each, fixed propeller, full 360 deg azimuth

    Propulsion: See Thrusters

  31. I don’t buy into the eco-terrorism/N. Korea torpedo line of BS, this was an old-fashioned oil industry screwup. I’ve seen them far too often.

    Excellent article on the technology by Wall Street Journal:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704423504575212031417936798.html?mod=rss_Today's_Most_Popular

    The only good that might come out of this will be further improvements in drilling and platform safety. BP ticks me off, after their Texas City refinery explosion they were supposed to upgrade safety programs worldwide.

    Find the problems, fix them, and keep drilling.

  32. snork says:
    May 1, 2010 at 9:55 am
    Something’s wrong with the numbers. You say the rig is capable of operating in up to 10,000 ft, and then in the next paragraph say it was drilling at 18,000 ft.

    The Transocean Deepwater Horizon is rated for 10,000′ water depths and 30,000′ drilling depths.

    The water depth was ~5,000′ and the drilling total depth was 18,360′ (13,360′ below mudline (AKA sea floor). The loss of the rig has resulted in an uncontrolled flow of oil from the collapsed marine riser (up to 5,000 bbls/day). The blow out occurred just after a production liner had been cemented into place and before a cement plug could be set so that the well could be temporarily abandoned (TA’ed). Deepwater discovery wells are often TA’ed and then completed at a later date.

    The rig crew tried to activate the BOP’s prior to evacuating. The “deadman switch” failed to activate the BOP’s. ROV’s have been able to access the BOP controls; but the BOP’s won’t activate. All offshore rigs operating in the US OCS have to test their BOP’s at least once every 14 days. The BOP’s were working during the last test – Which would have been withing 2 weeks of the accident.
    The well was not drilled in an abnormally pressured section. It was not in a frontier area. The likelihood of such a catastrophic blowout of a US operated drilling rig in the US OCS Gulf of Mexico is infinitesimally small. Since 1964 only 14 rigs have been lost or seriously damaged by blowouts in the US OCS of the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1970 there have only been 2 blowout accidents with fatalities (1970 and 1987, each with 4 fatalities). From January 1980 through January 2008 there were 173 blowouts/well releases from the US GoM OCS. Almost 30,000 wells were drilled in the US Gulf of Mexico OCS over that same period of time (0.87% incident rate). Most of those blowout/well release incidents were minor and were quickly controlled. Only 11 of those blowout incidents resulted in serious damage or the total loss of drilling rigs (0.06% incident rate) and only 1 incident (Zapata Lexington, 1987) resulted in 4 fatalities (0.01% incident rate).

    Statistically speaking, the odds of such a catastrophic accident happening to a modern semi-submersible rig like the Transocean Deepawater Horizon, under these operating parameters are less than 1 in 20,000.

    The Transocean Deepwater Horizon was a modern (5th generation) semi-submersible drilling rig. The rig was operating well inside of its “envelope” and it was conducting an operation in which a blowout simply should not have been able to occur.

    The timing of the disaster is also odd… Less than a month after Pres. Obama announced plans to expand offshore drilling and two days before Earth Day… And without having a clue as to what caused the explosion, Greenie nitwit Lib’s are wailing about how this proves that offshore drilling is too environmentally risky to be allowed off the East Coast…

    The explosion came less than a month after President Barack Obama’s decision to open portions of the East Coast to oil and gas exploration, and opponents of the move have seized on the blast as a reason to reverse course.

    “The bottom line is that when you drill for oil, there is always a risk that not only puts lives on the line, but a risk that puts miles of coastline and the economy on the line as well,” Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, both New Jersey Democrats, said in a statement.

    The Huff Puff

    The Greenies are simply ignoring the incredible drilling and production safety record in the Gulf of Mexico over the last several decades. The volume of oil released by this blowout will be more than the sum total of oil spilled in the last 40 years of offshore drilling and production operations in the US Gulf of Mexico OCS…

    Since 1980, OCS operators have produced 4.7 billion barrels (bbl) of oil and spilled only 0.001 percent of this oil, or 1 bbl for every 81,000 bbl produced. In the last 15 years, there have been no spills greater than 1,000 bbl from an OCS platform or drilling rig. The spill risk related to a diesel spill from drilling operations is even less. During the 10-year period (1976-1985) in which data were collected, there were 80 reported diesel spills greater than one barrel associated with drilling activities, compared with 11,944 wells drilled, or a 0.7 percent probability of occurrence. For diesel spills greater than 50 bbls, only 15 spills have occurred, or a 0.1 percent probability.

    Natural seepage of oil in the Gulf of Mexico (unrelated to natural gas and oil industry operations) is far more extensive. Researchers have estimated a natural seepage rate of about 120,000 bbl per year from one area (23,000 square kilometers) offshore of Louisiana.

    MMS

    The prime suspect right now seems to be Halliburton because they did the cement work on the liner. The current thinking is that the cement job failed and led to the blowout… But that doesn’t explain the total failure of the BOP’s.

    Between the timing, the political opportunism (Obama has sent Energy and Climate Change Czar Carol Browner to the scene) and the shear odds against such a catastrophic accident occurring under these conditions, just doesn’t smell right.

    Freak accident and political opportunism? Or deliberate sabotage for political reasons?

  33. As tragic as this is, I still can’t get “Michael Chighton’s “State of Fear” out of my head. Just finished it a week ago. Eerie.

  34. I can’t believe that somebody would sabotage the rig with 130 men on board.My money is on human error.

  35. The Oil Sands like pretty good in comparison.

    Too bad Obamassiah has banned oil being imported from this safe & reliable energy source

  36. I posted this yesterday on another web site, and even goofy ideas for reducing the flow rate from this tragic disaster should be considered due to the immensity of the damage being caused.

    Pity that the blowout preventer didn’t work, but why not now consider ideas to reduce the flow rate? Here’s one that possibly could work by pinching the leaking pipe if its material is of sufficient ductility. Construct a sort of giant multiple c-clamp with several very fine thread members stacked one above the other. Using those submarine robots, over an interval of several feet as far as possible below the point where the pipe is leaking, install the multi-clamp assembly by clamping it over the pipe, then start closing the clamps gradually starting from each end of the clamp assembly until the pipe is completely flattened at or near the middle of the assembly. If the ductility of the pipe’s metal is adequate and the pipe does not fracture from shear or tension as the clamping screws are tightened, possibly the rate of oil leakage could be greatly diminished during the three or months that will be required to drill the relief well. The number of clamping screws and the size of the assembly would depend on the ductility of the pipe to be flattened. It may require some time to experiment, design, construct and test such an assembly, but if not completed in time to cope with this disaster, it could be ready for the next.

  37. Tom in Co. says:
    May 1, 2010 at 9:22 am
    “So a highly unlikely and sudden explosion occurs on a state of the art drilling rig, on the eve of Earth Day, just a few weeks after an announcement of increased offshore drilling. I think that the investigation of this disaster should also include a background check of everyone involved just to be prudent.”

    Spot On, Tom! You mirror my own thinking. It may prove to be a series of tragic coincidences but my ‘spider senses’ are tingling…. We have seen enough ‘monkey wrenching’ and deliberate arson by environmental terrorists over the last 3 decades to justify our concerns.

  38. @bob paglee says:
    May 1, 2010 at 11:37 am

    That’s exactly what the shear rams were supposed to do. The rig had 4 BOP’s. The shear rams are like a vice grip with sharp blades. If the BOP valves fail to stop the flow, the shear rams are supposed to pinch off the tubing.

  39. steve says:
    May 1, 2010 at 11:32 am
    As tragic as this is, I still can’t get “Michael Chighton’s “State of Fear” out of my head. Just finished it a week ago. Eerie.

    It’s been over a year since I read “State of Fear”… But I’m having that same feeling.

    But… The odds against this being sabotage are just about as high as the odds of this being a perfect storm of Murphy’s Law.

  40. I know that they tried to close the valve with a submersible robot. Anyone know if this means a remote cut off switch would not have worked even if installed?

  41. Thank you for the excellent narrative and photographs. Sometimes, despite our best efforts and precautions, tragedy strikes. I have seen many frightening, knee-buckling things in my life and this ranks right at the top of the list. The photos are chilling; a virtual Hell’s Inferno at sea. God rest the souls of those men lost and praises for the brave souls who fought the fire and those attempting to mitigate the effects of this disaster.

  42. In chatting with one my contacts in Louisiana, he indicated that a failure in the cement which cemented the liner, could cause chunks to rise and lodge in the BOP stack preventing the hydraulic rams from being able to wedge the pipe shut. The failsafe valves just crimp the drilling line. If this can’t be done, then there is leakage. It’s at least partially done, as the well could flow as much as 50,000 boepd if it was wide open.

    For those who are curious, boepd is barrels of oil equivalent per day (there are light hydrocarbons along with the oil and gas).

  43. sorry about the tragic loss of life involved.lets hope they can get control of the situation quickly before to much damage is done

  44. Great photo essay – it did the rounds at work a few days ago and satisfied at least some imponderables.
    It seems there’s predictably a lot of misinformed remarks in the media. A couple of points of contention:
    1. The provision of acoustic activation of the BOP can hardly have helped – the BOP was evidently provided with a ‘fail-safe’ automatic shut in trigger in the event of loss of communication with the rig (which is also the raison d’etra of acoustic activation), the crew attempted to shut in the well manually from the bridge prior to evacuation and repeated attempts to shut in using ROVs directly manipulating the BOP have failed – for reasons still unclear the BOP rams physically can not be closed, so it’s entirely academic whether one extra activation method was provided or absent. (It’s like complaining that a car didn’t have air bags after it has been crushed by a freeway collapsing during an earthquake)
    2. The BOP may be faulty, but it will have been successfully function tested and pressure tested routinely in line with the prevailing local regulations (not sure what those are in GoM having yet to work there), so it seems unlikely – but once the BOP is raised and inspected, should it be found to be obviously faulty, then heads shall surely roll.
    3. More likely the BOP can’t close due to obstruction – could be a liner hanger blasted upwards during the blowout which lodged in or damaged the ram cavities (?) without knowing the details, the ‘steel casing’ cemented prior to the explosion is likely to have been a liner (hangs of a sort of annular clamp anchored at depth in the well rather than hanging off the wellhead at seafloor).
    4. Someone asked about some conflicting figures (10,000′ vs 18,000′): The rig is rated to operate in water depths of 8,000′, and is rated to drill to a maximum depth of 30,000′, see http://www.deepwater.com/fw/main/Deepwater-Horizon-56C17.html?LayoutID=17. The total depth of the well is circa 18,000′.
    5. It was asked ‘why put out the fire?’; if left burning the rig would have structurally failed and sunk any way, better to try and extinguish the fire and then begin well control operations at surface, without the complication of a bent and broken riser leaking in three locations deep underwater. There is (or was) also the matter of searching for the eleven crew still missing, in addition to a comparatively easier investigation after successfully killing the well.
    Unfortunately it would appear that the fire water destabilised the rig causing it to list and sink (recall the capsising of the SS Normandie in New York harbour under similar circumstance in the 1930s).
    One would also be reluctant to extinguish a gas fire (I do not know the composition of the reservoir fluid, but where there’s oil, there is normally also gas) for fear of the unburnt gas igniting or exploding again subsequently. Offshore survival training, including rudimentary fire fighting, undertaken every two or three years in Australia, Brunei, Norway and UK has always advocated not extinguishing a gas fire for this reason – fire fighting is limited to keeping the surroundings cool and preventing the spread of the conflagration until the fire is extinguished by stopping the flow of gas.
    6. Muppets in the media persistently talk of 5000bbl per day being ‘pumped’ into the sea (as if it’s deliberately?) – the oil is flowing out due to reservoir pressure, no pumping is involved. It is also misleading to describe drilling relief wells as ‘experimental’, the original well proposal to the MMS would have been rejected if at least one or two suitable locations had been identified for drilling relief wells.
    7. It is premature to try and determine the cause of the blow out, much less apportion blame. BP and Transocean have been unfairly criticised for describing this accident as ‘unforeseen’. How a well blows out so suddenly and so violently after being cased and cemented, that the crew working on the rig crew and shaker deck is lost without the well being shut in is not simple to diagnose, let alone predict – the verdict of the investigations will point to a freakish set of events occurring simultaneously or in rapid sequence. No doubt one or more management decisions or procedures will be retrospectively called into question, but such is the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
    Contemplate one aspect of the Cullen Report (Investigation of the Piper Alpha disaster); who would have though that rubber mats on stairs for the benefit of divers could play such a part in the destruction of a production platform?
    8. The question of the ‘climate impact’ of this disaster has predictably been raised. It should be obvious – nothing, nichevo; nada; sweet Francis Allen. The fire did not eject sufficient particulates to high enough altitude to cause even local solar dimming.
    Actual environmental impact on the other hand – ye Gods, but compared with a reactor melt-down?
    9. There is criticism of the lack of information, which has actually been quite good. Contemplate though that eleven people have been lost, a still youthful rig has been lost and environmental disaster is unfolding. Don’t expect to hear any detailed description of the sequence of events that caused this being quoted soon – the investigation is now of a criminal nature (does anyone have charges of manslaughter to answer?) such investigations will not be compromised by prematurely releasing information merely to satisfy our curiosity – we’ll have to await the investigation’s findings to know for sure what happened and why.

  45. The best website ever, once again. Thank you Anthony and all the other posters who have such great information about this disaster, the technical aspects of these rigs, and how they work. I’m fascinated.

  46. “They will use technology that is capable of drilling from a floating rig, over 3 miles deep to an exact specific point in the earth – with a target radius of just a few feet plus or minus. ”

    They will use technology capable of drilling from a floating rig, to a specific point over 3 miles deep– with a target radius of just a few feet plus or minus.

    They will drill from a floating rig, to a point over 3 miles deep- within a just a few feet of their target.

    They will drill within a few feet of their target- over 3 miles beneath a floating rig.

    So many wasted words. Blather obscures the wonder.

  47. Every human endeavour has risks attached to it. Something as simple as changing a light-bulb can prove to be fatal given the right circumstances. The more complex the endeavour then the greater the risks involved. In every major project people die or are maimed; those involved accept the risks but loose the bet.
    Unfortunately we now live in a risk averse society where there must always be someone to blame. There is no acceptance that completely unforeseen circumstances can lead to catastrophe as appears to have happened in this instance. Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day about an incident which occurred, despite the very best efforts of all involved.
    The only compensating thought is that the private company involved is doing a lot more a lot faster than any government or governmental agency could do.

  48. steve says: “As tragic as this is, I still can’t get “Michael C(r)ighton’s “State of Fear” out of my head. Just finished it a week ago. Eerie.”

    Yeah, it’s a great book. I just finished “Next.” Also good.

  49. Lowell says (May 1, 2010 at 9:38 am)

    “I follow another blog written by an oil industry insider who has a good perspective on comparable situations. ”

    Thanks for the OpenChoke link. Interesting stuff. The author also scoffs about calling it “Obama’s Katrina” and scoffs at the idea of it being a greenie conspiracy, here.

  50. The accident is horrendous and shows how hard it is to get this oil, the truly appalling part of this tragedy was BP actions early on when they frist said it was not leaking and turned down gov help, and then (intentionally??) underestimated the spills size so the right equipment was not brought in.

    BP had a major spill in Alaska about two years back, which they admitted was due to poor pipeline maintenance, and then an explosions at a refinery that took several lives. BP has issues, and we all paying for that.

  51. I don’t believe in conspiracies in this manner.

    The Piper Alpha disaster for example was caused by 2 workpermits that got seperated. They removed the safety valve of Condensate pump A for maintenance, the job was not finished when the night shift started and the permit stating that the job was not completed and that pump A was not to be switched on got lost somehow.

    There was however a seccond permit stating that the overhaul of pump A had not yet started. Then suddenly Condensate pump B stopped, since a permit was found that stated that work on pump A had not yet started they switched on pump A to continue operations thinking that all was still in working order and safe to operate. Nobody noticed the missing safety valve.

    167 men lost their lives that night.

  52. If there’s an end of the spill pipe that is sticking out from the seafloor, cannot a simple hose be attached and let the oil travel along it to the surface, at which point it can be put in a container vessel and salvaged? That would serve two purposes–prevent any further spilling and keep the oil as a resource. Certainly the buoyancy of the oil would help in the process.

  53. Bob Paglee,

    I was thinking exactly along these lines, which is why I began searching for more technical info than what’s available in the standard news sources.

    My thought was to use hydraulic rams instead of screws, but basically the same idea.

    Do this roughly 1450 feet above the sea floor , 40-50 feet below the point where the riser is bent and leaking, then if you’re able to choke off a good portion of the flow, and it it doesn’t risk a huge explosion, use ROVs to place shaped charges to cut off the riser 10-20 feet above the pinched area. Finally, use the ROVs to place a steel plug inside the riser, and weld it into place remotely (if possible).

  54. it’s a tragedy for sure. to date, only two of the eleven who died have been named. may that all rest in peace.

    Few clues to fate of oil workers
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8654222.stm

    politically, there are no winners. the explosion put paid to the energy bill for now, as BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell were to join the environmental groups six days after the explosion:

    EEI, three oil companies to back climate bill; top 10 highlights of Kerry proposal
    http://views.washingtonpost.com/climate-change/post-carbon/2010/04/by_juliet_eilperin_the_nations.html

    obviously BP could not be trotted out under the circumstances.

    offshore drilling has also taken a hit for now.

    let’s hope there is some turn for the better and the damage is minimised as much as is possible. and let’s hope the remedial choices do not make the situation worse.

  55. This may come across as a naive question, but, what was the probable initial (possibly explosive) event, and then what was the progression to the platform itself.

    If you can, speak to pressures, types of gases etc. that might be involved.

    Also, specifically, how does a BOP work?
    .

  56. I was in Hiroshima 20 years after WWII. You’d never know it had been nuked, except for the monument. This gulf spill will be cleaned up and forgotten about in 2 or 3 years. It’s not the end of the world or even the end of the gulf coast. Folks need to take a longer view of things like this.

    Sure it’s locally messy, and will cost some folks some money, and I’m sorry about the injuries and deaths, but for most people it’s a minor inconvenience at worst. Get a grip.

  57. How about some math?

    Say we have 5,000 bbls a day spread along 100 miles of coast. That is 50 bbls per mile. Every day. At 42 gallons per bbl that is 2,000 gallons per mile or about .4 gallon per foot. Not too bad for one day. If it goes on for a couple of months not good immediately. A lot of wild life will be killed. And then as time goes on bacteria will start eating the oil and the food chain will blossom.

    If the oil spreads more – that is good. If a lot evaporates – good. If a lot can be captured before it reaches the coast – good.

  58. Policyguy, It would be insane to stop drilling because of a disaster. Why not prohibit cars because of road accidents, or getting out of bed in the morning. Bring on a universal night-time curfew to prevent crime.

    You can see where this cowardly attitude leads.

    Yes, this is a disaster, and 12 people died. Sh*t happens; has happened before; will happen again. Problems and emergency were foreseen and safety features put in place; they didn’t work. We must investigate what happened and adapt our safety procedures and then resume deep sea drilling.

  59. Curiousgeorge says:
    May 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    The proble, Curious, is that the current US regime will grab this disaster as an excuse to curtail US exploitation of its own energyh resources. For some reason, this current cabal of Democrats hate cheap energy for the masses. They want to shut down the production of electricity and fuel; Obama himself has said so, as have his supporters and apparatchiks; it’s that simple.

  60. To get an idea of the forces involved, the bottom of the ocean here, the gases would be at a pressure of about 160 atmospheres. However, the drill went into the ocean bottom for some distance, supposedly another 13000 feet. Now rock is 3 times as dense as water, so this additional pressure is equivelant to 1300 atmospheres.

    We are talking of a source pressure of about 1400 atmospheres, which of course will be dissipated in the pipeline flow resistance, but it is still enormous.

  61. Thank you very much for this article! Definitely hard breaking news. Well done.

    This calamity will prove to be the death of off shore drilling in the USA. I am personally horrified at the scale of this disaster. Heads must roll.

  62. Great work Anthony as always. I would like to conribute in a positive way if at all positive.

    My first 13 years of professional life was with a major oil company in the piepline sector. From the age of 6 before that I spent a lot of time fishing in the Louisiana Gulf waters. As odd as it may seem, there are some things the readers should know about what is actually happening now.

    After the Valdez accident, a network was put inplace by federal act (as much as I hate to admit it) which created multiregional spill containment facilities all along the Gulf. All of these spill containment resources are on the job. They are providing on the sight containment which helps to reduce the spread of the oil and then as we have all heard (burn) what they collect and then go on to collect more spillage to burn again.

    The next important fact to know is the oil which is leaking is a “”light”” crude which means it is high in light end hydrocarbons. Translation, much of what leaks evaportates in the atmosphere which in turn reduces crude at the surface.

    Technology used today including “”microbial”” remediation is very effective in eating much of the crude. Boats, planes, and private hardware are being used to spread microbial fluids which are very effective in eating the crude.

    Next, is the fact the Mississippi River is helping to keep the spill offshore. The longer the spill stays spread over large expanses, the more evaporates, the more is exposed for microbial remediation, the more is there for the containment crews to scoop up.

    Your website is a venue to educate the public. Gods hand is on your site. This site allows people like me who can disseminate information to the public which otherwise may not surface. My hunch is that given all the resources in place, all the modern technolgy available to eat the spill that this episode will have minimal effect. I know this goes against the grain of conventional thinking but as things play out we may all find that in the end this may not turn out to be the disaster the news would make it all out to be.

    May God Bless our State “Louisiana” and all it does for the energy and food resources for the U.S.

  63. None of the failsafes engaged, most likely indicating the control line(s)/remotes to the sea floor were severed.
    At that point, the Deadman should have engaged. Suggests explosion travelling down.
    Obama’s first action was to deplay swat teams to adjacent rigs.
    Add in H.S. and you have an implied threat from undisclosed sources. Could also be that the Admin. is doing something, even if it’s wrong.
    No interviews of drilling crew says the lid is on tight.
    So, we do not know what transpired out there.
    Meantime, I hope somebody comes up with something ingenious to stem the flow, and quickly.

  64. @ Robert of Ottawa says:
    May 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    I’m aware of the political agenda’s at work in this kind of thing, and I totally agree with you. Hopefully, some sanity will return this coming Nov. and later on in 2012.

  65. It´s amazing and sad at the same time, because of the people who died. Not for the environment which will blossom again, as M.Simon said. Go to any garden shop and you could buy “humic acid”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humic_acid (really a potassium humate), found in leonardite (a young coal) and it is used as a powerful fertilizer.
    http://www.healthyhomemall.com/leonardite.asp
    We are as organic and as “chemical” as that oil, yeah!, as that earth blood from a bleeding earth. So you, greens, shut up and mourn!…but not for that Gaia oy yours I don´t believe in, but for the workmen there, burnt, while working- a thing, I´m sure-you don´t know what it is….

  66. I would just like to say that entries like this are why this blog absolutely rules.

  67. Other things to ponder, If I remember correctly China will be drilling off Cuba if not already.

  68. I heard the “new drilling” is actually the opening of a little space for drilling, but the closure of many other areas. So it’s actually a reduction which is being promoted as being an increase. I’m having trouble re-finding that description among the disaster and “new drilling” noise.

    And, as the weather is a factor… the wind forecast for the next two days is onshore winds.
    http://www.weather.gov/forecasts/wfo/sectors/lixMarineDay.php#tabs (mouseover the “Winds” time cells)
    The national weather map shows two Lows on the west side of the continent, so we can expect several days of air being sucked in from the Gulf. So the weather is not cooperating.

  69. We recently had a similar incident off the north of Australia. While a second bore was successfully drilled to intercept the initial bore, the operation took over two months. Oil continued to leak throughout that period. Given the size of this current leak it would be unfortunate if containing the leak took this long.

    I have had a very small amount of hands on experience with shaped charges, and I wonder if an attempt should be made to use explosives technology underwater in the well head area while intercept drilling is being attempted elsewhere. Explosives would be within the capabilities of ROVs to transport, position and activate. I have yet to see any actual images of the underwater situation, but would imagine a tangled mess.

    Explosives, in particular shaped charges could help in a number of ways. One would be to use cutting charges with copper alloy slugs to cut tangled pipe away from the well head area. This could reduce the leaks to a single point and allow a containment dome to be employed. Secondly focused charges (without slugs) with lower brisance and suitable standoff may be able to pinch the remaining pipe to reduce the leak to more manageable rates.

    Design and testing of such devices may take weeks, as current explosives technology is not designed to operate at such depths (currently around 200m). The charges would require evacuated casings strong enough for +1500m. Development may still be faster than the time taken to conduct intercept drilling.

    Has anyone seen any images or video from the seabed?

  70. Two points:

    1.) The rig is toast, why try to put it out and then try to set the floating oil on fire?

    2.) With oil at $85 barrel, I would think it would profitable to suck it off the surface. The stuff floats, just surround it with floats and suck it up. You could bring in over a quarter of a million dollars of oil a day.

  71. MC says: “Technology used today including “”microbial”” remediation is very effective in eating much of the crude. Boats, planes, and private hardware are being used to spread microbial fluids which are very effective in eating the crude.
    —-
    REPLY: Right you are, MC! My grad-school microbiology professor at Univ. of Illinois in the 1980’s was Dr. Ananda Chakrabarty, who did this development work for GE and was awarded the first patent for a life-form. Turns out that the natural bacteria can do the job of bioremediation of oil just fine.

    At the Exxon Valdez spill, remediation crews learned to spread nutrients (fertilizer for microbes if you will) onto oil-soaked rocks and other material, and this greatly speeded up the cleanup. The long-term impact of this spill will probably be low, but there will be an immediate and highly visible impact to many ecosystems. Nobody should be gloating about this, believe me! We all lose.

    First attention must be on stopping the flow, and I appreciate all comments, especially by the friendly posters from the oil & gas industry! Your technical contributions are very welcome. Great site, great place for minds to meet.

  72. I’m sorry to hear men died in this. That being said, all who have worked in the oil field understand there is always the possibility of an accident. It is not reasonable to expect a perfectly safe anything. It is right to continue to improve safety, but nothing in the oil business will ever be 100% safe.

  73. The BOPs are probably mechanically damaged…..the surface casing that the BOPs are
    mounted on is more than likely bent or ruptured at the ‘casing bowl’…or the main flange on top of the surface casing that the BOP stack is bolted to. There is a mile of riser pipe that connects the rig to the BOP stack…..for fluids to be flowing from this riser pipe, it would mean it is still attached. Normally if a rig develops some sort of catastrophic emergency, the BOPs are shut in & the riser is unlatched from BOP.
    A listing & essentially sinking rig, still connected to BOPs will be catastrophic to structural integrity of BOP & surface casing attach point…as the weight of sinking & collapsing riser pipe imparts force onto BOP. Point being, even if BOP could function, there’s more than likely a structural failure that will leak regardless.

  74. Good job, Anthony. Having worked on an exploration crew many years ago, my thoughts are with the families of the victims.

  75. The article above is good coverage. There is a lot of false information around. Climate progress got their ‘story” from some city folks and had a long list of nonsensical claims. One for example was that it was a BP rig. It was a transocean rig and transocean lost 9 workers. I didn’t see mention of pressures but in the onshore pay zones we sometimes see 10,000 psi gas presures. This is nearly as dangerous as space thrave where you are buckled to a rocket motor which is like an ongoing exploosion. I hired my first oril field safety worker in 1981. The types of pals this administration is surrounded with is not in the leage of the technology of these companies. BP bought Amoco and Sohio. Amoco had a research center in Tulsa and it was so exotic, it was working on computors for artificial intelligence 25 years agobefore most universities. My grandads friend made a few hundred of the earlier jackup rigs before these tethered deeep water rigs developed. If anyone even starts to have casual thoughs about these dingers, the employees have a lot of safety training. The easy oil has been found. 80 years ago oil derricks or what are now drilling rigs were made out of wood.

  76. The concreted bore hole was the first thing I thought of, especially as the rig was about to move on to another site. It’s always tempting to lay down the concrete too fast, to save time. If the prior concrete hasn’t set hard enough, the scene is set for a cascading failure which would indeed block the safety mechanisms.

  77. Mark Levin is a talk show host. He was a lawyer in the EPA and has interrogated Carol Browner.

    This tape is posted several places including above.
    The city slicker politicians have no clue what is going on. The industry if focusing on the priorities. Safety and clean up. The eco people are focussing on destroying an industry they both hate and do not understand.
    These are very brave men. They go into harms way and work very hard. we also have soldiers that take risks. Border patrol men are in harms way but look out for our country. Since R.G Letearneau built the first jack up rig for GHW Bush and partners till now, it has been much safer as an industry than Tonight, saturday night out on the town in D.C., detroit or chicago.

  78. 1–BP successfully fought
    to block the inclusion on all its USA oil rigs of a device called an acoustic switch—commonly COMMONLY used in other oil-producing nations—that sends impulses through the water that can trigger an underwater valve to shut down the well in the event of a blowback. BP found the costs of these units, about $500,000, excessive.

    None of the experts posting on this site seems remotely interested in mentioning that switch.

    http://iraqwar.mirror-world.ru/article/223908
    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/may2010/orig-m01.shtml

    2-
    Since Halliburton has a monopoly on the cement plug market, and no one else can get down there to see what they did,
    Halliburton has an incentive to screw up most of its cement plugs to insure future
    repair contracts.

    3-The cheapest fastest way to plug that hole is to
    set a 20 kiloton nuke on that hole–
    that would plug it–
    all this other crap being bandied about is only to
    make a lot of self-entitled
    over priced overpaid work for the
    overrated rig and oil field service companies
    and experts and crews being paid
    more exorbitant amounts to fix
    a problem they created with their expertise
    in the first instance–and to save the well originally drilled
    for screw up BP(which has insurance and a prostrate obama to pay up)
    –at the cost of
    at least 3 months pollution–

    just nuke it and drill another hole.

    And tell Russia we have begun disposing of
    our nuke weapons under some
    sort of non-proliferation treaty
    (pick one).

    baddabing

  79. To rbateman
    I’m sure they deployed SWOT teams not SWAT (although I have seen many media centers call it SWAT). The agencies deploying make SWOT more likely-Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats. Its what one would expect after a such an accident.

  80. Mike Odin says:
    May 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm
    1–BP successfully fought
    to block the inclusion on all its USA oil rigs of a device called an acoustic switch—commonly COMMONLY used in other oil-producing nations—that sends impulses through the water that can trigger an underwater valve to shut down the well in the event of a blowback. BP found the costs of these units, about $500,000, excessive.

    None of the experts posting on this site seems remotely interested in mentioning that switch.
    ———–
    REPLY: I am an expert in the oil and gas industry, working on produced water disposal and production of xanthan gum drilling muds using biotechnology.

    I posted this at 11:04 am today, this article contains a detailed discussion of the acoustic switch you mentioned:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704423504575212031417936798.html?mod=rss_Today‘s_Most_Popular

    Considering that the blow-out prevention (BOP) valve is resisting all attempts at closure (remote vehicles are trying very hard to actuate the mechanism on-hand), it appears that something may have damaged this control system, rendering the existence of the acoustic switch moot. We won’t know until they make more progress.

    I’m encouraged by the “box” design that BP is working on, this might capture the oil and turn off the ecological spill. The remainder of their work on this will take months.

  81. To Mike Odin….

    I hope you are joking about the nuke. Try to figure out why.

    The acoustic shutoff would not have made any difference. The BOP failed. It is designed to fail safe, ie when signal is lost it activates so there is no advantage to another switch.

    Thank you everybody with firsthand industry experience who commented on this. Much better than listening to some reporter way out of their depth…or worse yet some posturing pol.

    Anthony in a sane world you would receive a Pulitzer prize.

    Monty

  82. I listened to the Levin recording. Assuming it is accurate:

    They had finished cementing. They closed the annular preventer (basically a big bag that seals around a drill pipe if there is one, allowing rotation and insertion/removal of pipe while closed, or plugs off the hole if there is no pipe). They pressure tested the BOPs. The BOPs passed.

    They were preparing to detach the riser from the SSA and move on after running a temporary cement plug. They displaced the drilling fluid in the riser with sea water (the drilling fluid must be recovered). They opened the annular preventer. The well kicked and pushed upward. Fluid began coming out of the riser. They tried closing the BOPs but couldn’t. Fluid flow increased until the stream was hitting the top of the mast. Finally, no drilling fluid remained in the hole and the well was freely flowing. Gas flowed over the rig and then detonated.

    So, why? Likely:

    The down hole pressure is opposed by the pressure of the drilling fluid column, accumulating all the way from surface. Heavier drilling fluid (greater density) in the hole increases the pressure gradient from surface to bottom. They displaced the fluid from the riser, which would have changed the pressure gradient over 5000 ft, reducing the final pressure at the bottom of the hole and allowing formation pressure to exceed the drilling fluid pressure, allowing formation fluid influx (which also can dilute the drilling fluid and further reduce weight) and causing the kick. The normal procedure to kill a kick is to pump high-weight kill mud into the hole at the location of the kick influx, usually at the bottom. If they didn’t have any pipe in the hole, that wouldn’t have been possible. They could have slipped pipe in past the closed annular preventer, as is intended by its design, and eventually killed the kick while using the BOP choke system to control pressure. If the annular wouldn’t close nor the rams, there was no hope.

    If the calculated required mud weight was wrong, the displacement of the riser fluid could have lowered the pressure enough to allow the kick. The in-hole mud weight used while cementing should have been higher than drilling mud which needs to be close to formation pressure to optimize drilling rates. The formation could have opened to a higher pressure area due to changes in pressure differential. The cementing job could have used the wrong mud weight or otherwise diluted the drillng fluid.

    The only likely solution now is a relief well that will drill in to the old well at the pressure zone and pump in high-weight mud to kill the flow. The riser cannot be “crimped” to stop the flow since it is thin-walled, light tubing only designed to conduct fluid from sea floor to surface and not to carry any great pressure.

    Kicks occur all over the world every day and are usually controlled with little fuss, using standard, well-understood procedures. I would have thought that there would have been a pressure rise below the BOPs which should have been noted.

    Acoustic triggers would not have helped. They operate the same BOPs as the regular control system. If the normal BOP controls didn’t work at the start and the ROVs can’t control the BOPs, nothing else would help. To suggest otherwise is to insist that lack of warning stickers CAUSES people to injure themselves on ladders.

  83. To-
    CRS, Dr.P.H. says:
    May 1, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you for your response–

    The fact is that because the device I mentioned was not installed–
    you now seem intent in confusing and conflating it with another device
    that was installed-
    (you know–trying to make something similar
    but less effective, appear to be what I am talking about,
    when I am discussing the more effective more
    widely used device)–that was the purpose of publication of the wsj article–
    to confuse the public–

    I notice that being a technical expert ,
    did not help you
    produce the technical (or even industry manufacturers
    literature) literature
    of these DIFFERENT DEVICES–
    just a wsj article .
    (I guess we must rely on your expertise as opposed to the facts–
    since it is all too complicated for us -where have I heard that before?)

    Please explain why, if you claim the device I mention was installed,
    as you claim,
    why did BP and the oil industry
    successfully lobby for it not to be installed?–
    (and then installed it?–I do not think so)
    http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/may2010/orig-m01.shtml

    three facts are clear–
    1–You are denying that BP successfully lobbied to not require the
    more effective device (which you now claim,
    inaccurately, was installed) You do not seem to be interested
    in that lobbying effort–
    as though confusing technical jargon removes lobbying culpability.

    The device opposed by BP would have blocked the spill even if all personnel
    on the platform rig were disabled because it could have been activated by someone on one of the fireboat tugs.

    2–by delaying the activation or having it disabled by the rig fire, the
    existing BOP mechanism was destroyed by a collapsing drilling string
    (was there a delay with the hope that the fir could be extinguished
    and the rig saved?)
    –neither of which would have happened
    if the lobbied against device had been required.
    Until the drilling string collapsed the banned device
    could have been activated.

    3–You are deliberately confusing 2 devices
    and thereby
    minimizing the culpability of the oil companies
    which obscures the reality
    that those poor men were hostage of a situation
    created by others and over which
    they had no control-they did not design the system and
    probably were not even aware that there was a better system.

    –they were not victims of the
    oil company critics–

    they would have lived if the critics
    (and not the oil lobbyists) had been
    successful in their efforts.

    Since you are a well paid industry expert,
    I recognize your employment could well be on the line–
    so I really do not expect
    any more of an unbiased response than I would from prof Mann on agw.

  84. From a long time lurker (and fellow petroleum geologist) -Thanks all for a great discussion of the Deepwater Horizon incident. I don’t believe anyone has posted the Join Command Web Site:
    http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/site/2931/

    This is the official communication site for the Coast Guard, Transocean, BP, MMS and all the others. It’s a great source for what the press hears, but may not always pass on to us.

  85. Mike Odin says:
    May 1, 2010 at 8:14 pm
    To-
    CRS, Dr.P.H. says:
    May 1, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you for your response–
    ——–
    REPLY: You are very welcome.

    The facts are not yet known – why did the platform burst into flames and then eventually sink? This is most likely independent of the ultimate failure of the BOP in my estimation.

    My expertise is not in deep-water drilling, others commenting have explained the situation adequately. Much like Three Mile Island, this accident appears to have been a series of events, including failure of the BOP for some reason. The forensic engineering should figure it out.

  86. 1DandyTroll says:
    May 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Isn’t there any chemical that binds to oil and make it sink?

    One of the major processes that pulled oil out of the water column following the Kuwait fires was wind blown sand. Quite a bit of the oil will also get tied up and eaten by the plankton and when they die -they sink. (There is a continual “rain” of sinking plankton in the ocean and in deep water things get eaten and re-eaten all the way down) There has been talk in this post about the effectiveness of microbial additives. A couple of thoughts– the Gulf is an area with natural oil seeps plus high relative temperatures and as such has a well developed biota capable of resisting and/or degrading oil. The rate limiting step is generally oxygen and nutrients -probably Nitrogen. Add too much nutrients however and the biological activity can outpace the O2 supply- slowing everything down. My understanding is this is a low sulfur oil so we should not have too much biological H2S production under anaerobic conditions which can be problematic on a few levels. Often the best course is skim/absorb what you can and let nature do the rest. The most potentially toxic components to a near shore ecosystem are the volatile BTEX fraction and since the well is a considerable distance offshore most of these will evaporate well before landfall (The evaporated compounds get degraded by photochemical processes)…. The most important step– don’t let a bunch of clean up yahoos trample the marshlands.

    I know just enough about surfactant use to be dangerous– the surfactants used in the oil water separation process are pretty straight forward but I don’t know the pluses and minuses of general ocean surfactant/emulsion spraying. I have heard it can at times cause more problems than its worth. Anyone out there with more knowledge on surfactant use?

  87. First and foremost this is a tragedy for the families of the 11 guys who lost their lives.

    This is a huge environmental disaster and a huge disaster for both the operating oil company, BP, and the drilling contractor, Transocean. There are thousands of wells drilled all over the world every year and thankfully events like this are extremely rare. This is thanks to the experience and professionalism of all involved. The top priority of every oil company and every drilling contractor is to drill wells safely. Obviously in this case something went disastrously wrong. What went wrong will become clear over the coming weeks as the inquiries into this disaster are completed. Lessons will be learned and those lessons will be implemented by every oil company and drilling contractor.

    Most people will never have the chance to go onto an offshore rig. They are incredible places. I have worked offshore for about 10 years now: I have worked a total of 22 years in the oil industry. I love my job as a wellsite geologist. Offshore work is not for everybody. Drilling a well is a huge operation. We all know the risks involved and we accept them. One of my best mates lost a brother on Piper Alpha in 1987. We’re all professionals, we all work together as a team and we get the job done.

    Next time you fill your car up with gas think of those 11 guys and the families they left behind.

  88. Oil rigs may become a thing of the past soon. Its possible to man a bathypresure rig on the sea bed with telepresence robots. A simple rig in a dome with 400 atm of hydrogen keeping the water out would do the job in many places. We can’t breath hydrogen any more than we can breath water but its irrelevant to robots. I’m designing a battery swap system for humanoid robots. Pipes etc would be shipped down from the surface in a cylindrical ‘bathysphere’. This would also allow the dome structure itself to contain a blow out and there’s no chance of fire since there’s no oxygen. Bathypressure mining was all worked out decades ago but now we have the robots ready to go. This disaster will move it to the front burner .

    Why they don’t have a giant tent with pipes attached that they can drop over the blow out near the sea bed and pump straight to a skimmer boat is beyond me? That was first talked about in the 1960’s.

  89. Great story, Jimmy. A tragedy, not only for those who lost their lives in the explosion and for the affected environment, but for the rest of since the extremists will now call for some kind of long-term or permanent ban on drilling in the ocean. Which is not justified, given the safety history of these rigs. I suspect some kind of human error may be found here, but let the investigation take its course. There can be no complacency in operating these enterprises, even with the state-of-the art technology.

  90. foobius: If they had set a plug in the last casing string then in effect there were two plugs in the casing bore: the one they set and the cement below the float collar (they hadn’t, by the sound of it drilled out the casing shoe). external to the casing was the cement (presumably sealing off the casing x formation annulus) and above that, sealing off the wellhead/casing hanger annulus, would be the casing hanger “pack-off” seal (probably “metal-to-metal”).

    while cement jobs on subsea wells are generally fraught – no ability to rotate or reciprocate the casing while cementing, and mud stringers common, even if there had been a gas influx from the formation that by-passed the cement the casing hanger pack-off should have contained the pressure (the pack-off would have been made up immediately the cementing was completed and then pressure tested to, probably 10kpsi)

    The wellhead, casing hanger and casing hanger pack-off are below the BOP.

    Even though circulating the riser out to seawater would indeed have lowered the hydrostatic pressure on the well bore given the presence of the cement plugs this should have been without consequence.

    To close the annular preventer the BOP control system must have been functional at that time.

  91. By the way, I thought there were some kind 0f microbes that have been used on past spills that can feed off the petrochemicals, thus reducing the slick. Are any of those technologies being employed in cleaning up this spill?

    P.S. In my last post, the second sentence is supposed to read “the rest of us.”

  92. curiousgeorge said:

    “This gulf spill will be cleaned up and forgotten about in 2 or 3 years…”

    ————-

    Nope…not by a long long shot. This event will change the face of both the Gulf Coast and the gulf oil industry forever. This is a man-made environmental disaster on a scale never before seen in America, and can be easily be likened to America’s Chernobyl.

  93. Many thanks to everyone for the information and knowledge that the Media, mostly intentionally, gets wrong.

  94. Stephen Brown says:
    May 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm
    Every human endeavour has risks attached to it. Something as simple as changing a light-bulb can prove to be fatal given the right circumstances. The more complex the endeavour then the greater the risks involved. In every major project people die or are maimed; those involved accept the risks but loose the bet.

    Funny you mention that. My dad slipped off a table attempting to change a light bulb and broke his neck. Fortunately he’s okay, but it was touchy for a while. So I’d have to agree.

    Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day about an incident which occurred, despite the very best efforts of all involved.

    I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist but I find this event too odd to chalk up to happenstance. And given the past activities of the ecoterrorist groups I can’t help but entertain some suspicion.

  95. Thanks for sharing. This disaster has affected so many from the loss of life to the enviromental consequences. It will be interesting to note how this will not only affect the local population but globally as well.

  96. Not that it will matter, because you are hopelessly ill-informed regarding oil and gas operations… I’ve been an exploration geophysicist for 30 years, 22 working the Gulf of Mexico…

    Mike Odin says:
    May 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm
    1–BP successfully fought
    to block the inclusion on all its USA oil rigs of a device called an acoustic switch—commonly COMMONLY used in other oil-producing nations—that sends impulses through the water that can trigger an underwater valve to shut down the well in the event of a blowback. BP found the costs of these units, about $500,000, excessive.

    None of the experts posting on this site seems remotely interested in mentioning that switch.

    Acoustic BOP switches are not in common use. They are only required in two places: The Norwegian sector of the North Sea and offshore Brazil. The main reason that industry officials lobbied against acoustic switches was the likelihood that the BOP’s could be triggered accidentally. Accidentally firing shear rams while drilling a well is a bad thing. There were also doubts about the reliability, particularly in deep water.

    In this particular case, an acoustic switch would have made no difference.

    -The manual switch failed.
    -The “deadman” switch failed.
    -ROV’s have been able to access the controls on the BOP stack; but have been unable to activate the BOPs.

    Upstream Online

    2-
    Since Halliburton has a monopoly on the cement plug market, and no one else can get down there to see what they did,
    Halliburton has an incentive to screw up most of its cement plugs to insure future
    repair contracts.

    Halliburton doesn’t have a monopoly on anything. Off the top of my head, I can think of two other companies who provide cementing services in the Gulf: Schlumberger and Weatherford. Even if they did have a monopoly, the operator (BP in this case) is responsible for ensuring that the cement job is performed properly. Every time a casing string is cemented into place a “shoe test” is performed to ensure that it can hold. Cement bond logs are also run to check the seal of the cement against the outside of the casing.

    3-The cheapest fastest way to plug that hole is to
    set a 20 kiloton nuke on that hole–
    that would plug it–
    all this other crap being bandied about is only to
    make a lot of self-entitled
    over priced overpaid work for the
    overrated rig and oil field service companies
    and experts and crews being paid
    more exorbitant amounts to fix
    a problem they created with their expertise
    in the first instance–and to save the well originally drilled
    for screw up BP(which has insurance and a prostrate obama to pay up)
    –at the cost of
    at least 3 months pollution–

    just nuke it and drill another hole.

    And tell Russia we have begun disposing of
    our nuke weapons under some
    sort of non-proliferation treaty
    (pick one).

    baddabing

    Armageddon is science fiction… It’s not a documentary.

  97. Jimmy Haigh says:
    May 1, 2010 at 10:49 pm
    First and foremost this is a tragedy for the families of the 11 guys who lost their lives.

    This is a huge environmental disaster and a huge disaster for both the operating oil company, BP, and the drilling contractor, Transocean. There are thousands of wells drilled all over the world every year and thankfully events like this are extremely rare. This is thanks to the experience and professionalism of all involved. The top priority of every oil company and every drilling contractor is to drill wells safely. Obviously in this case something went disastrously wrong. What went wrong will become clear over the coming weeks as the inquiries into this disaster are completed. Lessons will be learned and those lessons will be implemented by every oil company and drilling contractor.

    Most people will never have the chance to go onto an offshore rig. They are incredible places. I have worked offshore for about 10 years now: I have worked a total of 22 years in the oil industry. I love my job as a wellsite geologist. Offshore work is not for everybody. Drilling a well is a huge operation. We all know the risks involved and we accept them. One of my best mates lost a brother on Piper Alpha in 1987. We’re all professionals, we all work together as a team and we get the job done.

    Next time you fill your car up with gas think of those 11 guys and the families they left behind.

    Well said.

    That’s one of the things that’s really bugging me. The eleven people who perished are all but forgotten in the media.

    I’ve worked the Gulf of Mexico since 1988. Although, as a geophysicist, I’ve only been offshore once. I spent about a week on the Zapata Lexington on the other side of Mississippi Canyon back in 1990. Semi’s are truly incredible places. It was like being on a warship. Safety is job #1 out there. From the toolpusher on down safety and procedure rule. Accidents happen; but these people are not careless.

    This is not only going to affect BP and Transocean. It will affect every oil company and service company operating offshore, particularly in the Gulf. Obama has already sent a legion of political hacks to Louisiana, including the Energy and Climate Change Czar (a self avowed socialist lawyer with no experience in energy or climate science).

    Only two federal agencies know jack about controlling the blowout and halting the spill: The MMS and the Coast Guard. They’ve been out there since day one. Right now the focus should be on two things and two things only: Controlling the well and mitigating the spill effects. There will be plenty of time later for lawsuits, political posturing, witch hunts and maybe even trying to figure out the cause of the blowout and BOP failure.

  98. I think Tom In CO isnt far out with his comment. I also thought it very odd that theres been a huge block on drilling there, its okayed and this rather odd chain of screwups in all thje systems managed to occur.
    I do suspect foul play.
    someone on a UK paper suggested that its also odd that Mexican fuel prices went up so the americans no longer were getting cheap fuel over border, which allowed the pressure to drill in areas that were off bounds till then?
    hm?

  99. The systems used in GOM also have fail safes on the BOP. The BOP should have activated with the loss of power and hydraulics at surface – no need for an acoustic signal – it is all automatic. The ROV also should have been able to operate the BOP. There is NO indication that the Brazilian or Norwegian systems would have made any difference – if the BOP fails then it fails – no matter what button or trigger is pushed.

    Right now everything suggests that the primary loss of well control was a failed cement job. Possibly drill pipe, debris and even casing and the liner hanger may have flown out of the well at several 100 feet per second and wrecked the internal rams of the BOP as well as everything at surface on the rig in one enormous explosion. Think how a rifle works. A long barrel with gas propelling a heavy piece of metal. This is what you have when a well blows out – an enormous large bore rifle that ejects anything and everything that ain’t solidly cemented in place.

    Before we jump to conclusions (blame) please be aware that mother nature itself is incredibly powerful and it is likely that the BOP did not close because it was very likely damaged in the blast. I have personally experienced a blowout, fire, evacuation and loss of a huge offshore rig. I don’t think bystanders can begin to appreciate the incredible forces and complexity involved in these operations.

  100. “R. Gates says:
    […]
    This event will change the face of both the Gulf Coast and the gulf oil industry forever. This is a man-made environmental disaster on a scale never before seen in America, and can be easily be likened to America’s Chernobyl.”

    Now you’re sounding a little alarmist. I always thought the Dust Bowl was the American gold standard for man made environmental destruction. So this oil spill tops that in your opinion?

  101. Outstanding input from our friends in oil & gas, thanks! Also, thanks for putting the focus on the 11 men missing and their families.

    I’ve been watching the BP dome construction project and would think there might be available equipment in the yard that could be dropped onto the structure to at least slow the leak down. Even a frac tank with manifold might help!

    It’s nice to have a place where some folks with true expertise in the field can communicate. Thanks, Anthony and moderators, you folks have been busy!

  102. Thanks the folks who know what they are talking about. I’ve only been a driller’s helper for a water well driller-when I was young, that was not at all like what these guys do to keep the lights on and my F-150 fueled. Thanks to Jimmy Haigh especially…

  103. Jeremy said:

    May 2, 2010 at 6:40 am
    The systems used in GOM also have fail safes on the BOP. The BOP should have activated with the loss of power and hydraulics at surface – no need for an acoustic signal – it is all automatic. The ROV also should have been able to operate the BOP. There is NO indication that the Brazilian or Norwegian systems would have made any difference – if the BOP fails then it fails – no matter what button or trigger is pushed.

    In the case of the current GOM blowout, the “acoustic” shutoff (I would prefer to call it underwater telemetry with security encoding to prevent accidental or malicious activation) would not have prevented the blowout because the problem apparently is within the blowout preventer itself. And fortunately, in this case the wreckage from the sunken drill ship does not cover the wellhead so the ROVs were able to access the BOP and try to close it. But will the next disaster guarantee such physical access? A battery operated secure telemetry shutoff will provide a final backup even if the BOP is covered with debris from a drilling accident.

  104. “The drilling mast has toppled over here – they usually melt pretty fast when fire breaks out.”

    You mean…fire melts steel? You expect me to believe that? This was obviously a controlled demolition. I suspect a plot by Jewish bankers.

  105. Just a thought about the possible damage to the BOP caused by the blowout that could have caused it to become inoperative or internally jammed. Can’t BOPs be stacked one above another so that if one fails, the next one may be able to do its job?

  106. Douglas DC says:
    May 2, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Thanks. I just want to stress that I only passed on the info which I received in an e-mail from another offshore worker. I would think everyone who works offshore has now received it.

    There is a lot of speculation as to what exactly happened. At the time of the disaster I was on a well half way around the world from the GOM and which was in pretty much the exact same stage of operations as this one. With all my experience in the industry I could make any number of guesses as to what really happened. But I’d probably be wrong. Rest assured that BP, Transocean and the authorities are doing their damnest to get this all sorted out as soon as possible.

  107. rbateman says:
    May 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm
    “None of the failsafes engaged, most likely indicating the control line(s)/remotes to the sea floor were severed.
    At that point, the Deadman should have engaged. Suggests explosion travelling down.
    Obama’s first action was to deplay swat teams to adjacent rigs.
    Add in H.S. and you have an implied threat from undisclosed sources. Could also be that the Admin. is doing something, even if it’s wrong.
    No interviews of drilling crew says the lid is on tight.
    So, we do not know what transpired out there…”

    Strange they allowed one of the survivors to go on air to explain it was ‘not an act of terrorism’? I too would have thought witnesses would not have been allowed to talk to the media until issues regarding legal action had been settled.

  108. Malcolm Kirkpatrick:

    Come on now. Have some respect for the deseased persons out there. Think of their familys. Stop your stupid trolling.

    This is the everyday heros doing a fantastic job. They leave their familys for longer periods of time, just so society can function.

    Have paitience now and let the investigation finish. There is nowhere on this planet where safety is given more priority.

  109. R. Gates says:
    May 2, 2010 at 12:00 am

    curiousgeorge said:

    “This gulf spill will be cleaned up and forgotten about in 2 or 3 years…”

    ————-

    Nope…not by a long long shot. This event will change the face of both the Gulf Coast and the gulf oil industry forever. This is a man-made environmental disaster on a scale never before seen in America, and can be easily be likened to America’s Chernobyl.

    Mr Gates-Remember that some 156 million gallons of crude and refined oil was discharged off the mid Atlantic in 1942 by German Uboat torpedoes with NJ to NC taking the brunt. The 1979 -1980 Ixtoc well Blowout in the Gulf was far worse than this spill lasting for 9 months. The rebound from both was fast.

    Katrina released 8 million gallons of refined (worse than crude) oil the effects of which were not seen following the storm. Read The National Academies Oil in the Sea 2003 for some reassurance. We are most likely looking 3 months to 3 years tops to full recovery. (there will always be some academic grant seeker that finds some animal making twisty burrows as evidence that we have not returned to normal)

    An offshore platform spill is entirely different than a tanker spill. The oil fractionates as ti moves up the 5000 feet to the surface. The more toxic BTEX fraction evaporates before landfall. The rest of the oil has time to weather. The distance off shore allows dilution. The temperatures here are high which speed things along. Importantly, the Gulf is an area with significant natural oil seeps. The biota here have developed a level of oil resistance and the bacteria, plankton are naturally in place to degrade the oil.

    Remember if we stop drilling then we do more long distance oil transport and this requires super tankers. The super tanker spill risk far exceeds an oil platform – Again see the NAS risk analysis. We gain nothing by stopping drilling- we get super tankers and the drilling simply moves to Mexican and Cuban Waters

    Oil spills and the threat thereof would not even make my top 5 long term Gulf risks. My list would include disruption of the sediment budget, habitat loss and alteration,
    Shrimp fishing (they kill ten pounds of fish per pound of shrimp. Being the fish are mostly juveniles the population impact is enormous– I could make an argument that no Gulf spill is the equivalent of the shrimping impact), Dermo/ MSX and eutrophication.

    Oil spills have short term and at times serious near term consequences- unfortunately we equate the high media profile with the relative risk to long term ecosystem health and stability.

    The country focuses on stopping oil drilling thinking that we save the Gulf in this manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real long term threats are from diffuse sources outlined above- unfortunately diffuse sources prevents a single finger of blame. Shellfish diseases allow for no-one to sue. The real threats do not make good political speeches or news stories. They don’t make great fund raising campaigns for non-profits. Do not make the mistake that since you don’t hear of them they are not real. Oil spills are a messy distraction from the real problems that no-one seems to want to solve.

  110. Why do they not send down some power depth charges or even a small nuclear device. That would surely seal up the well? This could have been done/and done a lot sooner than drilling a relief well.

  111. The pictures show the structure fully involved in fire the result of some unknown catastrophic failure.

    Getting to the bottom of what exactly went wrong is critical.

    In the same league as plugging the well head and containing the spill in as rapid a manner as possible, preventing environmental damage, clean up and restoration of sensitive wildlife habitat.

    My sympathies go out to the families of the eleven men presumed lost.

    Interviews of the evacuated oil workers and other evidence needs to identify a sequence of events and timeline of the activities on the oil platform leading up to the the failure and subsequent explosion & fire.

  112. Lets assume the following (much supported by the National Academies Oil in the Sea III study):
    • Oil platforms over the past fifty years are the smallest source of oil spill in No American water
    • Ecosystem recovery is often quite rapid in warm areas where the biota developed along with natural oil seeps giving rise to the ability to degrade oil and resist its more negative impacts
    • Oil platforms reduce the need for super tankers which are the greater ecosystem risk
    • This is the first major drilling disaster in 50 years in US.
    • A US cessation of offshore drilling pushes more drilling into the 3rd world which has less infrastructure to deal with the problem
    • Offshore drilling has the built in mitigation of distance from land which allows for evaporation of the BTEX fraction, weathering and dilution before landfall.
    • A US Ban on offshore drilling does nothing to stop the drilling in Mexican and Cuban waters
    • A ban on drilling increases the rate of oil and gas escape from the natural seeps which constitute 60% of all the oil released in US waters
    • Oil spills while troubling are not apocalyptic
    • The loss of drilling involves tremendous losses in revenues and opportunity costs
    • The greatest threats to Gulf and other coastal ecosystems are not oil spills but habitat loss/alteration, disruption of the sediment budget, eutrophication, invasive species, disease, etc.
    • We are neither currently expending nor proposing to spend the resources necessary to correct the “real” coastal ecosystem threats-
    Given the fact that we gain little from an offshore drilling ban and lets say a fifty year return cycle for another such event it would seem a sensible option to:
    • Place a DEDICATED per barrel /Cuft tax on offshore extracted oil and gas
    • Use this dedicated fund to start the long overdue work of restoring our wetlands and addressing some of the more pressing coastal environmental problems
    • Site all platforms sufficiently far off the coast to allow for evaporation and weathering forces to come into play
    It would seem we assume no greater risk than we assume now, create more jobs, address balance of trade issues and would actually have the chance to fix some of our ignored but more serious environmental problems. We would build a healthier ecosystem -better able to withstand a future spill and other threats. If we do nothing to actively promote restoration/rehabilitation of our coastal ecosystem then they will slowly die a death of a thousand paper cuts. Protection as the only route to a better environment is seriously flawed and doomed to fail. Without a dedicated income stream restoration will never happen.

    Unfortunately we will never have this discussion—- it doesn’t fit how we do things with respect to the environment.

    Any thoughts on a blog developed proposal on offshore drilling?

  113. A website for “Deepwater Horizon Incident” has been set up by unified command under the National Response Framework and NIMS. I encourage everyone, technical or layperson, to visit this site for updates, technical information etc.

    This is a link to impressive Fact Sheets:

    http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/doctype/2931/53023/&offset=0

    The government is also harnessing the power of social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) and they have found very positive results from this in the past.

    This is a tragedy of epic proportions, but it is also a learning experience for everyone. Technical experts can contribute their input to the unified command center via email or phone (I’ve already weighed in on bioremediation via University of Illinois).

  114. David Middilton said:

    “Acoustic BOP switches are not in common use. They are only required in two places: The Norwegian sector of the North Sea and offshore Brazil. The main reason that industry officials lobbied against acoustic switches was the likelihood that the BOP’s could be triggered accidentally. Accidentally firing shear rams while drilling a well is a bad thing. There were also doubts about the reliability, particularly in deep water.

    In this particular case, an acoustic switch would have made no difference.

    -The manual switch failed.
    -The “deadman” switch failed.
    -ROV’s have been able to access the controls on the BOP stack; but have been unable to activate the BOPs.”
    <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Yes, there could be concern that a simple “acoustic switch” without adequate security encoding of the transmitted signal could cause an accidental or malicious BOP closure and significant economic loss for a deep offshore drilling operation. But I cannot imagine why utilization of existing underwater acoustic communication and telemetry technology cannot be made absolutely secure with modern digital encoding technology if this is not already being done.

    Sure, the transmission time for a unique security code could delay the command for BOP activation by a second or two, but this is negligible compared to human decision-making and reaction times involved in making an activation command, particularly in a backup application when all else is presumed to have failed.

    And yes, the manual switch failed, and the deadman switch failed, and even the ROVs that tried to operate the BOP robo-manually failed because apparently the BOP itself had failed, perhaps because of damage it had already suffered due to the blowout expolsion before any activation command was actually given from any source. And in this case, wreckage from the sunken drill ship fortunately did not make the manual controls on the BOP inaccessible, but who can guarantee such good fortune for a future tragic accident? A properly designed secure telemetry-controlled backup BOP activation signal would penetrate underwater wreckage of any sort.

    Would this argument contend that modern automobile airbags that deploy automatically when a crash occurs are unnecessary, because if a tire blowout occurs at high speed, causing the vehicle to roll over several times killing the occupants although they are protected by wearing seatbelts, airbags therefor are a waste of money? Offshore drilling in deep water at great depths obviously involves unusual risks and every available backup safety precaution should be employed.

  115. “The drilling mast has toppled over here – they usually melt pretty fast when fire breaks out.”

    “You mean…fire melts steel? You expect me to believe that? This was obviously a controlled demolition. I suspect a plot by Jewish bankers.”

    Notice the words “toppled over” and not a symmetrical downward collapse. Asymmetrical injury causes asymmetrical failure, not symmetrical failure. Fire causes asymmetrical failure, not symmetrical failure, unless the fire is “designed” as in a controlled demolition.

  116. I worked as an insurance broker for many years with many offshore drilling companies. There are many anomalies about the circumstances in this terrible event. The one thing that bothers me most, however, is the picture showing the burn hole in the heliport. The heliport is located well away from the the burning side of the rig. The hole in the heliport is very symmetrical and looks like the result of an electrical discharge. heliports have fire suppression equipment. I do not see any fire damage to anything else nearby, including the underside of the heliport as shown in other pictures.

    This makes no sense to me. Any ideas?

  117. I think the phrase “obviously a major malfunction” applies in this case. I suspect the same basic cause, complacency, is also at the root of this disaster. Perhaps there should always be a ‘Plan B’ alternative ready to go quickly if the primary containment system is damaged beyond repair.

    I do believe the primary fail-safe systems must be designed for automatic actuation in worst-case scenarios. Of course, this is all more easily said than done, but I do fear the major ecological impact of this incident is going to convince a lot of environmentally concerned people that we should never allow off-shore drilling near our coasts again.

  118. Am I the only one to find it strange that America, until recently supposedly run by Big Oil Bush cronies, is the only country to restrict oil drilling off its coastline? Not just some small part but about 80% off limits. It is madness for American oil companies to be seeking oil in virtually every offshore oil province in the world while being denied permission to do the same back home. The eco-weenies in the US are obviously far too influential but surely the rest of you must have some say here. I think it’s time for a bit good ol yankee clear thinking, you can’t keep stuffing your SUVs full of gas without some commensurate effort to obtain the stuff, preferably locally.

  119. Some of the comments here have been extremely helpful, and I appreciate them. I also appreciate the comments by “James” on Mark Levin, and the comments by “horizon37” at the following site (from a link above) . These gentlemen seem to know what they’re talking about. As for this “shutting down all Gulf oil exploration”, I don’t think even our current government is that stupid. THAT would certainly lead to a total disaster for them come November. This is, by all accounts, just Nature proving once again that, despite our best attempts, She is still in charge.

    As for this being the biggest disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, someone needs to read some history. Google “Ixtoc disaster”, or go here for the Wiki entry.

    May the memory of the eleven people that lost their lives in this terrible tragedy never be forgotten.

  120. colin says:
    May 2, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Am I the only one to find it strange that America, until recently supposedly run by Big Oil Bush cronies,

    Re: Bush cronies; I would appreciate knowing precisely what those ties are, can you elaborate? I know Dubya managed the Texas Rangers in Arlington Texas for a pretty good, spell, so we know for certain he has ties to major league ball for instance …

    .
    .

  121. Tenuc says:
    May 2, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Strange they allowed one of the survivors to go on …

    Is it a matter of ‘allowing’ – or a matter of not having filed the necessary ‘gag orders’?

    Maybe in your country every one must ask permission before speaking, but things do not work quite that way in the US yet … besides, anonymous sources are cited all the time in the newspapers/by the press for various stories – how is this any different (the man _was_ speaking anonymously or did you not get that)?

    .
    .

  122. Can you tell me why nobody has seen or heard from the people who worked on and seen this first hand?I don’t want what the government to spin this. I wan’t the people on the rig to tell me thank you……I bet they know something and they can”t say hmmmm…

  123. I was just looking at a graphical representation of the platform, the connecting pipe to the sea floor, the BOP and equipment on the mud and the casing down the hole. One thing seemed to stand out to me was the lack of some sort of floatation collar around the pipe some 50-300 feet below the platform with cutoff capabilities at that location.

    Why was there no near-surface cutoff / dis-couple mechanism so the platform could have been severed from the pipe and drug out of the way in such emergency? Then divers would still be able to go in and work at a reasonable depth in an emergency?

    Some posting here seem knowledgeable enough to sensibly answer this question and thanks for sharing your expertise.

  124. Your eXpert or “someone in the know” DOESN’T KNOW and is passing bad info.

    The Cementing had not started. The BOP was closed and when opened to commence cementing a huge gas bubble “Kicked” and pushed water and gas all the way past the top of an over two hundred feet rig tower. “Mother nature now and then kicks up”
    “Your dealing with 30 to 40 thousand pounds per square inch” “It was more than the safety and controls we had could handle.” Then “the gas spilled out rapidly within a minute of it, and something ignited it.”

    So…listen to the whole thing (two parts) from a guy that was there when the accident happened.. And it was verified that this guy was who he said he was.

    http://www.marklevinshow.com/Article.asp?id=1790422&spid=32364

    Papa Ray

  125. Papa Ray,

    The eXpert is right. He does know. They had cemented the liner (at around 18,000 feet) about 20 hours earlier and they had left a cement plug over the liner top. They tested the BOP, circulated the marine riser to sea water and were about to set ANOTHER final cement plug before disconnecting and moving off the well. Clearly the formation oil & gas somehow got past the cement job on the liner and the cement plug placed on top.

  126. Papa Ray says:
    May 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    Papa Ray:
    As I mentioned, I never wrote the article – I just passed it on.

    I agree with you on the radio phone-in interview as well. It is both informative and poignant.

  127. Kwik,
    I mock the conspiracy theorists. If anyone disrespects the dead, it’s people who make political capital from misfortune. Unanswered questions are not evidence or answers. Accidents happen. Silly people have already speculated that this event is something other than an accident.

  128. Pat Moffitt says:
    May 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm
    To rbateman
    I’m sure they deployed SWOT teams not SWAT (although I have seen many media centers call it SWAT). The agencies deploying make SWOT more likely-Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats. Its what one would expect after a such an accident.
    —–
    REPLY: Pat, thanks, there is a huge misconception going on about the difference in deployment of SWAT vs. SWOT teams! I’ve even seen the term misspelled on government websites (statements by Public Information Officers of Unified Command apparently).

    You are correct, these are SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) teams for technical assistance vs. a military response!! I’ll try to reach the Deep Horizon ICS command and let them know.

  129. RE Malcolm Kirkpatrick (May 2, 2010 at 8:24 pm) Silly people have already speculated that this event is something other than an accident.

    This may be a natural reaction for people confronted with a novel destructive event they had not thought possible when they perceive their society under threat of attack by hostile forces. Now that it has been made clear that was a new well being drilled, I think sabotage is just a minor probability check-off item for the accident investigation team.

  130. I’m a geologist, too; I currently work in other fields, but I’ve some friends working in the oil industry, aboard drilling rigs.
    My deepest solidarity to the families and to the collegues and friends of the 11 men missing.

  131. bob paglee says:
    May 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    […]

    Yes, there could be concern that a simple “acoustic switch” without adequate security encoding of the transmitted signal could cause an accidental or malicious BOP closure and significant economic loss for a deep offshore drilling operation. But I cannot imagine why utilization of existing underwater acoustic communication and telemetry technology cannot be made absolutely secure with modern digital encoding technology if this is not already being done.

    Sure, the transmission time for a unique security code could delay the command for BOP activation by a second or two, but this is negligible compared to human decision-making and reaction times involved in making an activation command, particularly in a backup application when all else is presumed to have failed.

    And yes, the manual switch failed, and the deadman switch failed, and even the ROVs that tried to operate the BOP robo-manually failed because apparently the BOP itself had failed, perhaps because of damage it had already suffered due to the blowout expolsion before any activation command was actually given from any source. And in this case, wreckage from the sunken drill ship fortunately did not make the manual controls on the BOP inaccessible, but who can guarantee such good fortune for a future tragic accident? A properly designed secure telemetry-controlled backup BOP activation signal would penetrate underwater wreckage of any sort.

    Would this argument contend that modern automobile airbags that deploy automatically when a crash occurs are unnecessary, because if a tire blowout occurs at high speed, causing the vehicle to roll over several times killing the occupants although they are protected by wearing seatbelts, airbags therefor are a waste of money? Offshore drilling in deep water at great depths obviously involves unusual risks and every available backup safety precaution should be employed.

    Firstly, the apt airbag analogy would be: How would a second automatic deployment signal help to deploy a broken airbag? The system is designed so that in the event of the BOP being disconnected from the manual control system, it closes. The problem was not in getting a signal to the BOP. The BOP either failed or it was damaged or it was simply not capable of handling the flow of gas and/or oil.

    Secondly, the acoustic trigger device is not like a garage door opener (all of the encoding in the world doesn’t prevent my garage door from periodically opening for no apparent reason). The system is designed to be operated from a lifeboat. The system is dependent upon the transducer being able to send a line-of-sight series of acoustic pulses to a pair of receivers on the BOP. The system is highly dependent on signal to noise ratio and it will not work if there are significant mud and/or gas plumes.

    Here is a discussion on the problems with using acoustic backup systems in the Gulf of Mexico from a report prepared for the MMS…

    5.1.6 Acoustic Backup Systems
    5.1.6.1 Summary
    Application MUX, hydraulically piloted
    Function discreet, several
    Activation manual
    Commonality independent

    5.1.6.2 Overview
    An acoustic BOP control system is intended to provide backup operation
    of critical BOP functions in an emergency, and is unaffected by any
    damage to or loss of the primary control system. Acoustic backup control
    systems are in use primarily in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea and
    offshore Brazil. Most of the newer generation acoustic systems are
    capable of operation in water depths greater than 10,000 feet.

    5.1.6.3 Discussion
    The manufacturers of acoustic BOP control systems specify water depth
    capability based on the assumption of “normal” noise levels. But acoustic
    system performance depends on a number of factors, one of which is the
    signal to noise ratio at the receiver. There are receivers both at the surface
    and on the stack. Noise generating components on the surface (such as
    thrusters) are dealt with during the design and commissioning of the rig.
    The acoustic control system manufacturers do not have noise data for
    blowouts and thus neither design for nor guarantee operation during a
    blowout. Acoustic systems are useful in situations where the primary
    control system has failed but may not function if the well has significant
    flow.

    Line of sight communication is a requirement of acoustic systems. Even
    with widely spaced dual stack mounted transceivers, communication
    cannot be relied upon in the presence of mud clouds or gas plumes. There
    has been some experimentation with placing remote hydrophones or relay
    beacons on the sea floor 100 meters from the BOP stack to improve
    communications during a blowout; however, to date there have been no
    published results.

    One test that has been performed as part of new rig commissioning is
    dumping all mud tanks into the moon pool to intentionally create a mud
    plume between the hydrophones and sea floor beacons. This test
    consistently interrupted communications with older acoustic systems (pre-
    1990). With some modern acoustic systems this test does not noticeably
    affect operation. It is not known how closely this test resembles a plume
    of well bore fluids at the BOP, nor has this test been performed with all
    modern acoustic systems.

    Another weak point may arise in the method of control. Some acoustic
    systems assume that the primary control system is totally inoperative, but
    this may not be the case. If the primary control system is active when the
    rig is abandoned, the rams may be pressurized to the open position. If that
    were the case the acoustic system would not be able to close the rams.
    These acoustic system can be modified to override the primary system.
    Operating in a wide range of water depths has caused problems in the
    GoM. Rigs have experienced problems moving from deepwater to the
    Grand Banks, where some of the areas of operation are in only a few
    hundred feet of water. The gain of the acoustic system was set for deeper
    water. The transmitted commands would reverberate between the surface
    and seafloor – a condition known as “multipath”. The BOP-mounted
    receivers could not decode the commands and thus did not function in the
    shallow water. System gains had to be reduced to eliminate the multipath
    effect. Similarly, problems arise if a rig set up for shallow water moves
    to significantly deeper water. In this case a signal that worked in shallow
    water may be too weak to reach the BOP in deep water. Depending on
    system design, changing transmit gain may require system modification by
    the manufacturer.

    Significant doubts remain in regard to the ability of an acoustic control
    system to provide a reliable emergency back up to the primary control
    system during an actual well flowing incident. Environmental factors that
    would be expected to exist during an emergency, such as high noise and/or
    a mud cloud, may prevent reliable actuation of stack functions with
    acoustics. Acoustic controls manufacturers are aware of the issue and
    argue that modern acoustic systems either already will, or can be modified
    to function during a blowout. However, to date they have no actual test
    data or model of blowout noise that can be used for evaluation or
    implementation of an appropriate design. Modern acoustic controls are
    based upon military systems that allow reliable underwater
    communications over more than 20 kilometers. There is a dearth of data
    about acoustic BOP control operation. WEST does not know of an
    incident where an acoustic system has been used to operate the BOP
    during a blowout, either successfully or unsuccessfully.\

    In spite of the above it should be noted that some operators have elected to
    use acoustic control systems as the primary system with no backup other
    than ROV intervention. These are used on wells drilled from a floating
    platform but using a surface BOP stack for well control. The acoustic
    system controls a single blind/shear ram and two hydraulic connectors on
    the sea floor. This system is known as either the Seafloor Isolation
    System or the Environmental Safeguard System. Regardless of the name,
    the system is not considered a component of well control and is, therefore,
    not subjected to the same requirements and regulations.
    It is clear that there is room for more study of acoustic control
    performance during a blowout. Further study could be focused on
    acquiring and analyzing data for the purpose of better understanding the
    capabilities on acoustic performance during a blowout. This study should
    be conducted in conjunction with industry experts.

    Evaluation of Secondary Intervention Methods in Well Control, pages 59-64

    Despite the questions about reliability and the fact that an acoustic backup system would have made no difference in this particular blowout, the odds are that they will become a requirement in the US OCS.

    In all likelihood, the bureaucrats will assert that the new requirement solved the problem.

  132. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:
    May 2, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    I understand. Sorry for misunderstanding you.

  133. I was in Hiroshima 20 years after WWII. You’d never know it had been nuked, except for the monument. This gulf spill will be cleaned up and forgotten about in 2 or 3 years. It’s not the end of the world or even the end of the gulf coast. Folks need to take a longer view of things like this.

    Agreed. I’m tired of hearing how this is an environmental disaster. If a large asteroid strikes and blots out the sky for a year, THAT’S an environmental disaster. If Yellowstone blows with such force that American loses millions of lives and its ability to grow and export food, THAT’S an environmental disaster. THIS is not an “disaster” no matter how much it is played up. The tragic part of this is the loss of human life. The oil slick is ugly and nasty and will be completely forgotten in a couple years.

    Never the less, the powers that be must play this up as a DISASTER in order to change opinions politically and further choke global energy use “for the Earth.” Pay no attention to the fact that Earth seeps more oil naturally than we spill by accident. Or to the fact that environmental opposition to domestic energy development (shale oil; coal gasification) is why we have to turn increasingly to both transporting foreign oil and drilling for oil in ocean water, which is inherently more risky from the standpoint of accidents and spills.

    Never let an accident go to waste. It’s an opportunity to accomplish your political goals.

  134. A map of all the active oil leases in the Gulf.

    “The oil spill that is crushing the Gulf, and BP shares, is a massive disaster, but considering just how many wells there are in the Gulf of Mexico may put it in perspective.
    All of the companies that own rights to oil areas in the gulf, and those which already have platforms established, may have their insurance premiums repriced very soon.”
    http://www.businessinsider.com/map-of-the-day-oil-wells-2010-5

  135. Does anyone know the trade-offs /benefits of adding a dispersant at the well head which they are doing now?

  136. Pat Moffitt says:
    May 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm
    To rbateman
    I’m sure they deployed SWOT teams not SWAT (although I have seen many media centers call it SWAT). The agencies deploying make SWOT more likely-Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats. Its what one would expect after a such an accident.
    ———–
    REPLY: Pat, thanks for this, I am absolutely sure they meant SWOT teams, and not SWAT teams!! I’ve written to the Public Information Office staff at the Deepwater Horizon Incident Command center to alert them of this mistake.

    The following comes directly from the White House:

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/04/30/response-oil-spill-so-far

    “DHS Secretary Napolitano announced that this incident is of national significance, the Department of Interior has announced that they will be sending SWAT teams to the Gulf to inspect all platforms and rigs and the EPA is conducting air monitoring activities to gather information on the impact of the controlled burn on air quality.”
    ———
    I mean, the old Soviet Interior Department had their own SWAT troops, but I kinda doubt that the US DOI has them! They surely mean Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats process assessment teams!!

    Sheesh! Just Google “Gulf oil SWAT” for some really goofy stuff stirred up by this mistake!!

  137. My job in the military for 26 years was looking at aerial imagery, so I know a little about that. So far, I see a convoluted oil slick that’s been bent back upon itself, being pushed back and forth by wind and tide, and so far hasn’t made it ashore anywhere. I grew up in Louisiana (not near the coast), so I know a little bit about that, too. This is the runoff season – rivers all over the central US are dumping water into the Mississippi and other rivers that dump into the Gulf. This is going to be a positive flow that will keep most of the oil offshore. It’s also going to act as a flushing agent for the marshes that make up 90% of the Louisiana Gulf coast. The coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida aren’t quite as marshy.

    I saw several photos on “news outlets” that showed what appeared to be oil in the Mississippi River, and alluded to oil in New Orleans. NONE of this came from the Deepwater Horizon accident, unless it was deliberately brought there for a photo op. The current rate of flow of the Mississippi River is near its maximum, and oil does not have the property of moving upstream against that kind of a flow. New Orleans is on the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain, 40 miles or more from the Gulf at its closest.

    A large number of people are trying to make political points from what is obviously a major industrial accident, and deliberately and significantly warping the truth in the process. Those of us who have any idea of what the truth is need to keep pounding it home at every opportunity, or we will certainly feel the pinch in our pocketbooks in the future.

  138. David Middleton said (in conclusion after posting excerpts from the West, P.E. “Evaluation of Secondary Intervention Methods in Well Control, pages 59-64”):

    “Despite the questions about reliability and the fact that an acoustic backup system would have made no difference in this particular blowout, the odds are that they will become a requirement in the US OCS. ”

    This is probably correct, although there are some potential problems with “acoustic backup” that probably should studied further and then corrected. For example, there are many techniques that can be employed to improve S/N ratios. (But I wonder if a system utilizing low-frequency underwater electromagnetic radiation over short distances could be even more reliable?)

    However all safety backup systems for such a critical function as activating a blowout prevention command can have their failure modes. Even the presumably dependable “Deadman” system has its problems, as I found while reading the very interesting West document kindly identified with a useful link in David Middleton’s post.

    Apparently the “Deadman” system will not function unless it is “armed”, and some operators may be reluctant to do so, or may fail to do so through human error. I extracted three paragraphs from that report and have pasted them below:

    6. The system may be disarmed. If disarmed the system is totally disabled and cannot
    be re-armed once communication with the BOP stack has been lost.
    7. ROV capability as an emergency measure should include the ability to utilize
    subsea accumulators as a supply source.
    8. System diagnostics are essentially nonexistent. Deadman systems operate openloop.
    There are no means to verify functionality of the deadman system. If the
    sensors, batteries, or electronics fail, the only (and first) indication of unavailability
    is failure to operate when needed.

  139. Well it is odd the contrast between the Government “response” to this tragedy; and the recent Coal mine explosion and loss of life.

    In both cases; lives and family loved ones were lost, while working on very dangerous jobs to bring energy to a thirsty public.

    Somehow Obama has not exactly made much mention of the 11 workers lost on this rig. Well as Rahm Emanuel says; we can’t let any catastrophe go to waste.

    I actually heard an interview of one of the workers who was on this platform when it blew; and he survived. The Eleven men lost were his friends. He described in some technical detail, exactly what happened; and comparing that with what the “news media” present to the public as to BP’s preparedness, and attention to safety; was like being on two different planets. The worker was unidentified but the interviewer was able to check out that he was in fact on the rig, and survived.

    If you think a wind turbine over-revving, and tearing itself to pieces is hazardous; how does dealing with gases and fluids at pressures of 40,000 PSI grab you; and with explosive materials at that.

    Well it is very nice for you greenies to think of golden cornfields; with Bambi nibbling on the energy crop in the sunshine; But energy is a very dangerous business, however you want to cut it.

    The only safe energy plants are those that are currently shut down for maintenance. The operating ones; have all of the what if safeguards that their designers can envisage; and if they knew of better safety measures; they would employ them.

    Well for sheer dangerous energy aquisition; absolutely nothing beats the hazards of clambering around in fig trees to harvest the free clean green abundant renewable energy; that our ancesters tried to grow their societies and economies with; to no avail; I might add.

  140. Regarding E-M communication, this has been tried in the opposite direction as a means of transmitting real time measurement and formation evaluation while drilling data to surface from tools mounted in the bottom hole assembly of a drill string. The system worked fine onshore, but was unable to communicate across the water gap – although boffins familiar with this technology assure me this obstacle was overcome late in the experiment.

    There appears now to be a plan to install a second BOP on top of the malfunctioning one – this would presumably require cutting and dressing the damaged riser and drill string at the top of the exisiting BOP. If the crimped riser is restricting the flow, then this sounds like a gutsy move unless BP, TO and Cameron are confident of their collective ability to stab the 2nd BOP into the original BOP on the first try. Upside might be that what ever is obstructing the rams may be blown clear by the flow(?).

    At work today we contemplated what sort of shear ram function test might be called for in revised GoM drilling requirements – given BOP rams are currently function and pressure tested, and the actual cutting function of the rams has to be taken on the word of the manufacturer at the time of purchase – actually cutting a sacrificial test single once per fortnight would be fraught with imponderables – not least the wear caused to the shear ram by the cutting test itself.

  141. I know NOTHING about this stuff,
    But it would seem that a small “Nuclear” detonation placed at the right depth/area over the well might shut er down???!!! Don’t seem it could hurt to try!

    Just a thought!

  142. ……if anyone really wants to look at something ominous….were all the “fail safe” systems run by computers and were these computers on an “open System” that was available to internet activity….not saying that someone came in and subverted the system a la “24”….but possibly a virus that infected the systems and prevented fail safes from doing their job…just a thought

  143. To Old PI :
    There was a 420,000 gal spill in the river just below New Orleans about a year and half ago. It impacted almost 60 river miles. I’m sure there is still some sheen associated with oil oozing out of the mud flats along the river.. (oil doesn’t degrade as fast in these low O2 environs) Remember this spill (tug and barge) was “in river” not in the open ocean– meaning far more impact. But it got far less attention. Spill was fuel oil- much more problematic than crude. I agree doubtful this spill reached the river when they said it did given current flow and wind conditions.

  144. @bob paglee says:
    May 3, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    The controls for the BOP are not dependent on electric power or batteries. The system is controlled both electronically and hydraulically. The shear rams should have hydraulically activated when the manual controls were used. Damage to the manual controls should have led to the shear rams closing via the deadman switch. The ROV’s were able to access the hydraulic actuators on the BOP; but it would not close.

    The only reasonable explanation seems to be that something was blown back out of the hole and blocked the BOP. Maybe the work string? Or a liner hanger?

    The push is already on in Congress to require acoustic backup systems. I just hope that the bureaucrats don’t issue the new requirement and then declare the problem solved. There had to have been something wrong a series of procedures that led to the blowout and BOP failure. The critical thing to do after the well is controlled is a very serious post mortem on the procedures, methods and materials used by BP and the various contractors involved.

  145. Just days after huer Obama says we will drill for off shore oil, this happens! I do believe in some conspiracy theories and I wouldn’t put it past this regime to sabotage a rig so they could come back a say, “Oh look how dangerous it is, we must look else where.” It is to big of a coincidence too me!

  146. I’m not sure how this excitement for using a warhead full of instant-sunshine to cauterise the flowing well started, but if anyone can demonstrate how this fantasy should actually do anything useful, I’d be interested to hear it (and promise to be patient before laughing out loud).
    Witness the nature of nuclear testing – the deep craters, heavily fractured rock below, massive exclusion zones for decades subsequently. All one could achieve by such a folly is to maybe slow the flow of formation fluid, before communication with the seabed is established via a nuclear blast induced fracture network.
    You could then add contamination by radioactive isotopes to the list of reasons to avoid Louisiana prawns this Christmas, never mind adding the scores of felled fished and marine birds to the butcher’s bill and add the damage to surrounding subsea petroleum infrastructure to the final financial cost.

    The best solution is mitigation using the coffer dams and continued dispersant application (I wonder about using coagulant to limit the spread of fluid once out of the riser) while successfully completing either or both relief wells – relief wells are tried and tested even if far less sexy than nuclear explosions, this is what resolved the recent Montara/West Atlas blowout in Australia; luckily for PTTEP, Montara field is some considerable distance from ill-informed media and legal vultures.
    And as for this gathering conspiracy theory? One wonders what colour the sky is on some people’s home planets… This will turn out to be a rapid sequence of simple errors or unfortunate unplanned events, each barely noteworthy in isolation but in imponderable, freakish combination resulting in eleven chaps being lost at sea along with a modern semi and a rather large volume of anaerobically decomposed critters.
    Visit this site for sensible coverage of the blowout and response:
    http://budsoffshoreenergy.wordpress.com/
    I read today that the BOP rams have all now been activated but with no discernible impact on the flow and without the shear rams managing to sever the drill-string (below the picture of TO Discoverer Enterprise), so one would conclude that they’ve either been given a proper hiding during the blowout, or the rubber sealing elements have been strongly eroded by the entrained sand.
    I have not seen any discussion regarding the potential likelihood of erosion of the wellhead seal assembly or the kinked LMRP.
    No doubt the boffins at Sunbury have already considered it though.

  147. This is interesting. Once again I suspect more than appears at the surface of this incident.
    While Obama is vulnerable to being accused of not acting quickly it generally benefits him politically.
    No more drilling. His fake attempt at opening up offshore drilling will be reversed.
    The big oil companies will benefit because this will drive up the price of crude.
    Exxon was posting record profits just before the last crash.
    The economy will be stressed even more allowing Obama to implement his socialist takeover of the economy.

    Is Obama and big oil behind this or is it the North Koreans or the Iranians or internal sabotage?

    I don’t know but I suspect there is more to this than first appears. Any evidence is now resting at 18,000 feet below the surface.

  148. More people means more pollution, more oil rigs. I don’t blame BP. The Democrat welfare state is paying people to breed. Democrats are not environmentalists. We all need gasoline, but why are people still having 6 or more babies? We’re killing the planet. All the big animals are down to a handfull and the oceans are being polluted to death by fertilizer runoff. Obama can stop us from drilling offshore, but he can’t stop China, they are drilling in the Gulf and Pacific, along with alot of other countries. Humans are insane. A massive die-off is coming in fifty years. Live it up while you can.

  149. A rig pig says:
    May 4, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I may not have read all your entries… I was curious about what you mean by “coffer dams”. I assume these are the “dome”-shaped caps BP proposes to settle over the leaks. Sounds like you know about this stuff, so… the various media from which I’ve caught reports about the remediation efforts suggest that these caps, described as steel, 4-story-tall, dome-shaped structures, were rapidly being cobbled together (pics of welders hurriedly sticking pieces of plate together) after some official somewhere had gathered his wits and thought about what to do. From what I can gather the caps are still under construction today, a week after the event. How come? Aren’t there some prefabricated, emergency-use “coffer dams” sitting around in warehouses for a well blow-out, even if, as David Middleton, above, says: May 1, 2010 at 11:08 am, the chances of a blowout are minuscule? Is this idea a first?

    The drill rig operator who survived and was interviewed on the radio show cited above, describes the likelihood that the collapsed pipe is now a twisted, kinked “wad” lying over the well head. Makes me wonder what exactly they are going to be trying to cap with this thing? Do they now have submersible images of where the leaks have sprung – from the well-head? from somewhere along the length of twisted, kinked pipe? and if so, how will they cap these areas?

    Anyhow, thanks for your thoughts, or any others’ still reading this far down.

  150. As a retired Civil Engineer, still muddy from years in the construction industry I would like to express my appreciation for the inititial artical and the many comments. I now have a faint mental picture of the complex events before and during the incident. Time permitting I will return and follow some of the many links posted. It is unfortunate that our media gives us soundbites of incomplete or inaccurate information. It would be ‘nice’ if there was a section of links to worthwhile web postings.

  151. “Unfortunately we now live in a risk averse society where there must always be someone to blame. There is no acceptance that completely unforeseen circumstances can lead to catastrophe as appears to have happened in this instance.”

    Pardon, but there aint nothing unforeseen about a kick in a well

  152. Hi Bill,
    I’m not intimately familiar with them, but it’s been all over the industry news. They’re actually tall rectangular tubes rather than domes, the funnel or dome is at the top and tapers the rectangular tube into a threaded hole into which a drill pipe string will be screwed. The oil/water/gas mix can then flow up the pipe for processing at surface (dewatering the oil for disposal or shipment/storage). These are actually exisiting fabrications used to temporarily cap shallow water wellheads damaged by Hurricane Katrina; the time being spent is in modifying them to suit the softer sediments in the deep water they’ll be used in now (they will sink into the sediment so if allowances aren’t engineered into the existing structures, they’d possibly sever or at least crimp the riser) and to ensure the structures are capable of withstanding the hydrostatic pressure at the depth they will now be deployed. Evidently one is already embarked aboard a supply boat.
    It isn’t a normal contingency to have such structures sitting around just in case because (at the risk of sounding like another scratched record) in the event of a blowout, one expects the BOP to close as it is designed to and shut in the well, without needing to prepare for contingenies like having to cap the ends of severed riser in order to catch flowing reservoir fluid. This incident really is on the rude side of ‘unexpected’.
    I suspect that from now on there will be a requirement to have such equipment standing by – probably not one for each well being drilled, but a small fleet stacked at each major supply port for use for all operators ‘just in case’.
    The site I linked (Bud’s Energy) previously has some ROV pictures of the main leaks and of the Coffer Dams. The deepwaterhorizonresponse.com site has a good schematic of the riser and wellhead as it currently lies on the seafloor, as does at least one news release from the BBC world news website – a mess, but not quite a tightly knotted wad of steel spaghetti.
    As I understand things, the plan is to deploy two coffer dams, one for the open end of the riser and one over the leak in the riser near the BOP. The strategy for dealing with open end of the drill pipe appears to be to insert a plug.

    H1N5 is correct a normal kick certainly isn’t unforeseen and there are signs which develope well in advance of a catastrophic loss of well control. This blowout is hardly normal though; after TD, with a cased and cemented hole no one would expect any sort of well control incident, let alone one which developed so rapidly as to cause a blowout of this magnitude. As I understand it from the reports released, the cement had been pressure tested from above and demonstrated the required integrity – so there should really be no means of ingress into the well.
    It’s like turning off the water mains to your house and then opening the lid of your toilet and having the contents of the bowl blast out in your face. Not what one would expect?

    Speculation this early is unhelpful – we’ll really have to wait and see what the investigation determines to be the causes and then see how regulatory bodies around the world react with amended planning and contingency requirements.

  153. May 1st article in the EUTimes details the news out about a Korean sub torpedoing the rig, official sources are quoted. Swat teams? Wonder if our subs were deployed? A South Korean company is involved with the oil business coming from blown up oil rig.

  154. The media reference to ‘SWAT’ teams isn’t literally referring to hard men in Kevlar body armour, packing heat and abseiling onto rigs yelling “hut-hut-hut…”
    The ‘SWAT’ teams referred to are teams of MMS inspectors mass-auditing all rig’s well control equipment; evidently every available qualified inspector was mobilised for this inspection.
    http://www.upstreamonline.com/live/article213497.ece
    Such inspections are routine, but it’s unheard off for a blitz covering every rig in a region more or less at once. Now shall I await this turn of phrase to be mis-quoted as meaning that anonymous sources report North Korean stealth bombers marauding overhead?
    Deepwater Horizon and her crew have suffered a sadly fatal blow out, nothing more sinister than that.

  155. A rig pig says:
    May 5, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Very interesting video, but the explanations are all pretty sketchy. You suggested they had had looks at the well head area with their cameras, so they must know that they have soft sand surrounding the well head, as in the tin can demonstration. If there’s an obstruction lying up against one side of the head, the containment device won’t settle properly.

    Also, of interest from the first video (I’ve got a very low-res monitor): are those penetrations or just markings along the corners of the concrete structure? If markings, what happens to air as the container is lowered? Is to just evacuated through the pipe? Thanks for the additional links.

  156. A rig pig says:
    May 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm
    The media reference to ‘SWAT’ teams isn’t literally referring to hard men in Kevlar body armour, packing heat and abseiling onto rigs yelling “hut-hut-hut…”
    The ‘SWAT’ teams referred to are teams of MMS inspectors mass-auditing all rig’s well control equipment; evidently every available qualified inspector was mobilised for this inspection.
    http://www.upstreamonline.com/live/article213497.ece
    Such inspections are routine, but it’s unheard off for a blitz covering every rig in a region more or less at once. Now shall I await this turn of phrase to be mis-quoted as meaning that anonymous sources report North Korean stealth bombers marauding overhead?
    Deepwater Horizon and her crew have suffered a sadly fatal blow out, nothing more sinister than that.
    —–
    REPLY:

    RarePig, I do work in Homeland Security and nearly blew a gasket when I started hearing all the buzz about “SWAT” teams being mobilized!! SWAT, of course, is “Special Weapons and Tactics,” and the last thing you need on a floating gas-can called a drilling/production rig is a firearm!! I was sure they meant “SWOT” for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis (standard after disasters).

    OK, so I called the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command and left a message for their Public Information Officer, called the WH and spoke with public affairs, AND emailed one of my chums in DHS!! Today, I see the WH blog was corrected (finally):

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/04/30/response-oil-spill-so-far

    DHS Secretary Napolitano announced that this incident is of national significance, the Department of Interior has announced that they will be sending SWOT* teams to the Gulf to inspect all platforms and rigs and the EPA is conducting air monitoring activities to gather information on the impact of the controlled burn on air quality.

    * Ed. Note: Typo corrected, “SWOT” refers to Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats teams.
    —–
    SCORE ONE FOR THE GOOD GUYS AT WUWT!! Thanks, Anthony, our fellow commentators (especially Pat Moffitt) got me going on this! Now, the folks who have been broadcasting scare-stories of SWAT teams being sent out to the Gulf can issue their own corrections.

    Typical government FUBAR process….somebody misunderstood what was said, and it exploded across the airwaves and blogosphere. Well done, folks!

  157. I am passing this on from someone who used to work for BP

    This well had been giving some problems all the way down and was a big discovery.  Big pressure, 16ppg+ mud weight.   They ran a long string of 7″ production casing – not a liner, the confusion arising from the fact that all casing strings on a floating rig are run on drill pipe and hung off on the wellhead on the sea floor, like a “liner”.  They cemented this casing with lightweight cement containing nitrogen because they were having lost circulation in between the well kicking all the way down. The calculations and the execution of this kind of a cement job are complex, in order that you neither let the well flow from too little hydrostatic pressure nor break it down and lose the fluid and cement from too much hydrostatic.  But you gotta believe BP had 8 or 10 of their best double and triple checking everything.  On the outside of the top joint of casing is a seal assembly – “packoff” – that sets inside the subsea wellhead and seals.  This was set and tested to 10,000 psi, OK.   Remember they are doing all this from the surface 5,000 feet away.  The technology is fascinating, like going to the moon or fishing out the Russian sub, or killing all the fires in Kuwait in 14 months instead of 5 years.  We never have had an accident like this before so hubris, the folie d’grandeur, sort of takes over.  BP were the leaders in all this stretching the envelope all over the world in deep water.  This was the end of the well until testing was to begin at a later time, so a temporary “bridge plug” was run in on drill pipe to set somewhere near the top of the well below 5,000 ft.  This is the second barrier, you always have to have 2, and the casing was the first one.  It is not know if this was actually set or not.   At the same time they took the 16+ ppg mud out of the riser and replaced it with sea water so that they could pull the riser, lay it down, and move off.  When they did this, they of course took away all the hydrostatic on the well.  But this was OK, normal, since the well was plugged both on the inside with the casing and on the outside with the tested packoff.  But something turned loose all of a sudden, and the conventional wisdom would be the packoff on the outside of the casing. Gas and oil rushed up the riser; there was little wind, and a gas cloud got all over the rig.  When the main inductions of the engines got a whiff, they ran away and exploded.  Blew them right off the rig.  This set everything on fire.  A similar explosion in the mud pit / mud pump room blew the mud pumps overboard.  Another in the mud sack storage room, sited most unfortunately right next to the living quarters, took out all the interior walls where everyone was hanging out having – I am not making this up – a party to celebrate 7 years of accident free work on this rig.   7 BP bigwigs were there visiting from town. The ones lost were the 9 rig crew on the rig floor and 2 mud engineers down on the pits.  The furniture and walls trapped some and broke some bones but they all managed to get in the lifeboats with assistance from the others. The safety shut ins on the BOP were tripped but it is not clear why they did not work.  This system has 4 way redundancy; 2 separate hydraulic systems and 2 separate electric systems should be able to operate any of the functions on the stack.  They are tested every 14 days, all of them.  (there is also a stab on the stack so that an ROV can plug in and operate it, but now it is too late because things are damaged). The well is flowing through the BOP stack, probably around the outside of the 7″ casing.  As reported elsewhere, none of the “rams”, those being the valves that are suppose to close around the drill pipe and / or shear it right in two and seal on the open hole, are sealing.  Up the riser and out some holes in it where it is kinked.  A little is coming out of the drill pipe too which is sticking out of the top of the riser and laid out on the ocean floor.   The volumes as reported by the media are not correct but who knows exactly how much is coming? 2 relief wells will be drilled but it will take at least 60 days to kill it that way.  There is a “deep sea intervention vessel” on the way, I don’t know if that means a submarine or not, one would think this is too deep for subs, and it will have special cutting tools to try to cut off the very bottom of the riser on top of the BOP.  The area is remarkably free from debris.  The rig “Enterprise” is standing by with another BOP stack and a special connector to set down on top of the original one and then close.  You saw this sort of thing in Red Adair movies and in Kuwait, a new stack dangling from a crane is just dropped down on the well after all the junk is removed.  But that is not 5,000 ft underwater. One unknown is if they get a new stack on it and close it, will the bitch broach around the outside of all the casing??  In order for a disaster of this magnitude to happen, more than one thing has to go wrong, or fail.  First, a shitty cement job.  The wellhead packoff / seal assembly, while designed to hold the pressure, is just a backup.  And finally, the ability to close the well in with the BOP somehow went away.  A bad deal for the industry, for sure.  Forget about California and Florida.  Normal operations in the Gulf will be over regulated like the N. Sea.  And so on.

  158. Re: “SWAT” and “SWOT”. Now, I wonder how there could possibly be any confusion between those two organizations? If the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis (SWOT) team did not want to be assosiated with the more militant SWAT, why did they create such a name or acronym. I have no dog in the sabotage argument, but if the “Threats analysis” part of this title doesn’t suggest looking at this potential aspect of the rig’s sinking, just what do they do? More to the point, if our government did not send a team to look for evidence of sabotage, in addition to the usual suspects of stupidity, malfeasance, kickbacks, political favors, contempt for safety rules and regs, dereliction, buck-passing, etc… then they are even more bumbling than the Bush administration.

  159. Bill Parsons says:
    May 6, 2010 at 8:07 am
    Re: “SWAT” and “SWOT”. Now, I wonder how there could possibly be any confusion between those two organizations? If the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis (SWOT) team did not want to be assosiated with the more militant SWAT, why did they create such a name or acronym. I have no dog in the sabotage argument, but if the “Threats analysis” part of this title doesn’t suggest looking at this potential aspect of the rig’s sinking, just what do they do? More to the point, if our government did not send a team to look for evidence of sabotage, in addition to the usual suspects of stupidity, malfeasance, kickbacks, political favors, contempt for safety rules and regs, dereliction, buck-passing, etc… then they are even more bumbling than the Bush administration.
    ——-
    REPLY: Bill, here’s the Wikipedia explanation of SWOT analysis:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWOT_analysis

    The coincidence of the two sounding exactly alike, but meaning something entirely else, has never been a big issue before to my knowledge. SWOT is a business analysis process, widely used in the failure business. SWOT guys go to the rigs with laptops, clipboards and pencils and not submachine guns!

    However, some in the media took the original typo and went hyper with it, see Rush’s comments on SWAT deployment here:
    http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2010/05/has-he-gone-too-far-rush-limbaugh-suggests-environmentalists-planned-oil-spill/1

    We have far too much going on right now for incendiary journalism based upon some copy-writer’s misunderstanding of technical terms. There are rumors that this was a North Korean sub attack, US conspiracy etc.

    BS, accidents happen in oil & gas. Robert Thompson’s comments above ring very true to me, this is a believable scenario. I hope the coffer dam solution works for BP’s sake! This will surely lead to more rigorous government regulation & oversight of offshore production, but I’m okay with that at this point.

  160. We have far too much going on right now for incendiary journalism based upon some copy-writer’s misunderstanding of technical terms. There are rumors that this was a North Korean sub attack, US conspiracy etc.

    The rumors can’t be as interesting as the real story, but feel free to share…

    As for “some copy-writer’s misunderstanding”, it sounds to me like William Gibbs, Press Secretary to the President of the United States was disseminating the misinformation. I confess – I never heard of SWOT, but I wouldn’t want to lay huge odds that Gibbs, Napolitano or Obama knew the difference either.

  161. Thanks for your remarks Robert – they’re the most detailed description of events I’ve heard so far.
    It’s probably as well the crew were celebrating 7 years without Lost Time Incident – in normal circumstances there may well have been more crew members out on deck exposed to the explosion and resulting conflagration.
    In the event that the blowout is occurring around the 7″ casing, one would hope the the next casing shoe up is where the failure has occurred and that the flow is subsequently up the annulus between the 7″ and the casings/liners outside it – if the blowout is up the annulus between all casings/liners and formation, then actually closing the second BOP once it is placed could lead to a blowout outside the wellhead (as you suggest) and that has potential to get very ugly indeed.
    You’re quite right that BP are one of the leaders in deep water, deep drilling – the deepwater horizon was the rig BP employed to drill the Tiber well last year to 35050′:
    http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=2012968&contentId=7055818

    An intervention vessel is a surface vessel one which performs well intervention – normally this means running a variety of tools into existing production wells in order to perform maintenance on control valves and such like down hole. In effect they act like a small rig but do not drill, they only work over existing completed wells.
    A schematic here:
    http://budsoffshoreenergy.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/macondo-6-may-update/
    shows a well intervention vessel at centre, it’s purpose appears (in this schematic at least) to be in support the ongoing dispersant injection into the remains of the riser. The reference to coil tubing is like a garden hose reel but made of steel. Which suggests they’re aiming for a mega flowrate of dispersant.

    Hi Bill – At the above reference, there is also a photograph of the completed and painted coffer dam being loaded onto a work boat.
    The markings at the corners are to indicate the depth to which the fabrication has settled into the sea bottom sediment. the air in the coffer dam will vent through the hole at the top as it is submerged, as I understand it once the structure is in-situ over the leaking riser, the drill pipe is then stabbed into the hole at the top and screwed in place. The large hole at the side should be to accommodate the riser, it is rectangular so as to allow some leeway with respect to just how far into the sediment the coffer dam will settle – a site evaluation will have been performed by ROV before the rig arrived on location, so the likely behaviour of the sediment will be known to some degree (the wellhead, guidebase and BOP had to be placed safely on the seafloor based on such knowledge). The horizontal plates which maybe look like walkways are (I suspect) what were referred to in one description as ‘mudflaps’ which to me indicates where the boffins expect the seafloor (mudline) to be with respect to the structure once it has settled – if I read the markers correctly that means 15′ of the coffer dam settles into the sediment.
    with respect to the BOP and obstructions close to it, I expect that the wreckage has by now been well surveyed by ROV, so the likelihood of debris on the seafloor in close proximity to the BOP should be known already.

    No need to write off further exploration of US waters just yet, but the lessons learned from this accident will result in far stricter (and some well intentioned but nevertheless misguided) requirements for future US drilling operations.
    It’s sad that 9 guys couldn’t make the flight home so that the rest of us could learn another lesson and listen to stupid conspiracy stories.

  162. I’m a journalist and read each of your conjectures and gracious posts toward communal education. However, a very interesting thread was ignored. Please answer this man’s questions.
    Richard W says:
    May 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm
    I worked as an insurance broker for many years with many offshore drilling companies. There are many anomalies about the circumstances in this terrible event. The one thing that bothers me most, however, is the picture showing the burn hole in the heliport. The heliport is located well away from the the burning side of the rig. The hole in the heliport is very symmetrical and looks like the result of an electrical discharge. heliports have fire suppression equipment. I do not see any fire damage to anything else nearby, including the underside of the heliport as shown in other pictures.

    This makes no sense to me. Any ideas?

  163. Several people (and one of the articles cited above) have suggested that the coffer dam mitigation has not been tried at this depth. One of these articles said that the main issue now has to do with ice blocking the new pipe. Water temperatures, it said, were around 41 degrees F.

    Are temps – or pressures – any more of an issue than they were before the drill assembly collapsed?

  164. Hi Barabra & Richard,
    The heli-deck is a comparatively thin aluminium deck which is more easily ignited than the explosion and fire resistant steel superstructure surrounding it (which is the rig’s accomodation) – hence the apparent disparity in damage.
    The ‘symetrical’ appearance of the hole is because the burn section is bounded below by steel girders which support the heli-deck. Helidecks generally aren’t perfectly flat and end up slightly sagged between each girder, so the fire on this deck may well have been oil ejected during the blow out which happened to pool in this slight depression and was then ignited, in turn burning through the aluminium deck and being checked by the girders (pure speculation on my part I shall admit).
    The whole rig is equipped with a fire suppression system (deluge) not just the helideck, the additional fire fighting equipment on the helideck is typically comprises of two (or so) manned water/foam canons (which won’t have been manned or operated during the rig fire since this would have been futile – they’re design to point towards and extinguish a burning helicopter, not point inboard towards the derrick and combat an explosive blowout).
    the only electrical equipment situated on or under the helideck are the marker lights.
    I’m not sure I follow what sort of electrical discharge you’re envisaging as being resposible for the burned deck.
    Hi Bill,
    The concern for ice formation in the case of the coffer dam is real enough – formation fluid which exosts in liquid state at the elevated temperatures and pressures of a deep reservoir may well exist as solids at the lower pressure and temperature encountered a the seafloor or at surface.
    It’s not uncommon for producing wells to require the injection of chemicals to inhibit the formation of hydrates (for want of a better term, hydrocarbon ice) in down-hole tubulars, control valves and sub-sea or surface pipelines. I gather that the concern here would be that hydrates may form in the drill pipe leading from the top of the dam to the surface and block it, in which case the oil, having no where else to go, will fill the coffer dam and begin spilling out around it’s base.
    Having offered that explanation, I’ll point out that I’m not a reservoir engineer and so by no means an expert on such matters, my work is done once the well is drilled.

    I just saw that bud’s offshore energy won’t be updating this weekend, so the will be one less intelligent commentry on the emplacement of the coffer dams, I have to agree with his view about the number of instant armchair experts waxing lyrical about every aspect of this accident and its response while clearly not having the faintest idea of what they’re talking about.

  165. The media needs to review some of the comments already posted. So since there is already great information already posted I will restrain my comments to bashing the media and administration officials for their vast display of ignorance with absolutely no understanding of the history of drilling offshore and measures taken to avoid these situations and to minimize the affects on anything happening. As discussed already by others equipment is redundunt. It is function and pressure tested on a regular schedule dictated by MMS. BP and all oil companies are very stringent on seeing that these schedules are maintained and somtimes impose more stringent requirements. All personnell are briefed each time they come on the rig of all safety precautions and policies they must abide by to perform the function they are there for. Anyone that posses a problem living by these requirements are excused from the rig and their employer advised that they are not welcome to return. People that work offshore typically are very professional and cherish their jobs and the responsibilities that go along with them.
    Yes the spill is disasterous, but the industry is responding to bring the well under control responsibly taking necessary precautions to be certain they are effective and don’t create a bigger problem to deal with.
    It is sad that lives are lost. Best guess they never had a chance or being the professionals they are gave their utmost to bring control to the situation. What is remarkable is that weekly training and practice response sessions have paid off. Considering that 92% of the crew managed to get off the rig.
    There is a verse in Proverbs the media would do good to learn. Paraphrased “It would be better to keep your mouth shut and thought a fool than open it to confirm it.”

  166. From a Guardian article: “Deepwater team attempts to put 100-tonne box over blown-out oil well’Cofferdam’ has never been used in such deep waters but may be quickest way stop loss of 200,000 gallons of oil a day”

    Eventually, the crane will give way to underwater robots that will secure the contraption over the main leak at the bottom, a journey that will take hours.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/07/deepwater-horizon-oil-spill-box

    These undersea robots seem to be making a big difference in this situations. Wonder how long they’ve been in use on these drilling rigs.

  167. I would like to thank the oil industry people for giving us “average folk” an insight into what might have happened. My question is, back in the mid-eighties off Canada’s coast, we had the “Ocean Ranger” rig, capsize and sink. There was no oil spill or fire. can the industry people explain, if there was any similarities between these two events.

  168. Hi Bill,
    When I first went offshore 15 years ago, ROVs were fairly common (not new or novel by any stretch – well to anyone except a green hand as I was).
    They were performing basic subsea maintenance tasks once undertaken by divers at considerable risk to themselves in addition to drilling related tasks such as visually verifying the correct landing of BOP stacks and monitoring the seafloor while drilling top hole sections (which are drilled with out a riser connection to surface).

    In this case of deep water of course, getting divers to do what the numerous ROVs have been doing would be out of the question – the Deepwater Horizon response team would still be groping in the dark without them.
    They really are very useful and pretty much taken for granted in contemporary operations.
    That article mentions a top kill – which is one reason the second BOP strategy is appealing; it would involve securing the second BOP atop the original one and then attempting to re-enter and run in hole to the reservoir and pump heavy kill mud down the affected well instead of having to drill the two relief wells to do the same thing.
    To emplace the second BOP, the damaged riser will have to be cut and removed which would result in flowing reservoir fluids venting directly up, which would pose a risk to rig used to perform the top kill.
    If you have a look at this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhZKUYVXM78 you can see the Actinia rig bobbing about on a shallow gas blowout (only a couple of hundred metres below seafloor, comparatively very low pressure and small volume (which is why it died after a few days), to get some idea of the discomforts involved in parking a rig over a flowing well.
    While looking at a few other videos and news reports, the question ‘why wasn’t there a backup plan?’ is often repeated – the BOP that inexplicably didn’t work is the first back up, the relief well(s) are the second.
    The Macondome and the 2nd BOP are improvised solutions that BP have devised expediently to reduce the flow while the relief wells are drilled.

  169. Hi J Brenna,
    Ocean Ranger was a semi-submersible rig (similar configuration but smaller than TO Deepwater Horizon) drilling in the Hibernia field offshore Newfoundland and was struck by storm conditions generated by a Hurricane.
    A large wave broke a port light (port hole window) resulting in water ingress to the ballast control room.
    Exactly what happened subsequently is uncertain, partly because there were no survivors, but the ballast control equipment either began operating of it’s own accord due to short circuit, or the crew upon receiving false indications to the affect began trimming the rig in response to what they believed was the control equipment operating of it’s own accord.
    The rig began listing toward the bow and eventually capsized.
    The crew did attempt to abandon the rig and somewhere between 20 and 50 odd crew members made it into the water but could not be rescued immediately due to the weather. All those eventually recovered had succumbed to hypothermia and drowned.
    There was no subsequent oil spill from the well, which had been secured (BOP closed and the riser disconnected) in preparation for the approaching storm.
    So the short answer to the question is that the circumstances were very different.

  170. J. Brennan says:
    May 7, 2010 at 5:38 pm
    I would like to thank the oil industry people for giving us “average folk” an insight into what might have happened. My question is, back in the mid-eighties off Canada’s coast, we had the “Ocean Ranger” rig, capsize and sink. There was no oil spill or fire. can the industry people explain, if there was any similarities between these two events.
    —–
    REPLY: Thanks, Mr. Brennan, this is some of the most well-informed and insightful commentary I’ve seen on the Deep Water Horizon incident! There is a real brain-trust on this site, which is why I find it so valuable.

    The Ocean Ranger rig sinking is covered in detail on this site:
    http://www.oilrigdisasters.co.uk/

    84 men died in the Ocean Ranger accident, a real tragedy. Cheers, CRS

  171. Hello Rig Pig and Barbara,
    Thanks for your insightful response to my question about the hole in the helideck. Rig Pig, although you admit that your explanation is speculative, it seems possible. Do you have an explanation for the white ring around the hole? I would expect more of a blackened charring, and the white ring was part of my speculation of something electrical as the source.

    To clarify a bit: I was not meaning to indicate that the helideck was the only place on the rig that had fire suppression equipment – that would be ridiculous, of course.

    I do not have any idea in mind regarding the source of any possible electrical burn to the helideck at all. I was merely commenting on how it appeared to me. I am certainly open to other explanations.

    I have been hearing today about the shut down of various geothermal projects worldwide over that last few years, including the cessation of drilling because of the earthquake potential that seems to be involved. We are pumping massive amounts of water, steam, petroleum/ gas from the interior of the earth and there has to be implications on the surrounding strata. The number and intensity of earthquakes around the world has been setting records now for many months. Iceland’s big use of domestic geothermal and the volcano may not be unconnected.

    The BP/ Horizon well was so deep, both in terms of water depth (pressure) and well depth that I wonder what we have really encountered/ released. Whatever the case, we are in uncharted territory and capping this well may prove to be beyond the limits of our technology. If the pressures emanating from the formation are of the “off the chart” intensity/ never before encountered (do we know or are being told the truth?), that may well mean that even the longer term solution of relief well(s) may actually not only fail, but worsen the situation.

    Of additional concern is the likelihood that the entire GOM will be polluted in a massive way, but further that the oil (pictures show it looking like blood red water ala “Revelations”, but that’s another subject!) will reach the Gulf Stream and spread around the world. The longer the well remains out of control, the more certain, it seems to me, that this will be realized.
    I hope and pray that the domes will be successful!
    I have not yet seen any video of the the sea floor as certainly been taken by the ROVs. I think that would be critical info regarding the the position of the riser and drill string (if any) to indicate what obstructions may exist to dealing with this “blowout”. My thought is that if that situation was positive the video would be released for public viewing. The videos obviously do exist so if they are not being released, then I believe it is because we are not meant to know. Considering the liability issues involved and lawyers, insurers & money men now calling the shots, I have no doubt that the news from them is spun and selective. We will not get the full picture from those folks – of that I have no doubt. This all has to be “managed”, doncha know?
    Thanks to everyone for the many excellent contributions to this forum.
    Eat shrimp now! Richard W

  172. A bit off-topic this post, but as Ocean Ranger has been discussed and in view of some terrorist theories going about regarding the loss of TO Deepwater Horizon, it’s maybe worth reflecting on a wee thought experiment some of us had while sitting around on a semi-sub many years ago.
    Following a special forces exercise in boarding and securing a neighbouring platform (not ‘our’ rig, but word of such things always spreads – someone knew someone else who was there), a number of us began contemplating just how one would go about destroying a floating rig while sitting down to lunch (as you do).
    After considering all possible ways of inducing blowouts, blowing holes in the rig below water, somehow crashing a helicopter into the rig, starting fires large enough to consume the rig and so on, the most expedient strategy we finally agreed on was to board a rig with a small party carrying nothing heavier than small arms, seize the ballast control room and then upset the trim of the rig badly enough to cause it to sink.
    The things that come up over dinner.

    It appears that hydrates have indeed proved troublesome for the first coffer dam/pollution control dome/Macondome:
    http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/environment/BP-Announces-Setback-With-Oil-Spill-Containment-Dome-93205554.html

    There seems to be some knee-jerking in comments to media releases to the affect that nationalising oil exploration and production in the US would magically solve what ever perceived problem there is with entrusting private enterprise with the job. Having worked as a third party for a number of operators in varied locations (and under varied political backdrops), I would say this nationalisation talk is obviously coming from uninformed commentators.
    With few exceptions nationalised oil companies are lethargic, inefficient and unimaginative institutions who attract mostly lethargic, inefficient and unimaginative personnel.
    While it may seem attractive to some to bemoan the dominance of a few large oil companies, it’s worth considering the scope of the challenge and risk associated with deepwater developments such as this and contemplate if it would even be possible in an environment dominated by many more but much smaller operators?

  173. “Richard W says:
    […]
    Of additional concern is the likelihood that the entire GOM will be polluted in a massive way, but further that the oil (pictures show it looking like blood red water ala “Revelations”, but that’s another subject!) will reach the Gulf Stream and spread around the world. The longer the well remains out of control, the more certain, it seems to me, that this will be realized.”

    The media frenzy notwithstanding it’s a comparatively minor spill:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8664684.stm

    And the containment efforts are far bigger, faster and more successful than ever in the past. So i see no need to worry about that.

  174. DirkH,
    I do not believe that the flow can be accurately measured? How would that be done? Due to the extreme water depth, seeing what is on the surface is certainly not reliable, and I am not aware of any equipment on the seafloor or on an ROV that could make a good assessment.

    Again, the absence of ROV videos on the net, which no doubt exist, speaks volumes ’cause it ain’t good news.
    The BBC gets their info from the parties involved.

  175. Man, the Administration is really chasing its tail on this SWAT business!

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/05/sabotage-conspiracy-and-other-ways-to-spin-the-oil-spill/56347/

    “The ‘SWAT team’ is just a turn of phrase,” Interior Dept. spokesman Matt Lee Ashley said. “[The teams] are composed of highly qualified inspectors from the Minerals Management Service.”

    Why didn’t Pres. Obama just say “teams of experts”? I’m sure he was handed something with “SWOT” on it (you can find SWOT all through the DOI websites), but then Rush & Co. got ahold of it.

    Whatever. I’m sure someone got a tongue-lashing for this. My contacts at DHS agreed with me that it should have been “SWOT”.

  176. The Cover-up: BP’s Crude Politics and the Looming Environmental Mega-Disaster

    Written by Wayne Madsen

    WMR has been informed by sources in the US Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Florida Department of Environmental Protection that the Obama White House and British Petroleum (BP), which pumped $71,000 into Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign — more than John McCain or Hillary Clinton, are covering up the magnitude of the volcanic-level oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and working together to limit BP’s liability for damage caused by what can be called a “mega-disaster.”

    Obama and his senior White House staff, as well as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, are working with BP’s chief executive officer Tony Hayward on legislation that would raise the cap on liability for damage claims from those affected by the oil disaster from $75 million to $10 billion. However, WMR’s federal and Gulf state sources are reporting the disaster has the real potential cost of at least $1 trillion. Critics of the deal being worked out between Obama and Hayward point out that $10 billion is a mere drop in the bucket for a trillion dollar disaster but also note that BP, if its assets were nationalized, could fetch almost a trillion dollars for compensation purposes. There is talk in some government circles, including FEMA, of the need to nationalize BP in order to compensate those who will ultimately be affected by the worst oil disaster in the history of the world.

    Plans by BP to sink a 4-story containment dome over the oil gushing from a gaping chasm one kilometer below the surface of the Gulf, where the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and killed 11 workers on April 20, and reports that one of the leaks has been contained is pure public relations disinformation designed to avoid panic and demands for greater action by the Obama administration, according to FEMA and Corps of Engineers sources. Sources within these agencies say the White House has been resisting releasing any “damaging information” about the oil disaster. They add that if the ocean oil geyser is not stopped within 90 days, there will be irreversible damage to the marine eco-systems of the Gulf of Mexico, north Atlantic Ocean, and beyond. At best, some Corps of Engineers experts say it could take two years to cement the chasm on the floor of the Gulf.

    Only after the magnitude of the disaster became evident did Obama order Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to declare the oil disaster a “national security issue.” Although the Coast Guard and FEMA are part of her department, Napolitano’s actual reasoning for invoking national security was to block media coverage of the immensity of the disaster that is unfolding for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and their coastlines.

    From the Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the Environmental Protection Agency, Coast Guard, and Gulf state environmental protection agencies, the message is the same: “we’ve never dealt with anything like this before.”

    The Obama administration also conspired with BP to fudge the extent of the oil leak, according to our federal and state sources. After the oil rig exploded and sank, the government stated that 42,000 gallons per day was gushing from the seabed chasm. Five days later, the federal government upped the leakage to 210,000 gallons a day.

    However, WMR has been informed that submersibles that are monitoring the escaping oil from the Gulf seabed are viewing television pictures of what is a “volcanic-like” eruption of oil. Moreover, when the Army Corps of Engineers first attempted to obtain NASA imagery of the Gulf oil slick — which is larger than that being reported by the media — it was turned down. However, National Geographic managed to obtain the satellite imagery shots of the extent of the disaster and posted them on their web site.

    There is other satellite imagery being withheld by the Obama administration that shows what lies under the gaping chasm spewing oil at an ever-alarming rate is a cavern estimated to be around the size of Mount Everest. This information has been given an almost national security-level classification to keep it from the public, according to our sources.

    FREE Breaking Investment & Geopolitical Intelligence – Previously only available to Governments, Intelligence Agencies & selected Hedge Funds. Click here for more information on our Free Weekly Intelligence Report

    The Corps and Engineers and FEMA are quietly critical of the lack of support for quick action after the oil disaster by the Obama White House and the US Coast Guard. Only recently, has the Coast Guard understood the magnitude of the disaster, dispatching nearly 70 vessels to the affected area. WMR has also learned that inspections of off-shore rigs’ shut-off valves by the Minerals Management Service during the Bush administration were merely rubber-stamp operations, resulting from criminal collusion between Halliburton and the Interior Department’s service, and that the potential for similar disasters exists with the other 30,000 off-shore rigs that use the same shut-off valves.

    The impact of the disaster became known to the Corps of Engineers and FEMA even before the White House began to take the magnitude of the impending catastrophe seriously. The first casualty of the disaster is the seafood industy, with not just fishermen, oystermen, crabbers, and shrimpers losing their jobs, but all those involved in the restaurant industry, from truckers to waitresses, facing lay-offs.

    The invasion of crude oil into estuaries like the oyster-rich Apalachicola Bay in Florida spell disaster for the seafood industry. However, the biggest threat is to Florida’s Everglades, which federal and state experts fear will be turned into a “dead zone” if the oil continues to gush forth from the Gulf chasm. There are also expectations that the oil slick will be caught up in the Gulf stream off the eastern seaboard of the United States, fouling beaches and estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay, and ultimately target the rich fishing grounds of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland.

    WMR has also learned that 36 urban areas on the Gulf of Mexico are expecting to be confronted with a major disaster from the oil volcano in the next few days. Although protective water surface boons are being laid to protect such sensitive areas as Alabama’s Dauphin Island, the mouth of the Mississippi River, and Florida’s Apalachicola Bay, Florida, there is only 16 miles of boons available for the protection of 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline in the state of Florida.

    Emergency preparations in dealing with the expanding oil menace are now being made for cities and towns from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Houston, New Orleans, Gulfport, Mobile, Pensacola, Tampa-St.Petersburg-Clearwater, Sarasota-Bradenton, Naples, and Key West. Some 36 FEMA-funded contracts between cities, towns, and counties and emergency workers are due to be invoked within days, if not hours, according to WMR’s FEMA sources.

    There are plans to evacuate people with respiratory problems, especially those among the retired senior population along the west coast of Florida, before officials begin burning surface oil as it begins to near the coastline.

    There is another major threat looming for inland towns and cities. With hurricane season in effect, there is a potential for ocean oil to be picked up by hurricane-driven rains and dropped into fresh water lakes and rivers, far from the ocean, thus adding to the pollution of water supplies and eco-systems.

    This story contributed by the Wayne Madsen Report for Oilprice.com

  177. “Richard W says:
    May 9, 2010 at 8:40 am
    The Cover-up: BP’s Crude Politics and the Looming Environmental Mega-Disaster
    […]
    This story contributed by the Wayne Madsen Report for Oilprice.com”

    Looks like the BBC has found its master when it comes to alarmism.

  178. Is it possible that there was methane hydrates deposits in the sediments and the heat released during cementing process – released the methane gas from the hydrates? This would explain the unforeseenable sudden explosive, thus, leading to possibly damaging the BOP.

  179. Hi Kate,

    While being unfamiliar with the specific properties of the Macondo reservoir, it is quite certain that the reservoir temperatures far exceed those at which methane hydrates form (although given the high pressures, it is normal that gases such as LPG and butane, which we’re familiar with as gases exist as liquids).
    It’s worth bearing in mind that it is standard procedure to add a chemical inhibitor to cement to prevent it setting too quickly in the high temperature environment it is pumped into downhole.
    Hydrates typically form when the methane decompresses while rising in production tubulars. The problem in the Macondome coffer dam is exacerbated by mixing with very cold sea water, which is why there was such a pessimistic tone prior to it’s deployment – but all options have to be tried in a situation such as this.

  180. this is a horrible tragedy. i beg do differ about the facts of the conclusions over it all.

  181. This is a horrible tradegy. I have to say though, I beg to differ about the facts of the conclusions over all of the circumstances according to the oil rig.

  182. according to the situations about the oil ship the oil leak cannot be stopped. offcials say they are trying to stop the leak but have failed every time.11 people have died in this horrible mess. you can go online somewhere and watch video of the oil leak happening. about 200,000 gallons of oil are being leaked into the ocean. lots of animalsare dying. bye bye

  183. I am so glad that I discovered this site…..such a vast amount of credible information……as the wife of an offshore construction superintendent (40 years working in the GOM and overseas) and the mother of a driller, I have heard a lot of theories about the cause of this spill, some plausible…some far out……I will be recommending this site to others.

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