Lessons from the Gulf blowout

Learning (the right lessons, hopefully) from the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Also, a transcript of an radio call in of an eyewitness account (provided by geologist Jimmy Haigh) follows this article.

Guest post by Paul Driessen

click image for slideshow

Transocean’s semi-submersible drilling vessel Deepwater Horizon was finishing work on a wellbore that had found oil 18,000 feet beneath the seafloor, in mile-deep water fifty miles off the Louisiana coast. Supervisors in the control cabin overlooking the drilling operations area were directing routine procedures to cement, plug and seal the borehole, replace heavy drilling fluids with seawater and extract the drill stem and bit through the riser (outer containment pipe) that connected the vessel to the blowout preventer (BOP) on the seafloor.

Suddenly, a thump and hiss were followed by a towering eruption of seawater, drilling mud, cement, oil and natural gas. The BOP and backup systems had failed to work as designed, to control the massive amounts of unexpectedly high-pressure gas that were roaring up 23,000 feet of wellbore and riser.

Gas enveloped the area and ignited, engulfing the Horizon in a 500-foot high inferno that instantly killed eleven workers. Surviving crewmen abandoned ship in covered lifeboats or jumped 80 feet to the water.

The supply boat Tidewater Damon Bankston rushed to the scene and helped crewmen get their burned and injured colleagues aboard. Shore-based Coast Guard helicopters tore through the night sky to brave the flames and take critically injured men to hospitals.

Thirty-six hours later, the Deepwater Horizon capsized and sank, buckling the 21-inch diameter riser and breaking it off at the rig deck. Three leaks began spewing some 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of crude oil per day into the ocean. As the oil gathered on the surface and drifted toward shore, it threatened a major ecological disaster for estuaries, marine life and all who depend on them for their livelihoods.

Thankfully, after getting rough for a couple days, the seas calmed. Industry, Coast Guard, NOAA and Minerals Management Service (MMS) crews and volunteer from Louisiana to Alaska had some time to recalculate the spill’s trajectory, deploy oil skimmer boats and miles of containment booms, and burn some of the oil off the sea surface. They lowered ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) to cap the end of the riser and spray chemicals that break down and disperse the oil.

Aircraft sprayed more dispersants over floating oil, and technicians hurried to build and deploy heavy cofferdams specially designed to sit atop the broken riser and BOP stack, collect the leaking oil and pipe it up to tanker barges. Drill ships are heading to the scene, to drill relief wells, intersect the original hole, cement it shut and permanently stop the leak. ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips and many other companies have offered BP, Transocean and Halliburton assistance on all these fronts.

How bad will the disaster be? Much depends on how long the calm weather lasts, how quickly the cofferdams can be installed, and how successful the entire effort is. There is some cause for optimism – and much need for prayer, crossed fingers and hard work.

But it will take weeks to years of uncontrolled leakage, before this spill comes close to previous highs, such as the:

* Santa Barbara Channel oil platform blowout (1969): 90,000 barrels off the California coast;

* Mega Borg tanker (1990): 121,400 barrels in the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston, TX;

* Exxon Valdez tanker (1989): 250,000 barrels along 1,300 miles of untouched Alaska shoreline;

* Ixtoc 1 oil platform blowout (1979): 3,500,000 barrels in Mexico’s Campeche Bay;

* Saddam Hussein oil field sabotage (1991): 857,000,000 barrels in Kuwait;

* Natural seeps in US waters: 1,119,000 barrels every year from natural cracks in the seafloor.

Cold water and climate meant Alaska’s Prince William Sound recovery was slow; Campeche beaches and coastal waters largely rebounded much more rapidly. Mississippi River flows through the warm Delta region may help keep some oil from pushing too far into the estuaries and speed recovery of oyster, shrimp and fishing areas, as it did with spills during pre-1960 drilling. Prayers and crossed fingers again.

Should we stop drilling offshore? We can hardly afford to. We still need to drill, so that we can drive, fly, farm, heat our homes, operate factories and do everything else that requires reliable, affordable petroleum. Indeed, over 62% of all US energy still comes from oil and gas. And we certainly need the jobs and revenues that US offshore energy development generates.

We’ve already banned drilling in ANWR, off the Florida, Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in many other areas. We’ve made it nearly impossible to mine coal or uranium, or build new coal-fired power plants or nuclear reactors. We’ve largely forced companies to drill in deep Gulf waters, where risks and costs are far higher, and the ability to respond quickly and effectively to accidents is lower.

We’ve also forced companies to take drilling risks to foreign nations – and then increased the risks of tanker accidents that cause far greater spillage when they bring that oil to America. Meanwhile, Russia, China and Cuba are preparing to drill near the same Gulf and Caribbean waters that we’ve made off limits – employing their training, technologies, regulations and ecological philosophies.

Even with this blowout and its 1969 Santa Barbara predecessor, America’s offshore record is excellent. Since 1969, we have drilled over 1,224,00 wells in state waters and on the Outer Continental Shelf. There have been 13 losses of well control involving more than 50 barrels: five were less than 100 barrels apiece; one was a little over 1,000 barrels; two (both in 1970) involved 30,000 barrels or more. Only in Santa Barbara (so far) did significant amounts of oil reach shore and cause serious environmental damage.

Globally, tankers have spilled four times more oil than drilling and production operations, often in much bigger mishaps, often in fragile areas – and chronic discharges from cars and boats dwarf tanker spills by a factor of eight. (All spill data are from the MMS and National Research Council.)

What should we do next? Recognize that life, technology and civilization involve risks. Humans make mistakes. Equipment fails. Nature presents us with extreme, unprecedented, unexpected power and fury.

Learn the right lessons from this tragic, catastrophic, probably preventable accident. Avoid grandstanding and kneejerk reactions. Replace people’s lost income. Insist on responsible, adult thinking – and a thorough, expert, non-politicized investigation. Find solutions instead of assigning blame.

Why did the BOP and backups fail? What went wrong with the cement, plugs and pressure detection devices, supervisor and crew monitoring and reactions, to set off the catastrophic chain of events? How can we improve the technology and training, to make sure such a disaster never happens again? Did the regulators fail, too? How can we improve oil spill cleanup technologies and rapid response?

Ask what realistic alternatives we have. Not “Sim USA” and virtual energy. Real energy.

Can we afford to shut down our domestic oil and gas industry – economically, ecologically and ethically – and import more, as we export risks to other countries, and shift risks from drilling accidents to tanker accidents? Can we afford to replace dozens of offshore rigs with thousands of towering offshore wind turbines, creating obstacle courses for ships laden with bunker fuel or crude oil?

Drilling in deep waters far from shore is a complex, difficult, dangerous business. Let us remember and pray for the eleven who died, those who were burned and injured, and their families and loved ones. Let us also pray for all who daily risk life and limb, to bring us the energy that makes our lives, jobs and living standards possible – and for all whose lives have been affected by the spill.

[To learn more about offshore drilling and production and this accident, visit the NOAA emergency response page, Open Choke Deepwater Horizon spill page, and Drilling Ahead oil professionals network.]

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

================================

ADDENDUM: This is a radio transcript done by Jimmy Haigh, of a caller to the Mark Levin Radio Show, who was an eyewitness. Levin independently corroborated the identity of the caller (off-air) and thus this represents an eyewitness account.

Here is the URL of the radio interview:

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

================================

TRANSCRIPT:

ML: James, Dallas, Texas. WBAP – go right ahead.

James: I just wanted to clear up a few things with the Petroleum Engineer. Everything he said was correct, I was actually on the rig when it exploded, I was at work, we just…

ML: Slow down, hold on a moment, so, you were working on this rig, when it exploded?

James: Yes Sir.

ML: Okay, go ahead.

James: We had set the bottom cement plug for the inner casing string which was a production liner for the well and had set what’s called a seal assembly in the top of the well. At that point the BOP stack you’ve been talking about, the Blow Out Preventor, was tested. Ah, don’t know the results of that tes, whatever, it must have passed because at that point they elected to displace the riser, the marine riser, from the vessel to the sea floor they displaced all the mud out of the riser preparing to unlatch from the well two days later so they displace it with sea water. Ah, when they concluded the tests to the BOP stack and the inner liner they concluded everything was good..

ML: Okay, let me slow you down, let me slow you down. So they do all these tests to makesure that the infrastructure can handle what’s about to happen?

James: Correct. We’re testing the negative pressure and positive pressure of the well, the casing and the actual marine riser.

ML: Okay. I’m with you. Go ahead.

James: So after the conclusion of the test they simply opened the BOP stack back up.…

ML: And the test, as best as you know, was sufficient?

James: It should have been, yes Sir, they would have never opened it back up.

ML: Okay. Next step? Go ahead.

James: Next step they opened the annular, ah, the upper part of the BOP stack…

ML: Which has as its purpose? Why do you do that?

James: So that you can gain access back to the wellbore. You close the stack, that’s basically a humungous hydraulic valve that is closing off everything from below and above. It’s like a gate valve on the sea floor. That’s a very simplistic way of explaining a BOP, it’s a very complicated piece of equipment.

ML: Basically it’s a plug. Go ahead.

James: Correct. Basically Once they opened that plug to go ahead and start cementing the top of the well, the well bore, they cement the top and then we would pull off, another rig would slot over and do the rest of the completion work. When they opened the well is when the gas, the well kicked and we took a humungous gas bubble kick up through the wellbore. It literally pushed the seawater all the way to the crown of the rig which is about 240 feet in the air.

ML: Okay. So gas got into it and blew the top off. Now, don’t hang up. I want to continue with you because I want to ask you some questions for later OK? Including, including, has this sort of thing ever happened before? And why you think it may have happened. OK?

I’m back with “James”. That’s not his real name, Dallas WBAP. I’m not going to give the working title of what you did there either but I wanted to finish. So, the gentleman was right about the point that, obviously, some gas got into the – I’ll call it the funnel, OK?

James: Correct. And that’s not uncommon, Mark. Any time you’re drilling an oil well there’s a constant battle between what the mud weight, the drilling fluid that we use to maintain pressure on the wellbore itself, there’s a balance of the well pushing gas the one way and you’re pushing mud the other way. There’s a delicate balance has to be maintained at all times for keeping the gas from coming back in, in these what we call ‘kicks’, ah, we always get gas back in the mud, ah, but the goal of the whole situation is to try to control the kick and not allow the pressure differential between the vessel and the wellbore.

ML: But in this case obviously too much gas got in.

James: Correct. This well had not a bad history of producing lots of gas, ah, it was touch and go, you know, a few times, but it’s not terribly uncommon. You’re almost always going to get gas back from a well. We have systems to deal with the gas.

ML: So what may have happened here?

James: Well the volume, the sheer volume and pressure of gas that hit all at once was more than the safety, the controls we had in place could handle.

ML: And that’s not, I mean, is that like a mistake on somebody’s part? Or maybe it’s just Mother Nature every now and then kicks up or what?

James: Mother Nature every now and then kicks up and the pressures that we’re dealing with out there within the .., drilling deeper and deeper, you know, in deeper water, deeper overall volume, of the hole depth itself , you you’re dealing with 30 to 40 thousand pounds per square inch range. They’re serious pressures.

ML: By the way, we just verified – not to offend you – we just verified that you are who you are, which I’m sure that you already knew. I would like to hold you over to the next hour because I want to ask a few more questions about this as well as what exactly happened just after the explosion. Can you wait with us?

James: Sure. I don’t know how much of that I can share but I’ll do my best.

ML: All right, I don’t want to get you in trouble, so to the extent you can – fine, to the extent you can’t, we understand.

ML: 877388 381. We’re talking to a caller who, under an assumed name, who was on the rig when it blew up. We were talking about how it happened And now, James, I want to take you to the point when it happened. What exactly happened? … You were standing where?

James: Ah, well, obviously the gas blew the seawater out of the riser. Once it displaced all the seawater out the gas began to spill out on the deck up through the centre of the rig floor . The rig, you have to imagine a rectangle about 400 feet by 300 feet, with the derrick, the rig floor, set directly in the centre. Ah, as this gas is now heavier than air it starts to settle into different places, ah, from that point something ignited the gas which would have caused the first major explosion.

ML: Now what might ignite the gas?

James: Any number of things, Mark, ah, all rig floor equipment is what they consider intrinsically safe meaning it can not create a spark, that these type of accidents can not occur. However with as much gas that came out as fast as it did it would have spilled over the entire rig fairly rapidly within a minute of, I would think the entire rig would be enveloped in gas, a lot of this stuff, you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it, ah it’s just there., and it’s heavier than oxygen. As it settled in, ah, it could have made it to a space that wasn’t intrinsically safe. Something as simple as static electricity could have ignited the first explosion which set off of course a series of explosions.

ML: Right, so, so, so what happened? You’re standing where? You’re sitting somewhere? What happened?

James: Well, I was in a location that was a pretty good way from the initial blast. Ah, wasn’t affected by the blast, I was able to make it out and get up forward where the lifeboats, the PA system was still working, ah, there was an announcement overhead to, ah, that this was not a drill. Obviously we have fire drills every single week to prepare for emergencies like this, fire and abandonment drills, and over the intercom came the order to report to the lifeboats 1 and 2, that this was not a drill, that there is a fire, and, ah, we proceeded that way.

ML: So, the 11 men who died. Were they friends of yours?

James: Yes Sir, they were.

ML: Did they die instantly?

James: Ah, I would have to assume so, yes Sir. I would think they were directly inside the bomb when it went off.

ML: How did you get off there?

James: The bomb – the gas being the bomb.

ML: OK, so the bomb being the gas explosion.

James: Correct. Correct. They would have been in the belly of the beast.

ML: Let me ask, and we have to be careful of what we say, people will run wild with ideas. I just want to make sure.

James: Sure…

ML: Let me ask you this. Why would the government send in a SWOT team? What’s that all about?

James: Believe it or not, that’s… funny you should mention that, Transocean maintains a SWOT team, ah, the drilling company, that, their sole purpose, they’re experts in their field, the BOP, the Blow Out Preventer, ah, they call that sub-sea equipment, they have their own SWOT team that they send out to the rigs to service and maintain that equipment …

ML: I’m talking about a … What are interior SWOT teams? What does that mean?

James: The interior? From the government? Now, I don’t have any idea. That’s beyond me. And the other gentleman also mentioned the USGS that comes out and does the surveys, I’ve been on that particular rig, ah, for 3 years, offshore for 5 years, and I’ve seen the USGS one time. What we do have, on a very regular basis, is the MMS, which is the Minerals Management Service…

ML: They’re all under the interior department..

James: OK. Ah, as a matter of fact, we were commended, for our inspection record from the MMS, we actually received an award from them for the highest level of safety and environmental awareness.

ML: Well, I thought you were going to receive that award. Did they put it on hold?

James: No, we have actually received that award, we received it last year, we may have been ready to receive it again this year.

ML: Let me ask you this. You say lifeboats. So how did you get on this lifeboat? Where are these lifeboats?

James: Ah, there’s actually 4 lifeboats, 2 forward and 2 aft, ah, depending on where the emergency actually takes place.

ML: I mean, did you actually end up jumping in the water to get on to the lifeboat? Sometimes you have to do that?

James: Ah, I’ll just say that there were 5 to 7 individuals that jumped and the rest went down in lifeboats.

ML: All right. I won’t ask because you don’t want to identify yourself that clearly, good point. How fast…were rescue efforts. How fast did they reach you?

James: Ah, well it was, ah, it’s common to have a very large workboat standing by, bringing tools out, bringing groceries, bringing supplies, it’s a constant turnaround, so we actually had a very large vessel real close by, he was actually alongside with a hose attached taking mud off of our vessel on to his own, and then had to disconnect – in the emergency he disconnected and pulled out about a mile to standby for rescue efforts. So it was, it was fairly quick.

ML: How quick until the coastguard arrived?

James: Mark, it’s hard to say. Between 45 minutes to maybe an hour, when I recall seeing the first helicopter.

ML: Which was actually pretty fast because you are 130 miles offshore, right?

James: Correct. We are.. if you look at the nearest bit of land, which would be Grand Isle, Loiusiana, somewhere in that area, we were only about maybe 50 miles as the crow flies, from civilization, such as New Orleans, it would be 200 miles. A flight by helicopter was more than likely 80 to 100 miles away.

ML: You’re going to be beset by lawyers, with the government, ah, others looking for an opportunity to make money, it’s going to get very very ugly, and ah, officials are going with no background and experience, ah, climate change and so forth, to what extent is that gonna help out?

James: Yeah, that’s, to me, this seems all knee jerk, ah, the number one focus right now is to be containment, I like the idea of the boom they’re going to try to lower into the water to capture the leak, ah…

ML: How long might that take? I’ve been reading about this boom, it could take 30 days.

James: It very well could, you got to remember the challenging environment they’re in there, it’s 5000 feet deep, there’s a tangled wreck of a rig with all that marine riser still connected and twisted up into a big wad down there and its going to take some time to get all that stuff in place. The engineering has to be there, you obviously don’t want to rush into it, you want to move expediently but, ah, you’re risking the lives of those men that are going to go out there and try to attempt this.

ML: I was just going to say that. That’s very dangerous. Extremely dangerous.

James: Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s gonna be oil. There’s gonna be natural gas, all the same things that caused us to explode are still present, they’re there. The pressure has been cut off dramatically from the simple fact of the folding of the riser, it has, basically, took a pretty good guard hose and kinked it over several times.

ML: How old is this rig? How long has it been..

James: It was put in service in 2001. It’s a fairly new rig.

ML: And, ah, what is the sense of shutting down every rig in the Gulf of Mexico in response to this?

James: Absolutely no sense whatsoever. It was a… literally could very well be a once in a lifetime freak accident, or it could be negligence, that’s for other people to figure out but… From my position, it just seems like, every now and then, you can’t win against Mother Nature. It’s her fault that you’re not prepared for.

ML: But to shut down every rig, I mean, in response to this? I’m not sure why that would be ..

James: These BOP tests are literally mandated from the Mineral Management Service and they’re conducted like clockwork. I mean, if one of those tests ever failed they would immediately stop the operation, seal the well up up, pull the BOP stack back on the deck, which is 48 hours minimum, and make the necessary repairs or replacement parts and then go back down, reconnect, retest, and keep testing until it passes or keep repairing it until it passes.

ML: So this was , ah, let me, this must have been incredibly harrowing for you to experience something like this.

James: Ah, that’s putting it mildly. Very mildly.

ML: Anything else you want to tell me?

James: No I just. I got in the truck to make a short trip and, ah, I heard the gentleman say something about possible terrorism, I just wanted to put all that to bed now, ah, I understand your audience, you have a large audience, I appreciate your point of view, I try to listen to you as much as I can, it’s just,.. terrorism and all that needs to leave everyone’s minds, and let’s focus on the 11 men that are dead and the survivors, that’s what needs…, that’s where the focus for this country needs to be right now.

ML: All right my friend, well, look, we wish you all the best, and I tell you, it’s really God’s blessing that you survived.

James: Yes Sir, I completely agree.

ML: All right James, well thank you very much for calling. We appreciate it.

James: Thank you Mark.

ML: God bless.

Lessons from the Gulf blowout

Learning (the right lessons, hopefully) from the Gulf of Mexico disaster

Paul Driessen

Transocean’s semi-submersible drilling vessel Deepwater Horizon was finishing work on a wellbore that had found oil 18,000 feet beneath the seafloor, in mile-deep water fifty miles off the Louisiana coast. Supervisors in the control cabin overlooking the drilling operations area were directing routine procedures to cement, plug and seal the borehole, replace heavy drilling fluids with seawater and extract the drill stem and bit through the riser (outer containment pipe) that connected the vessel to the blowout preventer (BOP) on the seafloor.

Suddenly, a thump and hiss were followed by a towering eruption of seawater, drilling mud, cement, oil and natural gas. The BOP and backup systems had failed to work as designed, to control the massive amounts of unexpectedly high-pressure gas that were roaring up 23,000 feet of wellbore and riser.

Gas enveloped the area and ignited, engulfing the Horizon in a 500-foot high inferno that instantly killed eleven workers. Surviving crewmen abandoned ship in covered lifeboats or jumped 80 feet to the water.

The supply boat Tidewater Damon Bankston rushed to the scene and helped crewmen get their burned and injured colleagues aboard. Shore-based Coast Guard helicopters tore through the night sky to brave the flames and take critically injured men to hospitals.

Thirty-six hours later, the Deepwater Horizon capsized and sank, buckling the 21-inch diameter riser and breaking it off at the rig deck. Three leaks began spewing some 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of crude oil per day into the ocean. As the oil gathered on the surface and drifted toward shore, it threatened a major ecological disaster for estuaries, marine life and all who depend on them for their livelihoods.

Thankfully, after getting rough for a couple days, the seas calmed. Industry, Coast Guard, NOAA and Minerals Management Service (MMS) crews and volunteer from Louisiana to Alaska had some time to recalculate the spill’s trajectory, deploy oil skimmer boats and miles of containment booms, and burn some of the oil off the sea surface. They lowered ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) to cap the end of the riser and spray chemicals that break down and disperse the oil.

Aircraft sprayed more dispersants over floating oil, and technicians hurried to build and deploy heavy cofferdams specially designed to sit atop the broken riser and BOP stack, collect the leaking oil and pipe it up to tanker barges. Drill ships are heading to the scene, to drill relief wells, intersect the original hole, cement it shut and permanently stop the leak. ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips and many other companies have offered BP, Transocean and Halliburton assistance on all these fronts.

How bad will the disaster be? Much depends on how long the calm weather lasts, how quickly the cofferdams can be installed, and how successful the entire effort is. There is some cause for optimism – and much need for prayer, crossed fingers and hard work.

But it will take weeks to years of uncontrolled leakage, before this spill comes close to previous highs, such as the:

* Santa Barbara Channel oil platform blowout (1969): 90,000 barrels off the California coast;

* Mega Borg tanker (1990): 121,400 barrels in the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston, TX;

* Exxon Valdez tanker (1989): 250,000 barrels along 1,300 miles of untouched Alaska shoreline;

* Ixtoc 1 oil platform blowout (1979): 3,500,000 barrels in Mexico’s Campeche Bay;

* Saddam Hussein oil field sabotage (1991): 857,000,000 barrels in Kuwait;

* Natural seeps in US waters: 1,119,000 barrels every year from natural cracks in the seafloor.

Cold water and climate meant Alaska’s Prince William Sound recovery was slow; Campeche beaches and coastal waters largely rebounded much more rapidly. Mississippi River flows through the warm Delta region may help keep some oil from pushing too far into the estuaries and speed recovery of oyster, shrimp and fishing areas, as it did with spills during pre-1960 drilling. Prayers and crossed fingers again.

Should we stop drilling offshore? We can hardly afford to. We still need to drill, so that we can drive, fly, farm, heat our homes, operate factories and do everything else that requires reliable, affordable petroleum. Indeed, over 62% of all US energy still comes from oil and gas. And we certainly need the jobs and revenues that US offshore energy development generates.

We’ve already banned drilling in ANWR, off the Florida, Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in many other areas. We’ve made it nearly impossible to mine coal or uranium, or build new coal-fired power plants or nuclear reactors. We’ve largely forced companies to drill in deep Gulf waters, where risks and costs are far higher, and the ability to respond quickly and effectively to accidents is lower.

We’ve also forced companies to take drilling risks to foreign nations – and then increased the risks of tanker accidents that cause far greater spillage when they bring that oil to America. Meanwhile, Russia, China and Cuba are preparing to drill near the same Gulf and Caribbean waters that we’ve made off limits – employing their training, technologies, regulations and ecological philosophies.

Even with this blowout and its 1969 Santa Barbara predecessor, America’s offshore record is excellent. Since 1969, we have drilled over 50,000 wells in state waters and on the Outer Continental Shelf. There have been 13 losses of well control involving more than 50 barrels: five were less than 100 barrels apiece; one was a little over 1,000 barrels; two (both in 1970) involved 30,000 barrels or more. Only in Santa Barbara (so far) did significant amounts of oil reach shore and cause serious environmental damage.

Globally, tankers have spilled four times more oil than drilling and production operations, often in much bigger mishaps, often in fragile areas – and chronic discharges from cars and boats dwarf tanker spills by a factor of eight. (All spill data are from the MMS and National Research Council.)

What should we do next? Recognize that life, technology and civilization involve risks. Humans make mistakes. Equipment fails. Nature presents us with extreme, unprecedented, unexpected power and fury.

Learn the right lessons from this tragic, catastrophic, probably preventable accident. Avoid grandstanding and kneejerk reactions. Replace people’s lost income. Insist on responsible, adult thinking – and a thorough, expert, non-politicized investigation. Find solutions instead of assigning blame.

Why did the BOP and backups fail? What went wrong with the cement, plugs and pressure detection devices, supervisor and crew monitoring and reactions, to set off the catastrophic chain of events? How can we improve the technology and training, to make sure such a disaster never happens again? Did the regulators fail, too? How can we improve oil spill cleanup technologies and rapid response?

Ask what realistic alternatives we have. Not “Sim USA” and virtual energy. Real energy.

Can we afford to shut down our domestic oil and gas industry – economically, ecologically and ethically – and import more, as we export risks to other countries, and shift risks from drilling accidents to tanker accidents? Can we afford to replace dozens of offshore rigs with thousands of towering offshore wind turbines, creating obstacle courses for ships laden with bunker fuel or crude oil?

Drilling in deep waters far from shore is a complex, difficult, dangerous business. Let us remember and pray for the eleven who died, those who were burned and injured, and their families and loved ones. Let us also pray for all who daily risk life and limb, to bring us the energy that makes our lives, jobs and living standards possible – and for all whose lives have been affected by the spill.

[To learn more about offshore drilling and production and this accident, visit the NOAA emergency response page, Open Choke Deepwater Horizon spill page, and Drilling Ahead oil professionals network.]

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

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Al Gore's Holy Hologram

It all proved that big government regulation forces companies and individuals to take greater risks in unknown territories instead of working safely to high standards in known environments The muppets and useful idiots of course will demonise the oil companies.

John Phillips

Usually accidents like this result from multiple system, human, and material failures. An independent root cause analysis if done correctly can reveal meaningful corrective actions to prevent future similar accidents. People with “agendas” should not be a part of the investigation.

Layne Blanchard

How much wildlife perishes in a large forest fire? A volcanic eruption? In every Hurricane which makes landfall? How many turtles and fish of every kind find themselves high and dry inland after a Hurricane or Tsunami? Hurricanes and forest fires occur nearly every year.
The fixation on environmental “damage” from this natural substance only applies when man had a hand in the mishap. It seems to me that BP will pay dearly enough in the loss of their rig, employees, and legitimate monetary liability to southern states for tourism and fishing. But you can be sure there will be a call for a towering financial penalty for the environment. Who is to receive this money? Birds? And with BP already choking on the costs, what is the purpose? A deterrent? Or is it simply an expression of existing hatred?

Les Johnson

Paul Driesen: Good article.
Can I get references, specifically for the following?
Even with this blowout and its 1969 Santa Barbara predecessor, America’s offshore record is excellent. Since 1969, we have drilled over 50,000 wells in state waters and on the Outer Continental Shelf. There have been 13 losses of well control involving more than 50 barrels: five were less than 100 barrels apiece; one was a little over 1,000 barrels; two (both in 1970) involved 30,000 barrels or more. Only in Santa Barbara (so far) did significant amounts of oil reach shore and cause serious environmental damage
Thanks,

Mr. Driesen’s article and the eyewitness account pretty much coincides with what I’ve heard from our drilling engineer. There might have been a very serious mistake made when they were doing a positive and then a negative test before displacing the riser.
On another note. The first attempt with the containment dome didn’t work Methane hydrates plugged the opening at the top. They will have to set up methanol injection. Which might not be possible until the larger domes are ready.
BP is also preparing an effort to pump junk (cement, rubber and even pecan shells have been used for such purposes in the past) into the BOP to plug it up.

@Les Johnson says:
May 9, 2010 at 11:06 am
The MMS vouched for some of this; but the article has been removed from their website since last week. The link no longer works and a quoted Google search won’t return any mms.gov hits.
I know the article was there last week; but it’s gone now. It had been there for years.

brad

This post is LOL funny and reads like a Al gore post on Arctic sea ice – all spin and the few facts presented are spun to support the supposition that all is well.
All is not well until this thing gets capped – and the 5K barrel claim is in great dispute. How about a post on all BP’s recent problems? Most problems, from Alaska’s north slope to the refinery explosion to this are all BP disasters.

David Watt

The real problem it appears is that extracting oil from such great depths is a “new frontier” and the technology for doing it is not yet mature.
The unexpected problem at those depths appears to be the unexpected presence of significant quantities of methane hydrate. This is in the form of solid crystals which will not flow and are unstable and explosive if accidentally heated or de-pressurised.
It is not yet clear where this material in such quantity came from and there is almost no experience on earth on how to deal with it safely in these conditions. It is important that the oil industry learns how to do this quickly. At this stage we can only pray that with so many top class scientists and engineers on tap solutions are found and that the learning process does not turn out to be prohibitively expensive

rbateman

So where was this ‘interview’ in the MSM?
First I have read it.
I get more news here that in a lot of places.
One of these days, Anthony, one of these days. Pulitzer.

DAV

Wow. The transcript was very interesting. I never really thought about the dangers of a job like that. In light of that, 50,000 wells with only 13 mishaps is damn good IMO. Unfortunately, in the current political atmosphere, this may end up to be off-shore’s death knell.

@David Watt says:
May 9, 2010 at 11:49 am
We have plenty of experience dealing with methane hydrates. And there wasn’t a “presence of significant quantities of methane hydrate;” the hydrates formed when gas associated with the oil came into contact with very cold water under high pressure. Deepwater subsea oil completions are routinely equipped with methanol injection systems to prevent the formation of methane hydrates.
They knew that the combination of pressure and low temp. at this water depth would form hydrates. They just didn’t think it would form so much that it plugged up the system. The dome can only work if the oil can be flowed to a tanker at the surface.

@DAV says:
May 9, 2010 at 11:55 am
Only if the nitwits in Washington are ready to shut down 20% of our domestic oil and 25% of our domestic natural gas production… And a very significant source of Federal revenue from mineral lease royalties.

Nolo Contendere

Thanks for posting this article. I know I can depend on this site for intelligent analysis from the authors of the articles and the commenters.

Xi Chin

There is no scientific evidence that Oil Spills damage the environment or wildlife. Such fanciful ideas are more alarmist nonsense from the greenies. Now that thet have lost the AGW debate, they are shifting to Oil Spills. In fact, oil spills have a positive impact on wildlife diversity by aiding population shifts, reinvigourating the gene pool.

There have been many articles written on the BP rig explosion, and I usually read them without comment. But one in particular caused me to write:
http://sowellslawblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/bp-drilling-rig-disaster.html
@brad, you might be interested in the list of issues at Chemical Safety Board, from which it will be apparent that BP is not alone in having oil-related problems. Almost every company does, sooner or later.
http://www.csb.gov/

DirkH

“brad says:
May 9, 2010 at 11:36 am
This post is LOL funny and reads like a Al gore post on Arctic sea ice – all spin and the few facts presented are spun to support the supposition that all is well.”
Let us know. What is really happening, Brad?

RayB

Here is a crackpot idea..
How about a heat exchanger in the box? Weld in big pipes around the inner circumference and pump (warm) surface water through it at a regulated flow to control chamber temps and break down the crystals at a controlled rate. An insulating jacket around the chamber and a regulated heat exchanger would give some control of the environment inside.
It is a shame that we have to go so far out into the ocean when we have so much oil here on land in the USA. On land the spill would have been quickly addressed. A mile deep hole a day from shore brings a lot of tough logistics into it. Chalk another big win up for EnvironmentInc. Their way is much better.

Richard W

There is much dispute regarding the flow quantity from this blowout. Since there is, to my knowledge, no way to actually measure the quantity, it seems to me that all we are getting the statements of BP. All info released by BP, Transocean and Halliburton is being previewed and filtered by lawyers working on these parties and their insurers behalf. These parties are managing their reports with a view to minimize their liability.
With that in mind, I have a big question. There are obviously much available video from the ROV’s that have been to the well site. Why has none of the video footage been released to the public?
You can be sure if the news was good the video would be shown.

Irony?
http://news.mobile.msn.com/en-us/articles.aspx?afid=1&aid=37033430
Four executives from BP were aboard
the platform at the time–
handing out gold safety achievement
award plaques for the safety record of the rig workers
(I believe the spill was unrelated to the workers’
efforts–
The spill was predestined by the
crappy design and engineering and
crappy predetermined timing and sequencing
of the hardware and cementing operations
at and around and under the well-head
–but that is just my opinion)–
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/may2010/orig-m01.shtml
http://uruknet.de/?colonna=m&p=65570
http://www.uruknet.de/?p=m65808
http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/heather/bp-deepwater-horizon-well-permitted-18000
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704423504575212031417936798.html
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/03/24
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/04/AR2010050404118.html?hpid=topnews
http://www.naturalnews.com/028693_Gulf_of_Mexico_Halliburton.html
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2010/04/gulf-oil-spill-the-halliburton-connection.html
http://uruknet.de/?colonna=m&p=65596
http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/bp-fought-safety-measures-deepwater-oil-rigs/story?id=10521078
http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/deadzone/
http://www.indiancoastguard.nic.in/indiancoastguard/NOSDCP/NOSDCP%202006/Bio_remed_Oil_spills.pdf
If you have technical papers or
even articles(pre-spill) to
refute this material,
please post your links,
since without citations, claims of
technical knowledge and experience
are irrelevant opinions–
e.g.
climate scientists
differ widely in their
views of climate–
but some climate scientists
refuse to allow access to their
“evidence” to back their claims.
If the evidence cannot be presented,
then the claim is immaterial.
It is the evidence that counts–
not your experience or credentials.
At this moment, some “scientists”
are loudly “experiencing” “rotten ice”.

Pat Moffitt

Missing from the list of spills is the 4.2 million barrels released by U-boat torpedos in 1942 along the US mid Atlantic coast. There were also tanker sinking bu U baoats in the Gulf.

mamapajamas

Excellent article. I was one of the people who heard “James” talking to Mark Levin that night, and I was fascinated by what he was saying. It’s nice to see it in a text form. It looks to me as if he completely called the cause of the accident, with the possible exception of HOW the gas got into the pipe, which he couldn’t know. What he said that night is pretty much what is being said now.
And I will openly admit… I’m one of the people who was looking under every bed for an environmental terrorist, a la Crichton’s State of Fear.

etudiant

The transcript indicates that the risk of this kind of blowout is significant and that it really depends on the skill of the drilling crew to prevent it. Given that, the reliance on a single line of defense, one BOP (blow out preventer), seems to epitomize cheeseparing management, especially as this device is known to be much less than perfectly reliable.
That the crew only learned that there was a problem when the rig was engulfed in a gas bubble is stunning, as presumably water and drilling fluid was gushing out of the pipe.
A reverse flow indicator surely should be available, to give some warning that trouble is coming.
Lastly, it remains incomprehensible to me that the rig fire was sprayed with firehoses long after it was clear that this was useless. The only result was to flood, capsize and sink the rig, which produced the mess we now have where we are trying to get the oil which was burning happily before to burn again.

Fred from Canuckistan
MC

Anthony,
Not even Fox News can nail the facts down on this case without losing everyone on a bunch of nonsense unrealted to the matter. Count yourself as one of the few who provide a conduit of good solid information to the public. I am proud of you and the honest work you do to shine light on places where otherwise it may never have been shown.

Joe

E-mail just came in to me;
DATE: May 09, 2010 16:48:51 CST
Salazar Dispatches NPS and FWS Directors to Gulf Coast Command Centers to Support Fight to Protect Coastal Communities and Wildlife
* Report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information:
(866)-448-5816
* Submit alternative response technology, services or products:
(281) 366-5511
* Submit your vessel as a vessel of opportunity skimming system:
(281) 366-5511
* Submit a claim for damages:
(800) 440-0858
* Report oiled wildlife:
(866) 557-1401
Deepwater Horizon Incident
Joint Information Center
Phone: (985) 902-5231
(985) 902-5240
WASHINGTON, DC – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis and Acting Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Rowan Gould have been dispatched to command centers along the Gulf Coast to help lead efforts to protect coastal communities and natural resources from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Jarvis, who is stationed in the Mobile, Alabama Incident Command Center, and Gould, who is stationed in the Houma, Louisiana Incident Command Center, are among the more than 380 DOI personnel who have been deployed as part of the oil spill response. Additional DOI personnel already stationed in the region are among the more than 10,000 personnel currently responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife. Jarvis and Gould will work with federal and state natural resource managers to help protect state and federal natural resources.
“We are continuing to put all hands on deck to support the coordinated response to this spill and to do everything we can to help BP stop its leaks and clean up its spill,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “The National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, under the leadership of Jon Jarvis and Rowan Gould, are on the front lines as we fight to protect the Gulf Coast from the dangers of the oil spill. Their leadership on the ground will ensure that we remain coordinated, prepared, and effective in protecting natural resources.”
On Friday, Salazar dispatched Dr. Marcia McNutt, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, to the BP Command Center in Houston to help coordinate the joint efforts of federal scientists who are working with BP engineers to address several technological challenges and approaches to securing the damaged well head, capturing the leak and controlling the spill.
Acting Director Gould joins Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Jane Lyder at the Houma Incident Command Center. Secretary Salazar has also dispatched DOI Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Lori Faeth to support joint response efforts in the Unified Command Center in Robert, Louisiana.
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) continues to work with BP to explore all options that could stop or mitigate oil leaks from the damaged well. Pursuant to MMS’s regulatory authority, all plans are being reviewed and approved by MMS before implementation. MMS has completed its inspections of all 30 deepwater drilling rigs and is now inspecting all deepwater production platforms.
Yesterday, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland, who is coordinating DOI’s onshore response efforts, and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis surveyed the impact of the oil spill on natural resources on the Gulf Coast, which is one of the most ecologically complex regions in the country and site of a number of National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks protected by Interior on behalf of the American people.
The National Park Service, which manages Gulf Islands National Seashore, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Everglades National Park, Padre Island National Seashore, and other parks along the Gulf Coast, has activated two incident management teams in the Gulf. Many other park service employees across the country are supporting the response with technical information and assistance.
The Fish and Wildlife Service manages 24 national wildlife refuges that could potentially be affected by the spill, including Breton National Wildlife Refuge, where oil has been confirmed on the Chandeleur Islands. Twenty wildlife teams have been deployed out of the Houma (LA.) Command Center for wildlife recovery and related activities, and the Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team (SCAT) is continuing overflights and shoreline surveys on the Chandeleur Islands. Significant focus will be placed on Mississippi coast’s barrier islands over the next 48 hours out of the Mobile Command Center.
For information about the response effort, visit http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com

R. de Haan

Very good article, thank you Paul Driessen!

Mike McMillan

brad says:
This post is LOL funny . . .

Obviously a full paragraph typo.
I was listening to brother Mark when that lucky-to-be-alive gentleman called in. Amazing that Obama’s first response was to send a team of lawyers from the Justice Department. Well, not really amazing. Not even surprising, given his ideology and level of experience.
November can’t come soon enough.

Curiousgeorge

I wonder what the response will be and what the Environmental lobby will do when (not IF ) one of the Chinese, Venezuelan, Russian, etc. wells blows? Probably blame it on the USA, specifically Republicans no doubt.

rbateman says, May 9, 2010 at 11:55 am:
So where was this ‘interview’ in the MSM? …

Hence the dinosaur media ‘deathwatch’ … they are AWOL.
BTW, thanks for the transcription, Jimmy.
.
.

Jimmy Haigh

Fred from Canuckistan says:
May 9, 2010 at 2:24 pm
Thanks for that link Fred.

Jeff L

I hope all in the government involved in dealing with the after math of this disaster are as level headed as the author of this article. We seem to be in very short supply of common sense in government these days. Punative measures, although they may make for good politics, very likely will ultimately have a net negative effect. We dont need that. The general population needs to be educated that everything in life has risk, whether they recognize it or not. Any amount of legislation will not change that fact. For everything we do, there is a price to be paid. There is no free lunch. And although this accident is tragic on many levels, the safety record of offshore drilling -especially considering the benefit it provides to our country – is exemplary.

Enneagram

David Middleton: The “solution by the absurd” says, if something is filled up like this dome with hydrates then fill it before, on purpose, say with pumpable solid rubber balls?

DirkH

Doug Suttles, COO, of BP in a press conference talks about the current problems with the hydrates. Video + text:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8670895.stm

1DandyTroll

@Richard W
‘There is much dispute regarding the flow quantity from this blowout. Since there is, to my knowledge, no way to actually measure the quantity, it seems to me that all we are getting the statements of BP.’
Apparently it is not much to it, just basic math. Knowing things like the size of the hole and how much comes out of it at a certain pressure then just translating that amount into what it would be at surface level pressure. But I’m sure the green muppets who see doom and gloom at every catastrophic event surely could squeeze out more from the same hole with all the pressure that they’re under. :p

INGSOC

I second the thanks for that link Fred.

rbateman

BP is liable for all costs under the Oil Pollution Law in the US, according to what I’m watching on a program. The law was passed after the Exxon Valdez spill. It matters not what information they release as to how much oil is leaking, they will pay anyway.

DirkH

Slightly OT.
Even NASA sometimes confuses barrels and gallons, it seems. I was looking for satellite images of the oil spill but only found this:
http://rst.gsfc.nasa.gov/Sect16/Sect16_10a.html
look for:
“As an example of the environmental utility of Envisat, we look again at the oil spill in the eastern Atlantic of Galicia in northwest Spain, which occurred in November of 2002 when the tanker Prestige sank with most of its cargo of 25 million barrels of oil. About 1.5 million barrels did escape, some reaching coastal beaches, as seen here in this ASAR image.”
I wouldn’t trust people who confuse barrels and gallons with detecting a temperature increase of 0.6 deg C in a century…

Doug Badgero

A fellow at work linked to the below article on the company intranet blog. It talks about some Dutch skimming vessels that are standing by waiting to help us if we will let them. They skim the oil and return the water to the sea. Apparently the EPA doesn’t allow it since the water returned does contain some residual oil. Does anyone know if they have been allowed to help yet?
http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/dutch-oil-spill-response-team-standby-us-oil-disaster

DirkH

Some Envisat images of the Oil Spill, + text:
http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEM4ABKPO8G_index_0.html

DocMartyn

on the dangers of methane hydrate and cementing a well in deep water.
http://www.aade.org/houston/study/Fluids/11182009/F%20Tahmourpour%20Deepwater%20Cementing.pdf

Dave Worley

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has shut down commercial and recretional fishing for a large coastal area effective today.
http://emergency.louisiana.gov/Releases/05092010-fish.html

Mike G

Many have said this will be drillings death nell. I beg to differ. I am not willing to give up my mobility and my lifestyle. I am not alone. Those in power can toy with their schemes all they want. Their schemes brought down the world economy and they’ve held on to their power by borrowing to placate us while they work to implement their transformational change. They’re running out of money to borrow, though. Things are about to change for them.

Mike G

rbateman says:
May 9, 2010 at 4:48 pm
BP is liable for all costs under the Oil Pollution Law in the US, according to what I’m watching on a program. The law was passed after the Exxon Valdez spill. It matters not what information they release as to how much oil is leaking, they will pay anyway.
Correction. We (all of us) will pay, just as we collectively pay for all other corporate liability and for all the big law firm’s skyscrapers.

Rob Spooner

This article shares a distinction with the New York Times, in exaggerating the Kuwait oil spill by two orders of magnitude. I also note that the natural seepage, which we would be fortunate to estimate to one significant digit, has been determined to four. 1,119,000 barrels per year! Pretty accurate for an essentially unknowable fact.
I’m a little less impressed with the facts of this article than most of the commentators so far.

Ralph Ralph

Obama’s Interior Dept, under Salazar, exempted BP’s project from a required environmental impact study in April of 2009. If the study had been done, as required, the project would not have been approved.
Last Wednesday, on Keith Olbermann, environmentalists called for Int Dept Secy Salazar to step down:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036677/vp/36976376# 36976376

CRS, Dr.P.H.

Thanks for the post and links, Paul! Good information, and I think we (or most of us) agree with your sentiments on drilling and energy.
This is the link to the official government response site, under unified command (which follows the National Incident Management System):
http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/site/2931/
They are doing a good job of disseminating information and coordinating response, it is a site well worth visiting.

Dutch oil skimming ships are standing by to assist. But the EPA will not allow them to suck up the oil, because the excess water that is returned to the ocean has a small amount of oil still in it.

Pofarmer

How about a post on all BP’s recent problems? Most problems, from Alaska’s north slope to the refinery explosion to this are all BP disasters.
Except, this wasn’t BP’s rig, it was a rig contracted to BP.
“Given that, the reliance on a single line of defense, one BOP (blow out preventer)
My understanding is that there are 3 BOP’s in a stack. The last one is designed to cut and crimp the pipe shut. The fact that they cannot, indicates that there is an obstruction in the pipe. If this was a production well, it would have additional BOP’s subsurface.

Ralph Ralph

What is your lifestyle, Mike G?
Clearly, it involves extirpation of all other species on this planet.
Is that the lifestyle you value?
I’d prefer a planet where my children and grandchildren will be able to
witness the myriad species living on this planet, and be good stewards of the planet and all its life.