Deepwater Horizon – Top Kill Update

Or to be more accurate – no update.

“Operations continue,” BP spokesman Jon Pack told UpstreamOnline.  “There are no further updates. It is difficult to say when there will be…it could take up to two days.”

It does not appear the drilling mud has eroded the riser or increased the flow rate so far, but in a worst-case scenario flow could increase 15%…

The Transocean semi-submersible rig Development Driller III… was continuing down hole at 11,000 feet below the drilling floor Wednesday on the first of two relief wells.  Suttles said on Friday that the rig was “slightly ahead of schedule.” 

Transocean semi-sub Development Driller II is drilling… at 8650 feet…  Both rigs spud their wells about 3000 feet from the original Macondo bore.  They will drill vertically to about 10,000 feet before directionally drilling to intercept Macondo at roughly 18,000 feet…

Once either well intercepts the Macondo bore, BP can pump cement and plug the producing zone.  Suttles said the company has no plans to ever produce from the Macondo well because it has been damaged beyond repair.

The Oil Drum has details about the Top Kill attempt complete with pictures and animations.  Read it to get a feel for the complexity of the situation and to see the tools and processes used in the procedure.

Our friends at ALFIN also make some good observations:

The range of 12,000 to 19,000 bpd is higher than the earlier USCG / NOAA estimate of 5,000 barrels per day, but is far lower than the fantastical estimates by academics from Purdue, UCB, and other universities who estimated flow rates to 100,000 barrels per day and higher. The higher spill rate would put the Deepwater Horizon spill above the Exxon Valdez in total volume spilled — although that is not taking evaporation into account.

Journalists and Obama — who are looking for “an unprecedented disaster — want to compare the spill to the Exxon Valdez in order to prove that the apocalypse has come. But the Deepwater Horizon spill is not comparable to the Exxon Valdez spill for many reasons: a deep undersea leak far offshore vs. a surface container spill close to shore; a lighter crude with high proportions of gas vs. a heavier crude; the warm fertile waters of the Gulf of Mexico vs. the frigid waters of Prince William Sound; the active Gulf Loop Current into open seas vs. the relatively closed waters of the Sound . . . and so on.

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Obama fired (or she resigned)  Minerals and Management Service boss Elizabeth Birnbaum.  Birnbaum was a Congressional lawyer, Clinton functionary, and environmental activist before her appointment to MMS in July 2009.  Praise Obama for firing her, but he just fixed his prior error in her appointment (thank goodness it wasn’t a lifetime appointment – see Sotomayor or soon Kagan).

Our Congressman Parker Griffith (who is originally from Louisiana) sent the following email:

This morning, Elizabeth Birnbaum, the director of the Minerals Management Service agency that oversees drilling operations, was fired. She was supposed to testify as a witness this afternoon in a Energy and Commerce Committee hearing about “Combating the BP Oil Spill”. Parker will be questioning witnesses at this hearing and will propose the question to the witnesses that if the Administration has done everything correctly – as it says it has – then why are heads rolling on their end?

To watch the full committee hearing, please visit this link – http://energycommerce.house.gov/ (click the box on the right side of the page titled “Live Webcasts”)

Note – I bolded the good part.

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BP is investigating the cause of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion:

In a statement, BP said: “The investigation team’s work thus far shows that this accident was brought about by the failure of a number of processes, systems and equipment.

“There were multiple control mechanisms – procedures and equipment – in place that should have prevented this accident or reduced the impact of the spill.”

The company also said there is much the inquiry still needs to do – as well as carrying out further interviews, full forensic examinations of the blowout preventer (BOP), wellhead, and the rig itself – all of which are still currently on the sea bed – need to be done.

BP said: “The investigation is focused on the following seven mechanisms.

1. The cement that seals the reservoir from the well;
2. The casing system, which seals the well bore;
3. The pressure tests to confirm the well is sealed;
4. The execution of procedures to detect and control hydrocarbons in the well, including the use of the BOP;
5. The BOP emergency disconnect system, which can be activated by pushing a button at multiple locations on the rig;
6. The automatic closure of the BOP after its connection is lost with the rig; and
7. Features in the BOP to allow remotely operated vehicles to close the BOP and thereby seal the well at the seabed after a blow out.”

Chief executive Tony Hayward said: “I understand people want a simple answer about why this happened and who is to blame.

“The honest truth is that this is a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures.

So much in life is “unprecented” nowadays…  Or could it be that the term is overused?

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Here’s a good editorial from Upstream Online Editor Erik Means:

Could there be any worse remedy to the precarious situation at Macondo than having it taken over by government?

Truth be told, Salazar and his boss President Barack Obama are under no illusion that their administration holds expansive knowledge of oilfield operations and reservoir management. But they are struggling to appear in public to be doing something assertive about a horrible spill that in reality is entirely out of their control.

On a scale of one to 10, the Macondo debacle is a 12 for BP. The stained shoreline in Gulf states is an equally huge stain on the reputation of the UK supermajor. The 11 lost lives will haunt the company for years to come.

If anyone seriously thinks that BP is not doing everything in its power to cap that rogue well and clean up the spill, then their vision has been clouded by tears of rage.

This is not to say that BP did not mess up badly in the events that led to the blow-out and blast that triggered the catastrophe. Evidence suggests increasingly that it did.

But in the given circumstances, I would have a hard time pointing to a company other than BP that I would rather have in charge of regaining control of the well. ExxonMobil, perhaps, but one would hope that those two supermajors – now respectively responsible for the two worst spills in US history – have had an open line of communication on how to deal with the out-of-control well.

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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) is out in front on the oil spill (in what is an unfortunate but instructive test of his leadership).  From the DHIJIC:

The National Incident Commander for the BP oil spill, Admiral Thad Allen, today approved the implementation of a section of Louisiana’s barrier island project proposal that could help stop oil from coming ashore and where work could be completed the fastest—as an integrated part of the federal response to the BP oil spill.

This step will save Louisiana the cost of construction for this section by integrating it with the federal government’s ongoing oil spill response—thus paving the road for payment by BP, as a responsible party, or the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

There’s an old adage that it’s easier to get forgiveness than approval.  Governor Jindal was moving ahead with the constructi0n of ‘barrier islands’ without Army Corps of Engineers approval, so they went ahead and gave their ‘approval’:

The Army Corps of Engineers has granted partial approval for Louisiana’s barrier island project proposal, covering approximately half of the state’s original request and including six sections.

Under this permit, but without coordination with Admiral Allen and the Unified Command, Louisiana is authorized to construct the barrier islands at its own expense, so long as construction meets the terms and conditions established by the Army Corps of Engineers and any other required permits are obtained. If Louisiana moves forward, they will need to address all potential costs and environmental impacts.

Barrier islands get moved around alot and wash away (look at Dauphin Island – did you know that it used to be the biggest French colonial port in the US until a hurricane filled in the harbor).   This action is a risk for Jindal but he is well on the way to proving himself capable of handling a crisis (just in time for the 2012 Presidential election).  Compare that to Obama who uses a crisis to advance his political agenda.