Oil Spill Insights from a Retired Manager of an Offshore Underwater Service Company

This is a guest post from Oil Drum commenter shelburn, who is a retired manager for an offshore underwater service company.

I have been reading the various reports from the media for the last few days and am distressed by the amount of misinformation that is being provided to the public. In response, I have put together some rough calculations and have tried to develop analogies that are understandable to laymen regarding what has happened and what is/can be done.

I have some relevant background, as I was in the offshore industry, primarily in the underwater service side for many years, so I am familiar with diving and ROV operations. I have also been involved in designing and building an oil capture and recovery dome (actually a pyramid) in much shallower water. I also was involved in the Exxon Valdez cleanup and environmental surveys, several years after that incident, among other things.

I’m not a downhole expert, so I’ll leave that side to Rockman and others with the necessary training and experience.

The Leaks:

There is every indication that the Blowout Preventer (BOP) was activated and at least partially worked. There is a good probability that the “leak” is inside the BOP. As the oil leaks through the BOP, it then finds its way through the damaged riser and drill pipe, where it will exit from any open end or damaged area.

Therefore trying to repair the leaks in the riser does not decrease the flow, but it can reduce the number of places where oil must be captured--which is why they capped the end of the leaking drill pipe. If a company tried to stop all the leaks coming from the riser, it would probably be like trying to repair a rotten garden hose. Every time the company stopped one leak, another one would appear. The task is to try to reduce the leaks to one, or to a couple in the same area, so the containment dome can be put over them and the oil recovered while waiting for the relief wells to "kill" the well.

Every deepwater work class Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) carries sector scan sonar. Sonar can pick up oil leaks that the naked eye cannot see. The picture of oil bubbles painted on a sonar screen looks like fireworks going off.

There was an ROV survey of the BOP and riser within hours after the rig sank. At that time, there was no indication of any oil leakage from the BOP, and everyone breathed an extremely large, and extremely premature, sigh of relief.

Estimates made about leakage are primarily done from aerial surveys and satellite photos These are notoriously inaccurate, as is clearly stated in the USCG manual on reporting oil spills. The gravity and thickness of the oil, temperature, weather, currents, time, weathering of the oil and other factors all have a major impact on the size of a slick from a given amount of oil.

For example, if you are on a lake in very still water and pour a gallon--not a barrel, a gallon--of gasoline over the side, in a matter of minutes you can have a slick covering a square mile. If you want to try this, pick a cool day as on a warm day the gasoline will evaporate before the slick finishes forming. Also, the Coast Guard would be most unhappy if it knew you were attempting this experiment.

If you do the same with heavy crude similar to what was involved in the Exxon Valdez spill, it will probably take a few hundred barrels to cover that same square mile. Over a long enough time period, though, the type of oil involved in the Exxon Valdez spill will end up covering an area many times larger, and will take months to dissipate in the absence of heavy weather. The sweet crude involved in this spill is somewhere in between.

It was sometime during the night after the sinking that oil leaks started appearing from buckles and holes in the riser. This was stated to be about 1,000 barrels per day. I would read that to mean the leak was between 250 and 3,000 barrels per day (bpd). And a 5,000 bpd leak is probably between 2,000 and 10,000 bpd. Until there is some way to measure the flow--like running it through a pipeline or into a tank--it is impossible to have any accurate measurement of the leakage.

Factoid: If you assume that there is over 5,000 psi of downhole pressure at the BOP--and everything I have heard indicates it is probably substantially higher than that--then a 1/4 inch diameter hole is large enough to “leak” 5,000 barrels a day. That “leak” would probably cut off your arm if you passed it in front of it.

There is almost certainly sand in the oil. As that sand passes the leaking portion of the BOP, it acts as an extremely high pressure sand blaster, eroding the area around the leak and enlarging the hole. So there is a perfectly rational explanation why the leak would escalate from 1,000 bpd to 5,000 bpd to whatever it is now.

Nobody was lying about the volume or covering up. The leak was, and is, getting worse.

How much is 1,000 bpd? It works out to 30 gallons per minute, about the output from 3 garden hoses running wide open, or about enough to fill a smallish backyard swimming pool in 24 hours.


I’m not an oil spill expert, so I won’t address the clean up much except to mention the effect weather has on it.

For actually recovering the oil, calm weather is the best. It only takes about 3 or 4 foot waves to greatly impede skimming operations and render inflatable booms ineffective.

Unfortunately, the first week of the spill had enough bad weather that recovery operations were slowed and actually stopped for a few days. This week things have been much better, and a lot of oil, but certainly not all, has been recovered before it reached land.

The most effective spill cleanup is a violent storm. Mother Nature is much more successful than man at taking care of herself. In Alaska, we found areas prone to heavy storms were essentially clean after one winter, while protected bays and inlets still have oil deposits more than 20 years later.

A number of years ago, a small tanker with a full load of fuel broke up on the Scottish coast during a North Sea winter storm. Heroic efforts by the British Coast Guard and the salvage tug crew saved most of the crew members, but the tanker was completely destroyed, and all the cargo spilled. There was a great fear of massive environmental consequences. But after the storm abated, there was almost no sign of the oil. The power of the storm had effectively dispersed all the oil and cleaned the rock beaches and cliffs.

Obviously the answer is to recover the oil before it reaches land, but a large storm that pushed the oil out to sea and broke it up would be beneficial. That is unlikely to happen at this time of year. It is much more likely any storm would push the oil onshore and would not be violent enough to disperse it.

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)

The ROV videos available on YouTube and other sites have been edited or cropped to remove some of the company information and data that is normally visible on the screen. Also, the picture quality is severely degraded from what the operators (BP and all the others) are seeing. But they do give a bit of insight as to what the pilots are seeing and the quality of visibility. So far the ones I’ve seen do not show much detail about the leaks, except for the end of a piece of drill pipe which has been capped.

Incidentally, BP will almost certainly be watching all the ROV video in real time and high definition in their war room in Houston, surrounded by people from the MMS and the USCG.

Twenty years ago a typical ROV spent about as much time on deck being repaired as it did in the water. Today anything less than about 98% to 99% “uptime” is considered substandard. I would be surprised if the ROVs come to the surface except to change tool packages, or if the vessel has to leave location. At that depth, it takes about 3 hours to make a round trip from the work site to the deck and back down.

All the ROVs onsite are considered large work class ROVs. They are at least 150 and often over 200 horsepower. They have multiple thrusters that give them accurate positional control in three dimensions plus pitch and yaw. They carry two strong manipulator arms, color sector scan sonar, several high definition color video cameras, and an incredible multiplexed data system. They have jet pumps that can move vast quantities of mud, wire rope cutters, grinders and cutting systems. Besides the ROVs, BP has access to numerous tool packages that can repair pipelines, clean platform members, etc.

All the deepwater BOP stacks and other equipment are specially designed to interface with ROVs as they operate WAY past the depth any diver can go.

There are some reasonably good short videos of ROVs at www.oceaneering.com. Go the section on ROVs.

The “Dome”

Let's talk about the dome a little. It would appear from the photos that the dome is designed to be large enough to encase the BOP. It has mud mats 16 feet off the bottom, so obviously the idea is to let it sink into the mud which will stabilize the dome and keep it in place.

Image from a recent New York Times article

The dome should act as a primary oil/water separator and minimize the amount of water going up the drill string. But even better, if I understand the plan correctly, the leak will probably be above the oil/water interface (water will not entirely fill the dome), which means if the dome system is working smoothly, the oil leaking from the riser will never come in contact with the water before it heads up the drill string.

The dome has to be open to the sea water near the bottom, so the pressure will equalize. If the dome were to seal tightly to the seabed, any negative pressure created by the oil rising in the drill string would suck the surrounding mud sea bed right up into the drill string (this is the principal behind suction anchors for drill rigs), and possibly collapse the containment vessel.

I assume the way they will control the system will to be to monitor the level of the oil/water interface inside the dome and throttle the flow at top of the drill string to keep the oil/water interface at a set level.

It is to be connected to the Discoverer Enterprise with a 6-7/8” drill string. Based on some rough estimates I made, if a person assumes the specific gravity of the oil is 0.89, the specific gravity of sea water is 1.026, the depth is 5,000 feet (actually this is of little importance in calculating the maximum flow), and a freeboard of 33 feet to reach the drill ship deck piping, it should be possible to get about 24,000 bpd on the ship using the natural buoyancy of the oil alone. Most of my numbers, especially the specific gravity of the oil, are conservative, so the maximum throughput could be greater, maybe much greater.

If the drill string is filled with oil, the static pressure is entirely dependent on the specific gravity of the oil and the actual water depth. Roughly, if the specific gravity is 0.80, then the pressure at the water surface would be about 500 psi; if the specific gravity of the oil is 0.90, the pressure would be just under 300 psi.

In real life any entrained gas will make a major difference. If the drill string was entirely filled with gas, the static pressure at the surface would be over 2,200 psi. And as soon as you start mixed flow, you get into undefined territory unless you know the exact percentage of gas mixed in the oil.

Entrained gas in the leaking oil will greatly change the flow dynamics, as the gas will expand approximately 150 times going up the drill string and act as a giant airlift. The problem then won’t be getting the oil up the drill string; it will be throttling back the flow onboard the drillship. Luckily, a deepwater drillship will have the proper equipment to handle this.

The expanding gas also has a substantial cooling effect, enough to freeze the water entrained in the stream. So the design of the drill string has been modified to include a warm water jacket and a methanol (antifreeze) injection system.

They have a potentially dangerous situation separating the oil, gas and water, but since the Discoverer Enterprise has processing equipment on board they should be able to handle that safely. The Enterprise also has dual draw works and drill floor, so they are equipped to handle a second drill string to another dome if needed.

The Politics

This is obviously a disaster. It is quite possible that a human error or series of errors, coupled with possible equipment failure, are to blame.

Does BP have culpability because of trying to move too fast? At over $500 a minute, they certainly have the incentive to move fast. We don’t know - yet.

Is Transocean to blame for some sort of negligence in not properly monitoring the mud return or some other aspect of cementing process? We don’t know - yet.

Was Halliburton’s cement job faulty? We don’t know - yet.

Did Cameron International’s BOP fail due to manufacturing or design fault? We don’t know - yet.

Is a combination of one or more of the above? Quite possibly, but we don’t know - yet.

There are unsubstantiated reports that the kick registered over 30,000 psi. If the BOP stack saw that kind of pressure, it could be a important factor, both in determining what happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

For those who are appalled that BP had no contingency plans in case of a spill, perhaps you think the skimmer vessels, the miles and miles of inflatable boom, and the couple hundred trained oil spill control personnel that you see on TV just materialized out of thin air. In fact, they have been on standby for a couple decades. They train, work on small spills, and prepare for disaster. As Rockman says: think of them as a fire department, paid for by the oil companies, under requirements of the US government.

For those who are appalled by the lack of government response, consider that the US Coast Guard was underway in minutes after the blow out, and their spill response personnel (as well as the teams and equipment from the oil industry) were already onsite, standing by, before the rig sank.

For a week after the initial incident, from the blowout April 20 until April 28, things weren't going well. The BOP was still leaking, and the weather was slowing recovery operations, but it is fair to say that the incident was reasonably "under control". There was no need for Obama to get directly involved, mobilize the Dept of Defense, etc.

On April 29, everything started falling apart--a true worst case scenario. That morning, it was obvious the leakage from the BOP had increased dramatically. Even worse, the weather changed and strong offshore winds start moving the oil directly toward some of the most sensitive barrier islands in Louisiana. Not only did the wind change direction, but by evening, it also increased to the point it effectively shut down all skimming and recovery operations and most boom deployments.

The media, which had had only superficial coverage up to this point, got heavily involved and disseminated a great deal of technical information that was just plain incorrect.

There is a certainly an expectation that someone may be to blame for the uncontrolled blow out with its loss of life, and potential for extreme environmental and economic damage. But, it is my opinion, with some understanding of the complexities and technical and operational challenges involved, that both the oil industry and the government operational people have responded to the incident quickly and professionally. I wish I could say the same for the media, the politicians and the bloggers.

The only operation after the blow out that I might question was the decision to keep pumping water into the rig. I wonder whether it might have been better to let it float, assuming it didn’t sink due to a hole in a pontoon, and let the oil burn. But with the rig's engines and thrusters dead, the only thing holding it in position was the riser, so the potential for it to further damage the BOP probably played into that decision. It is always easy to "Monday morning quarterback," especially if a person doesn’t understand the technical or operational problems. Fortunately, some of the best and most experienced people in the world are working this problem.

BP has stated they will pay for the cleanup and environmental damage (as required by law), and will pay any legitimate claims for economic damage. This is a reasonable requirement. During the Exxon Valdez disaster, we saw numerous outlandish claims from “fishermen” who couldn’t tell you the difference between the bow and the stern and “landowners” and “tourist industry people” who had never been to Alaska until after the spill.

There is a lot of press about a $75 million cap on BP’s liability. This has been taken out of context, as it does not apply to the cleanup or environmental damage--there BP’s liability is unlimited. The $75 million is in reference to economic damage, and BP has stated they will not hide behind that limit. Time will tell, but for now I am taking them at their word.

I’m sure this will require some effort on the part of people filing claims. For instance, if you are a charter boat owner or fisherman, I expect BP will require you to submit business records proving you are really in that business, and substantiate the amount of business you had before and after the event. It is fair and reasonable for BP to protect themselves from scams, just as it is fair and reasonable that those who have been economically damaged by this event be given realistic compensation.

I have a much greater problem understanding why the 200+ lawyers currently meeting to decide how to split up the pie should be entitled to the hundreds of millions of dollars in fees they will eventually receive.

We are lucky that this happened to one of the very few companies in the world that has the financial resources to pay the billions of dollars this will cost. This spill is in some ways similar to the Exxon Valdez spill, where Exxon, despite their overwhelming arrogance, did pay all the costs of the cleanup, even while they fought paying many of the economic damage claims I considered valid and tried to avoid all of the punitive damages.

If either spill had happened to a foreign tanker firm or an independent oil company, the taxpayers would have ended up paying for the entire cleanup bill. The people economically affected would have been out of luck, and the companies involved would have already declared bankruptcy.

Hopefully, this accident will now provide the requirement of relief wells as part of the cost of doing business, and perhaps real jail time for politicians and industry people who manipulate environmental safety requirements.

I am sure that other considerations will have to be implemented in the future.

As a long time construction worker, go go go means accidents are inevitable, and all safety laws are written in blood. If it is too expensive to do things right with a few 'needless requirements' thrown in, then the best bet is to leave the oil in the ground until the price reflects development costs.

20 20 hindsight is just that. If there was something nefarious going on, then hang em high. If it was an accident, then let us learn from it.

When the inevitable inquiry happens, leave the lawyers out, ensure the process is transparent and credible, and make the penalties for lying and obfuscation severe, indeed.



The relief wells (2 in this case) ARE a part of the cost of doing business.

Good luck with locking the lawyers out of the room.

At the risk of being politically (or legally?) incorrect - What are a 100 lawyers laying on the seabed?

A good start.

Or, did you hear about the bus load of lawyers that plunged over the cliff killing everyone? Ya, the tragedy was there were two empty seats.

Personally, I don't have a dislike for lawyers. Matter of fact I have a high regard for their informational skills in synthesis, reasoning and logic. It's when they start running things that it get precarious - just like accountants. Oops, did I say that?

The oil and gas industry, of which BP is a member, reported $169 million in 2009 lobbying expenditures.


At the risk of being trounced, do tell how many of those lobbyists are laying on the seabed. The lawyers will get fees but they will also get money for the families and hopefully enough penalties to get BP to find it financially better to do business safer rather than to pay to get exemptions. Sometimes a trial lawyer is the ONLY way to get companies to pay attention to safety.

IMHO the lobbyists should be under the lawyers as to me they represent pretty much everything that is wrong with America today.

There are many good lawyers, but few, if any good lobbyists.

My ire is for lawyers who chase the class action suites and very often take advantage of people who are not legally sophisticated about their rights. Just last week I reviewed a class action suite that settled for the plaintiffs at $1,137,000 - the legal fees and expenses were $1,125,000.

For those people with a legitimate claim who are stiffed by an oil company when they try to get a reasonable compensation, by all means they should get a lawyer and stick it to them.

I have no doubt that top BP execs would hire a lawyer to get damages for them if say someone did shoddy work and caused an accident that paralyzed their child.

I don't like lawyers who take advantage of people who are not legally sophisticated about their rights either.

But perhaps any lawyer is better than none when you read stuff like this

"May 02, 2010, 8:49PM
Attorney General Troy King Attorney General Troy King has asked BP to cease circulating settlement agreements among south Alabamians.Alabama Attorney General Troy King said tonight that he has told representatives of BP Plc. that they should stop circulating settlement agreements among coastal Alabamians. The agreements, King said, essentially require that people give up the right to sue in exchange for payment of up to $5,000." http://blog.al.com/live/2010/05/bp_told_to_stop_circulating_se.html

Betcha not one person with a legitimate claim represented by a lawyer will get less than $5,000. Most trial lawyers I know of work on contingency fees and certainly it would be good to get the word out to folks that they should not accept any other agreement with a lawyer.

"Contingency fee Under this arrangement, the attorney's fee is based on a percentage of what you are awarded in the case. If you lose the case, the attorney does not get a fee, although you will still have to pay expenses. The contingency fee percentage varies and some lawyers offer a sliding scale based on how far along the case is when it is settled. A one-third fee is common. Also, ask whether the lawyer will calculate the fee before or after the expenses. This can make a substantial difference, since calculating the percentage of the attorney's fee after the expenses have been deducted increases the amount of money you receive.

This type of fee is usually found in personal injury cases, accidental claims, property damage cases, or other cases where a large amount of money is in contention."



I suspect that putting a lot more safety features in place would not only cost more money, but it would use more energy, so the energy return on investment (EROI) of the oil would go down.

That would mean that no matter how high prices rise, putting a lot of safety measures in place could limit how much oil we get out of offshore reservoirs.

Does anyone know--would safety systems clock up much energy in making, maintaining, and running them? Or is energy use for these not a big concern?

I suspect that putting a lot more safety features in place


Part of the reason this situation now exists is because BP secured a release from being required to use back-up acoustic coupler shut-off valves from Dick Cheney and the Bush administration, in 2003, when Cheney held secret meetings with energy executives-- the one the Supreme Court protected the secrecy of.

Why does this crap keep getting repeated? A remote control for the BOP would have made no difference in this case as the BOP was activated from the rig.

Plus this fake news item claims that "My source reports that the pressure in the well was reported to be 135-165,000 PSi".

Who believes that?

Remember the guys that were always sleeping in math class? I think we've found them. And, they wouldn't take any classes that began with a "ph". The alternative spelling confounded them.

Remember the guys that were always sleeping in math class? I think we've found them.

Arn't they the ones in poly-sci and are now the leaders?

Why does this crap keep getting repeated? A remote control for the BOP would have made no difference in this case as the BOP was activated from the rig.

The claim is:

BP secured a release from being required to use back-up acoustic coupler shut-off valves

Perhaps back-up is actually 'return to up' as in going to up again.

But to me back-up is backup as in a redundant. Redundant shut-off valve.

Now, the nature of the leak or where it would have been placed would have made no difference in this case but 'remote control' is different than a redundant shut off, is it not?

They are talking about this type of device http://www.km.kongsberg.com/ks/web/nokbg0240.nsf/AllWeb/2A64AE2B8E9FA942...


The acoustic control system (ACS) is designed for acoustic control of Blow Out Preventer - BOP and subsea production units. The subsea unit may control up to 16 different functions. An advanced acoustic telemetry link, based on Spaced Frequency Shift Keying - SFSK techniques provide a reliable communication in noisy and reverberant offshore environment

Cameron, makers of the Deepwater Horizon BOP, describes this as "optional"


Emergency acoustic control equipment (optional) includes on the surface, surface electronic control unit, rig-mounted and portable acoustic transducers, battery charging units and test equipment. Subsea equipment includes battery operated electronic control unit, subsea electro-hydraulic valve module subsea transducers, accumulators and extension arm assembly. This equipment operates independently from the main hydraulic components.

So does normal rules and regs (that are claimed to have been waved) list a backup BOP? Or just backup control system to the BOP? Or was the BOP supposed to have a redundant set of valves?

If I am not mistaken the BOP stack installed on this well had multiple shear rams and a combination of mechanisms designed to seal the well as well as redundant control systems. The criticism I have heard of it is that the rams may not have been powerful enough to shear the drill pipe if there was a joint collar or tool in the ram path. It has also been mentioned that the high-strength drill and well casing being used in deep water environments puts extra strain on the rams and perhaps increases the chance of failure. Other countries has instituted regulations that require stronger designs for deep sea wells than are required by US regulations.

I don't think there is the suggestion from available evidence that an additional remote control system would have helped in this case, as the BOP was activated by people on the rig and repeated attempts were made using submersibles to use the device to achieve a better seal - stop the leak. This is my layman's view.

This BP cartoon gives a good view of the BOP on this well:


and this link provides some schematics and technical discussion of design issues:


A Google search will provide a wealth of other links such as:





This is my layman's view.

That is all I have - I'm relying on others to suss out if there was a waver, what was waved, and would the waved item(s) have helped prevent the problem.

The author of the piece is also the owner of the site. I know him. Should I reach out and encourage fixing this? Or just fact checking future pieces?

Costs associated with safety, and their negative impact (perceived) are a false economy. I went through this learning process right out of university in the go-go '80's. You know, when the Kool-Aid of free markets was widely distributed and drank in copious amounts. We were all such efficient machines of free enterprise back then. The bottom line was the only truth...

But, working in refineries and chemical plants we were under a tight regime of safety, especially in Esso (Imperial Oil, Exxon of the GWN). What I learned is integrating safety measures into the field work actually improved quality and had little negative impact on productivity. It made us plan out the work more thoroughly and thereby execute the work more efficiently. That is, we weren't running around all the time looking for a piece of test equipment or tool.

All it takes is to be around an accident where someone gets seriously injured or even killed and I guarantee one's attitude towards safety will change for the better. If it wasn't for the high resistance grounding on the pipeline system feeding Toronto from Sarnia, I would have had a co-worker splattered all over me from contact with a 2,300 V motor starter. Luckily all he got was a 2nd degree burn across his hand and the crap scared out of him.

Our safety indoctrination was conducted by an engineer previously in my position. He survived an arc flash incident that burned 80% of his body. His lesson was short and to the point, "It's not safe until you f%&king well say it is!" With larger systems, i.e. drill rigs, we rely on larger safety systems mechanical, administrative, and procedural. Some may appear onerous, but what I do is try to look beyond the paperwork and ask what are they really trying to say? What is at risk and what are the consequences?

Now there some measures taken to the extreme which appear ridiculous. The recent "Viz-vest" is one I seriously question. At point does universal application become counter-productive? I definitely wear mine when moving about mine sites because all sorts of large vehicles are running around; but a liquor store worker taking a box out to a customer's vehicle? This is one overuse I believe will be counter-productive.

Or there was the time working in the refinery in Venezuela (Cardon for those of any interest). There was a fall accident long before I got there and now everyone had to wear a fall arrest harness if they were working over 6' or 10' (I forget) above the ground. Here we were working on a Stacker-Reclaimer unit complete with stairways and walkways - not even a ladder to contend with - and we had to have a fall arrest on. Just where did they think I was going to fall in the electrical room? That was absurd, but heaven help you if you challenged the dogma.

And maybe that's what we should be watching for. When safety becomes dogma it has lost its focus, and hence its initial purpose.

Remember Hill Street Blues? "Be safe out there."

Excellent posting! Most mature oil companies realized many years ago that it is more efficient, effective and economical to reduce all incidents and accidents through competent planning and procedures. I put BP in this category. Unfortunately its a dangerous business and stuff happens.

The safety features are expensive not because they require a lot energy to manufacture but because they are in particular no consumer goods (low production volume and high development and overhead costs).

I remember hearing costs of $500,000 for one single valve. With $500'000 you can currently buy close to 10,000 tons of coal.

costs of $500,000 for one single valve.

Getting a waver for a few of 'em at that price means a better bonus. (Assuming that the reporting is true that there was a waver issued) Assuming that a reduntant set of valves would have prevented this, that $500,000 cost per valve looks cheap now doesn't it? Wonder if there was a bonus paid on that alledged waver?


Since the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded on April 20, the Obama administration has granted oil and gas companies at least 27 exemptions from doing in-depth environmental studies of oil exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico.

But lets not worry because the regulators are doing this for our own good.

In 2008, a series of government watchdog reports implicated a dozen current and former employees of the MMS in inappropriate or unethical relationships with industry officials.
The reports described "a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity'' in the Royalty in Kind program, in which the government forgoes royalties and takes a share of the oil and gas for resale instead. From 2002 to 2006, nearly a third of the RIK staff socialized with and received gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies.

failing -- With the blow out it might not seem there isn't much attention paid to safety. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While drilling a well there are redundant systems and a large number of personnel monitoring operations. There's a very long list of safety/certified training covering dozens of different disciplines. The reason is obvious: dangerous situations are not just a possibility but a certainty. My post to Web last night offers details so I'll not repeat. Call them "near misses". But that term really refers more to the response to such dangerous situations. Appropriate response and an accident is easily avoided. A poor response and the worse case results is a blow out. But the circumstances that lead to a well kick develop often.

That's why there are redundant safety systems and constant training to deal with well kicks. I don't have any real numbers since such a database isn't reported. But to give a sense of the possibility if there were 100 wells drilling in the GOM at the same time, there could be 1 or 2 well control situations EVERY WEEK that could, if not managed properly, could lead to a blow out IMHO. Such a stat would be alarming to most but we can also take it as an indication of the resources applied to safety issues. As been said before, we can acknowledge the inherent risks, accept them and continue drilling. Or we decide to limit or ban drilling. But we shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist.

The cost of safety protocols, including expensive equipment, is already in place. Always room for improvement but I’ve previously stated my opinion that such an expansion wouldn’t reduce the potential significantly. But a great improvement could be generated by stronger enforcement of current regs and procedures. Operators have already invested heavily in safety protocols. But there is always a financial consideration behind every operation: time. Time taken to ensure as safe as possible an effort is THE cost factor. If true, why did BP’s engineer over ride the company man’s recommendation to not displace the riser with salt water and thus reduce the safety margin of that additional backpressure? Time. Time is money when ops are costing $40,000+ per hour. More time spent waiting on the cement to cure. More time spent evaluating the quality of the cement job. More time spent recementing if it were needed. More time spent reentering the well after it was abandoned had they not removed the drilling mud from below the top cement plug they had yet to set. As they were pumping mud off the rig into the boat why didn’t they monitor the mud volume that would have clearly indicated the well was coming in? Because there was a rush to get that rig contract off day rate (probably $600,000/day or more) and there was a perception that the conditions were safe. Did the folks tasked with monitoring the mud returns realize there was a conflict over procedure between the company man and the BP engineer? Probably not IMHO. Was the company man aware the mud returns weren’t being monitored? Just a guess but I would say no.

If the blow out occurred as the story indicates, how avoidable was this accident? It will come as no comfort to learn it was easily avoidable. As the mud was being pumped out of the riser it was going into a tank that is routinely monitored for volume gains. If more mud is coming out of the well then salt water was pumped down then it’s obvious the well is unloading and “coming in”. Had this been noted they would have immediately gone into “kill mode” and shut the well in. Could this have prevented the blow out? Probably. This is the core of the safety training for well control. And how high tech was this safety protocol of monitoring mud returns? All that was needed was to stop displacing the riser for 2 minutes and have a hand with a high school education looking at a pipe with mud flowing out of it. No mud coming out: all is OK. Mud flowing out: the well is coming in and a blow out could be eminent. We could spend billions of $’s improving equipment and training. And none of that would prevent this type of mistake. I can promise you with 100% certainty that if this is eventually proven to be the cause of the blow out we’ll see new regs from the Feds with regards to displacing risers in the future. But even before those regs are in place companies will issue new internal protocols along the same lines. And the new procedures will be followed religiously. For a while. And then one day a company man will get pushed to move faster and rules will be bent. But it’s not difficult to design a safeguard against this possibility as well as most others: an independent third party observing adherence to safety procedures. An insignificant increase to drilling costs. It might add $1 or $2 million per year to drilling ops on one rig that could have a cumulative cost of to drill of $500 million or more over the same time period.

As a comedian once said: “You can’t fix stupid”. No, but you can pay someone to keep an eye on stupid.

Rockman - have you seen this.


If I'm reading it right it seems to fit your scenario.

No I hadn't shelburn...thanks. Very good tech description but only for an insider. But folks should take away the point about "time". I've always been a little suspicious that they were either setting world time records moving thru this phase or they were skipping/rushing too fast. The 20-hour cement wait time always jumped out. Normally a 24-hour wait is standard. That doesn't those 4 hours caused the well to come in. Not uncommon to get the cement to set up properly in 12 hours. But sometimes it can take 30 hours. That’s why you do the various tests. I don't recall if the Rigzone report had the cement bond log (CBL) run included. The CBL does a fair jump of indicating the quality of the bond between csg and cmt. Not fool proof but useful. At the depth involved the CBL run would have taken several hours. This is where the time factor might have kicked in. In addition to the extra time the subcontractor takes to run the CBL he also has a fair bit of equipment on the rig that is typically shipped off the rig after most ops are completed. At the end of a well there's always a big rush getting equipment/personnel of the rig. I suspect you know this routine well: it's shut up - pack up - get on the boat. I also suspect that the mud logger, who monitors the returning mud for indications of hydrocarbons, might have already been shut down at this point. The basic Mother of All Screwups: if you’re “sure” you’re safe you start shutting down the various safeguards.

We still need to see the final investigation results but the story laid out just fits too well. Saving $300,000 of rig time might cost BP a few billion $’s.

RM - Thanks for the knowledge and the calming discussion of a pretty technical situation. Your assessment that this could most probably have been easily prevented are right on the mark. Fixing stupid is a constant and immense struggle. Thankfully I've only been at the site of such an event once (Blast Furnace slag explosion), was far enough away to be sent to help clean up and there was only one critical injury out of 3 or four who were "Doing Stupid".

I was watching the History Channel last week and they had a repeat of one of their Engineering Disaster programs. The four or five incidents reviewed were in completely different fields but the cause was almost universally the same - failure to follow procedures they were trained in and/or trying to save time.

The one that stood out was the "Big Blue" crane collapse when lifting a large(HUGE) section of roof for Miller stadium. The rig was so large that there were 4 operators on the crane with 2 or 3 assistant/spotters communicating with the operators by radio. The accident happened because they attempted the lift in winds of 20mph with gusts to possibly 30mph when procedures set the max at 10mph. I think the death toll was 3.

Same thing with the space shuttle disaster in '86 when they launched at temperatures below minimum and ignored the protests of several booster engineers. Stupid just keeps rearing its ugly head now and then.

All the new procedures and regulations in the world won't stop humans from cutting corners. To state the obvious, they're only effective if they're followed.

I think the safety issue here comes close to the nuclear one. Accidents have an extremely low probability of occuring but huge costs if they do. We, as a society, need to decide if the product/service is worth that cost. Educating the public then gets into what passes for news coverage t5hese days, particularly regarding technical subjects. Talk about trying to fix stupid!

All the more reason the thank those of you who toil to maintain this informative site.

I'm a retired engineer and it's educational to learn a bit about another field. What these crews can do 5 miles down, in an 8-10 inch hole, is truly amazing to me. In addition, I did not know that there was the $75 million limit on some aspect of damages. Eliminating that perk for the industry will mean at least one positive thing will come of this tragedy.

For those who may be unaware - there is a similar liability waiver for the nuclear industry. The Price Anderson Act caps liability at $500 million for a nuclear plant diasaster. That, and the fact that the nuclear industry won't build new plants without 100% government loan guarantees are things to consider when folks sing the praises of new nuclear plants. In the 50's they said nuclear power would be too che3ap to meter.

moose - you point out an important aspect of high-risk investments. Let's use nuke plants as an example. How many folks would invest or insure a nuke plant if they would be on the hook for 100% of the liability in a worse case event? Perhaps no one. So if the feds want nuke plants built they'll have to lay the max liability on the taxpayer. Same with Deep Water drilling. The feds receive many billions of $'s every year from oil/NG royalties. Put 100% of the liabilities on the companies and it might reduce drilling/royalty income. Folks can debate such policies. But more importantly it would be fair for the gov't to make it clear to the public that this is the reason for such a policy. Then folks would know what they are truly voting for. If nuke plants and Deep Water drilling depend upon public liability then so be. Then it's either build/drill or not.

Know something abt Big Blue incident.
My recall not perfect, but...
Two [3?]of union crane operators refused to do the lift because [a]wind was beyond spec limits, [b] crawler mats felt and were judged unstable, and [c]load was over-the-limit of crane set-up. They were told either fly the load or get off the job. They refused and were replaced with more other crane ops.

The laid-off 2 [3?] arranged to observe the lift from a man-basket raised by another, nearby boom.

As Big Blue raised the load, the king-pin snapped, Big Blue boom slowly swayed and toppled, taking-out the nearby man-basket and killing the observing 2 [3?] operators.
who earlier refused to perform the lift.

OSHA was on-site because of prior problems, and were videoing the lift.I saw the OSHA video during a union training class at a nuke plant.

The accident happened because they attempted the lift in winds of 20mph with gusts to possibly 30mph when procedures set the max at 10mph. I think the death toll was 3.
Same thing with the space shuttle disaster in '86 when they launched at temperatures below minimum and ignored the protests of several booster engineers. Stupid just keeps rearing its ugly head now and then.

Neither are 'stupid' - both were trying to "save some money".

And this kind of cost cutting crap is why things like fission plants should not be widespread - Man has shown Man is not able to act responsibly.

Its one thing to cost cut on making a broom - where the outcomes for failure is low. Quite another where your point of failure is 1 mile under the water.

Neither are 'stupid' - both were trying to "save some money".

Probably true in this context, but don't forget "save some face".

The Challenger had as much to do with meeting predicted launch deadlines
(after many delays) as saving dollars.

My dad was a combat engineer in Germany (60's) levelling a hill for
a parade ground (or soccer field or whatever) - his CO (NOT an engineer)
wanted to show progress when the colonel came to inspect, so he ordered my dad
to ignore drainage. so my dad did. Colonel Wallace (who WAS an engineer) asked my dad
"What are you making Sarge, a lake?".
My dad refused to cover for the Lt. -- which may explain wny he retired
as an E-7 and not higher.

The basic Mother of All Screwups: if you’re “sure” you’re safe you start shutting down the various safeguards.

Heard a general say once "when victory is near, tighten your chinstrap"

Thanks for laying it out so clearly.

As you have said many times already--the human factor is a wild card.

Anecdotally, last time I was on the slope just doing a plain old more or less ordinary foundation the relatively young superintendent with a light commercial rather than heavy construction background devised an unapproved short cut around a problem, and then as that problem recurred used that procedure on almost 50% of the like components with the same problem. The inspector never had a clue what was happening because it wasn't his field. Nothing will fall down until long after very notable problems develop so there is very little chance the shortcuts will endanger anyone but they probably will cause problems that will require expensive fixes in order to avoid foundation failure at some point.

What did I do? I let the company owner know what was done wrong and that it was the very worst piece of work I had ever been a part of and flew home. Why didn't I do more? No one else up the chain wanted to hear about any problem, the job was on schedule. If they weren't going to make it right, I decided I didn't need their money, so I made enough stink about it to make sure they sent me home.

Why was the ill-advised shortcut used. The season was late, properly sized components were 400 long truck miles away and the superintendent wanted to get off the slope and home on his preordained schedule.

Certainly a deep sea oil rig has far more scrutiny than the little job I was on, but the people doing the work in each case are still very much human.

shelburn -

Very clear and nicely done technical overview of the situation, though the issues surrounding why things went wrong and could they have been prevented is far less clear at this point.

Technical question: When reference is made to a downhole pressure of over 5,000 psi, is that gauge pressure with respect to atmospheric pressure, or is that the actual pressure differential between the inside and outside of the blowout preventer? If it is the latter, then with 5,000 ft of seawater on top of the BOP the atmospheric gauge pressure inside the BOP would be more like 7,300 psi. So which is it? Either way, that's a lot of umph!

downhole pressure of over 5,000 psi


source reports that the pressure in the well was reported to be 135-165,000 PSi.

This part is what bothers me:

The real danger, my source reports, is that the pipe and incomplete well-head will deteriorate as the highly pressurized mix of oil, dirt and rock that is spewing out of the wellhead abrades the ten inch pipe, then the 24 inch wellhead. If that happens things will get much worse.

"source reports that the pressure in the well was reported to be 135-165,000 PSi."

This is bunk, BS, misinformation.

Steel of very high strength (like ASTM A-514) has a maximum yield point of around 130,000 psi, so how could any steel contain this pressure?

Heading Out has stated in several posts that pressure increases about 0.5 psi for every foot of drill depth, thus the 18,000 foot depth would equate to 9000psi max (relative to the pressure on the bottom of the ocean). So the claim of 135-165,000 psi is wrong.

If my math is right, these pressures are not physically possible in the subsurface. The average sediment density here is probably less than 2.3 g/cc; 5000' of water + 13,000' of 2.3 g/cc sediment gives a maximum overburden pressure of about 15,000 psi. If it were more than that the fluid would have frac'd its way out.

If someone can find out the mudweight used to drill the well, we can estimate the downhole fluid pressures. For example, wells in this area might be drilled with 14-15# mud or 13,000-14,000 psi at 18,000'

If you look at the figure here:


as posted above the mud weight was 14 ppg

I'm not a downhole expert but I believe the well pressures are usually measured in relation to atmospheric pressure. So to determine the pressure differential between the BOP and the surrounding seawater you would subtract 2,215 psi from the well pressure assuming the well was at exactly 5,000 feet.

In this case there have been a lot of numbers thrown around. The lowest I have heard for well pressure is about 6,000 psi, but conventional wisdom seems to think 10,000 psi is a better number. Based on the depth of 5,000 feet of water and 18,000 feet of drilled depth the theoretical pressure could be over 20,000 psi and unsubstantiated reports say that the blowout registered over 30,000 psi.

I almost have to believe the 30,000 psi could only result from a surge but 10,000 psi or more seems reasonable leaving about over 7,000 psi driving force behind the leak less any reduction due to the leak itself reducing the pressure.

This schematic suggests that the well depth was figured from sea-level:


It is associated with the following piece posted on "Rigzone":


that discusses the work-flow sequence that should have been occurring prior to the accident.

Another question - is it possible from the descriptions/accounts of the accident available to make an educated guess about when the BOP was activated? Most likely after the well kick/gas explosion but prior to the abandonment (I recall that was at least 20 min). The reason for the question - is there some information in what was observed that can say whether the kink in the riser is restricting the flow or the incompletely sealed BOP, that is can the pictures of the fire and sustained burning that occurred allow a conclusion that the BOP did operate and partially close the well - or does the level of burning suggest an uncontrolled well that was only restricted when the rig sank and the riser kinked?

The following is today appearing in articles about the cause:
"While investigators have yet to finalize the cause, the possible source of the blast emerged in interviews between rig workers and University of California at Berkeley Prof. Robert Bea, who shared them with the Associated Press. Bea is an engineering professor on a National Academy of Engineering panel on oil safety and worked for BP as a risk consultant in the 1990s.

Just prior to the accident, members of BP management were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig, which BP leased from Transocean to celebrate its safety record, according to the interviews. The rig had struck oil and BP officials planned to convert the well from exploration to production.

Bea told the AP he believes a chemical reaction caused by setting cement created heat and a gas bubble which destroyed the seal.

"A small bubble becomes a really big bubble," told the AP. "So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face."

Where is there a more detailed explanation of this? Did someone make a big mistake?

First - yes a bubble of gas down in the well under high pressure expands greatly when the pressure is reduced.

For example a bubble of gas leaking out of the BOP 5,000 feet down where the pressure is 2,215 psia will expand about 150 times in size by the time it reaches the surface. Gas in the well is under much greater pressure so will expand even more.

Second -

This article is exactly the type of highly irresponsible reporting that upsets me.

I believe the original article was from AP and it has been picked up and distributed as gospel by the worldwide media.

I have read the AP article several times and tried to dissect exactly what data and facts led to this conclusion.

I’m not saying the conclusion is wrong but I think it is premature and based on very limited data. Here is what I found in the article.

A 73 year old, emotional, professor at U of Cal Berkley is being quoted as the ultimate authority. Is the fact that he is 73 and emotional a factor – probably not. Are his credentials good – up to a point.

He has a solid background as a civil engineer in offshore structures and pipelines; in fact I think we may have crossed paths back in the late 70s, early 80s. But in his resume at U of Cal there is no indication of downhole experience or expertise. In fact, his educational background and offshore experience parallel mine but he was at better schools and more cerebral with less grunt work.


I certainly don’t have the background to make authoritative statements about what happened to the well.

As near as I can follow from the AP article his entire source of information was “portions” of three interviews from people who were on the rig which “were described in detail”. There is NO indication that he had any access to well data. It does not identify who these interviewees are, their job descriptions or even the thrust of the interviews. They could have been cooks or consulting geologists.

That he did not even have access to the original interviews is also disturbing.

It seems quite a reach to go from descriptions of “portions” of 3 interviews to a definitive statement about the cause of the blowout.

I also get the feeling that he is focused on methane hydrates. My experience is that methane hydrate people fall in two groups. (1) Those who believe that methane hydrates are like the Bakken shale and if TPTB would just give us access it would solve all American energy needs within 6 months, and (2) those who believe that methane hydrates will cause deepwater blowouts.

I shouldn’t lump those two categories together as the second group is at least working from a scientific basis.

It is possible that methane hydrates are the root of the problem but I think it is MUCH too early to make that assumption based on the minimal information available.

And I believe the media is irresponsible to do so.

At the risk of pissing off civil engineers and just being rude, we called them "snivels" because they didn't want to take the tough math classes. "Our stuff doesn't move", they contended, "So why do we have to take dynamic systems?". Whereas over in e-world everything is dynamic and we ate Laplace Transforms with our Cheerios for breakfast.

Anyway, I would put a lot more credence in Shelburn's analysis than a university professor. Aren't these the same guys that designed the university library building and forgot to include the weight of the books?

Now now, I didn't even quite make it to civil - General with Ocean Engineering option (structures).

Little did I know that ocean structures move, and dynamics and fatigue life completely of the existing charts became remedial work

I didn't even quite make it to civil - Little did I know that ocean structures move,

Guess what - Civil 'things' move too. You just HOPE they stay 'mostly static'. The upside to a very dynamic building is they become a static (rubble) problem again.

At least the rig is now a statics problem and no longer a fatigue problem eh?

Thank you Shelburn, for your thoughtful insights. I can only add that the media misinformation is a result of misidentification of the situation from Day One, the root, has a lot to do with the nonsense floating around. This is not a spill allowing the minds of readers and watchers to unconsciously recreate the Exxon Valdez incident, a true spill. A better call would be something direct and simple along the lines of the Deepwater Horizon Accident or Deepwater Disaster. The portable rig exploded in flames, eleven lives lost, the unit sank and lies within feet of the geyser, the leak. Where in this is a "spill"? When we let the media freely get away with coining their own phases, all truth concerning Deepwater's disaster becomes off-topic, exaggerated and unproductive hearsay. I would rather read your humble/admirable statements "We don't know - yet" than converse about a ficticious "spill" which cannot be addressed or resolved effectively without getting into the reality of BOP, wellhead, ROV, flaps, pressure, methane bubble, charts, weather, etc., etc.

To publicly, globally and repeatedly call something what it is not is what lies behind a great deal of westerners' indolence and definitely leads to ineffectual results and exponentially greater disasters.

ok, not technically a "spill". what is it ? a spew ?

as in: spew baby spew ?

This has been bugging me as well, nina. There's a simple, accurate, effective word for the whole situation: a blowout. Conjures up explosions and stuff pouring out at the same time.

"Spill." @#$%!!! This wasn't a d*** spill, with a limited amount of oil that could be released into the environment, then it stops and volunteers clean the beaches. This was a blowout that won't stop until the guys in the oil patch can make it stop.

Thanks for responding waterplanner. Blowout is excellent.

Making it stop is obviously more important to some than others who are obsessed with getting the oil aboard processing ships as well as continuing deepwater drilling. Logic says the hemorrhaging must stop asap to abate the ongoing environmental destruction, but including the grab for the treasure prevents a real, sustainable solution. The problem appears to be that both objectives cannot be met, at least not now, possibly never, if we continue as we are with regulators that cannot possibly comprehend the situation exactly as is happening simultaneously with all TBTF industries requiring strict regulation.

Someone please explain why the well/pipes cannot be sealed/capped and be done with for now. Certainly they have other pressing projects to attend to. Are we in such dire straits today that this one spectacular blowout be allowed to run rampant through the Gulf Stream and destroy every ecosystem in its path? If I am correct about what can and cannot be done, BP might as well be attempting to "tent" the desperation, i.e.; the truth about peak is getting out there regardless.

I said "Someone please explain why the well/pipes cannot be sealed/capped and be done with for now."

Because if it truly cannot be done, we have absolutely no business out there anyway. Too far, too deep, too much potential for disaster. Period. That is the thing about the sea serious mariners know all too well: You can survive the sea, but you cannot control it.

"A 73 year old, emotional, professor at U of Cal Berkley is being quoted as the ultimate authority. Is the fact that he is 73 and emotional a factor – probably not. Are his credentials good – up to a point."

if his age and emotional status are relevant, may we say the same about yours?

"I also get the feeling that he is focused on methane hydrates."

that sounds like you're building up a straw man to knock down, eh? arriving at conclusions without complete information as well, exactly what you accuse him of. attack the information, not the messenger, and i'll give your reply more credence.

shelburn -- What do you mean by that crack "cooks or consulting geologists"? Some would find it insulting to be lumped together like that. I'm talking about the cooks, of course. Actually I've known some old cooks who understood the signs of potential well control situations. But wouldn't use them as expert witnesses, of course.

The media is certainly incompetent but I am detecting a certain confidence('hubris') in your response.
Can you as an expert assure the public that billions of barrels of oil can be safely extracted at extreme depths by the Deep Horizon technology?

The methane bubble could have been released by
warm oil moving up thru a bed of methane hydrates, melting them.

Was this possibility considered by BP in drilling this well?

Almost certainly not, because if true this could make a huge number of superdeep offshore wells undrillable.

"Can you as an expert assure the public that billions of barrels of oil can be safely extracted at extreme depths by the Deep Horizon technology?"

Absolutely not. As an engineer, what I can tell you is that the track record is way over 99% safe. The last blowout in US offshore waters that resulted in a large oil spill was in 1969, over 40 years ago. Since that time I think there have been well over 10,000 wells drilled offshore, which would give a 99.99% safety record.

But that's the problem isn't it. It that 1/100th of 1% that results in a complete disaster with 11 men killed, (and it could have been many more), more injured, a potentially massive environmental disaster and billions of dollars wasted. In fact the miracle here is that over 100 men got off the rig alive.

"The methane bubble could have been released by warm oil moving up thru a bed of methane hydrates, melting them."

If, repeat if, it was a methane bubble that caused the blowout oil would not have been the cause of it melting as the oil was being held down by the drilling mud. The heat source would probably been from the cementing process as cement gives off heat as it cures.

"Was this possibility considered by BP in drilling this well?"

Absolutely. I am no expert on downhole so will leave any technical explanation for others but I have been aware for 20 years that drillers considered methane hydrates as one of the hazards they have to prepare for in deepwater drilling.

"Almost certainly not, because if true this could make a huge number of superdeep offshore wells undrillable."

See above.

Well, you sound like a typical manager.

Here's presentation showing offshore gas hydrate dangers.

"Regulations require conductor casing to be set immediately before drilling into
hydrocarbons but with hydrates that may not be possible."


Deepwater petroleum, the Holy Grail of the Drill-Baby-Drill crowd, may be far riskier than your 99.9% confidence would lead the public to believe.

When I heard managers complaining that 'nothing is 100% safe', and that 'the public is being unreasonable', I conclude that they are contaminated with groupthink and CYA.

The oil industry is among the least safe.

But offshore oil drilling is certainly a risky occupation. Since 2001, 69 oil workers have been killed on the job, with more than 1,300 injuries and around 800 fires.


That may contribute to a certain fatalism
and carelessness.

It may be that the whole operation was another ill-conceived gamble by an industry eager to prove it can supply the US oil addiction at Peak Oil.

maj -- I might disagree with some your assertions but not the tone. BTW,if hydrates are going to hurt you it would happen at the beginning of the ops and not at the end.

But let's just keep it simple: the physical conditions which attributed to the blow out have been encoutered repeatedly for decades in the GOM...on the shelf and in the Deep Water. Forget about the stats. Those same conditions will continue to be encountered. The public and gov't need to understand that and decide to drill or not drill. It's really just that simple.

And shelburn a "typical manager". Ohhh...those are fightin' words in Texas. Let the blood sport begin!!!

Then you think the decision to drill a well in what seems to be a bed of gas hydrates was reasonable and 'no big deal'?

Why am I not reassured?

I may sound harsh but we are shutting down the Space Shuttle program on account of some o-rings and some insulating tiles.

Perhaps super deepwater oil development will
continue evolve from Colonel Edwin Drake's stovepipe hat or maybe it's a technological dead end.

maj -- I've seen no data indicating they did drill thru hydrates. But if they did it wouldn't be a big deal with respect to the accident. Those hydrates would have been behind multiple strings of casing long before the well blew out. But there are other shallow situations which are known to be very dangerous: shallow NG sands. That's why special seismic surveys are required by the feds before you get a drill permit. So you move your location to avoid them. And if they can't be avoided they design a casing program to deal with the problem.

It appears rather obvious to me that the source of the blow out was 18,000' down.

i think what rockman is trying to say is that caltrates occur below the ocean floor and to a limited depth. so once the shallow sea floor is drilled, cased and cemented, the hydrates are sealed behind casing.


While it is stable at a temperature of up to around 0°C, at higher pressures methane clathrates remain stable up to 18 °C.

assuming the ocean floor is at 32 deg f and the temperature gradient is 0.006 deg f per foot (0.6 deg f per 100 ft., a low temp gradient) the hydrates couldnt exist below about 5300 ft (18 deg c or64 deg f). this section is behind casing and a cement sheath.

no need to look for anything as exotic as hydrates to explain the existance of methane gas on the rig floor or methane hydrates in the dome, methane had to come from the miocene. hydrates would form readily at 32 deg f.

i assume we are in for a round of "blame hydrates" here now.

i think what rockman is trying to say is that caltrates occur below the ocean floor and to a limited depth.

He stated that the change in pressure is (perhaps) the issue. (I only hedge as there could be caltrates on the floor there - I do not know)

The Gas is under pressure and as it leaves the higher pressure of the well to the lower pressure of the ocean it will have a drop in temp (Boyles law as I remember). That low pressure, now cold, gas then mixes with water (already at 1 deg C) and gets trapped in an ice matrix.

North Korea's oil consumption reportedly dropped more 71% in 2003.
The previous major drop in 1990/1991 with drought caused a massive famine with some 2 to 3.5 million people dieing.

You want an income and retirement too? How do you propose to achieve those after killing the economy by cutting off oil? - or not keeping up with the decline after Peak Oil?

You are welcome to switch back to coal and oxcarts! e.g.
Total Number of Coal Mining Fatalities from 1900 through 2009: 104,674

massive famine with some 2 to 3.5 million people dieing.

Plenty of people are gonna die on the downslope of the end of oil.

Energy per person = energy / number of people

If the amount of energy goes down and the energy per person is desired to be the same, what way do you think "management" is going to try to balance the equation?

You want an income and retirement too? How do you propose to achieve those after killing the economy by cutting off oil?

Perhaps the idea of 'income' and 'retirement' is as unrealistic as 'the economy' needing to be 'saved'. Or even that 'economy' actually means what is claimed by many.

But I'll let another frame the issue not by oil but with a different 'thing' and with a different group.

It turns out that in an audience of approximately 100 people committed to spiritually evolve our society, only one person would push the button.
Upon reflection, 99 would not. I asked why. They said that if they pushed the button, their mutual funds would go down and their government checks might stop. I commented that what they were proposing is that an entire infrastructure of people continue to market narcotics to their children and grandchildren to ensure that their mutual and pension funds stay high in value.
They said, yes, that was right.

I wouldn't have a clue what caused the problem, but this BBC article tells us that the box is sitting on the seabed next to the well while they figure out what to do about "flammable gas hydrates" which have formed inside the box.

"The dome is currently sitting on the seabed while we evaluate options to deal with the hydrate issue. We believe that it'll probably take the next two days to look for opportunities to overcome this challenge."

These could include using hot water to heat up the hydrates at the ocean floor, or using hydrocarbons like methanol to thin them out.

"I wouldn't say it's failed yet," Mr Suttles added. "What I would say is what we attempted to do last night didn't work."

I love corporate-speak :) "opportunities to overcome this challenge" instead of "figure out how to fix this mess" :D

There is a quote attributed to Herbert Spencer. "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.

As shelburn has so competently explained above, many of "the media, the politicians, and the bloggers" have once again managed to prove Herbert Spencer correct.

Funny, we are all experts in one area or another and have all seen first hand how non-experts in our particular area of expertise get it wrong simply because they fall prey to that fundamental temptation of the human species to claim the right to an opinion without working for it first. By that I mean taking the time to study the facts, seek out the real experts, and refrain from forming an opinion until you have the understanding to back it up. We see others doing it all the time, it is the rare person that can see it in themselves and resist the urge. It is all to easy to makeup or regurgitate incorrect information simply because it massages your mental pleasure center.

I am fortunate that there are so many exceptional people contributing their hard work and time to enlighten me here on the Oil Drum.

By the way, MSNBC is just quoting an AP report that "documents show a methane bubble" caused the oil rig explosion.

Thanks for a nice overview Shelburn!

One question about the "fire department": You basically state that the response to the spill has been adequate, and that the contingency plans have worked. As a layman, I do keep wondering though: If this tailor-made dome is going to save the day, why is there no "generic" dome (or a couple of different versions) sitting at the gulf coastline for such an emergency case? Is it that noone thought they could be useful, or is it that such a dome has to be tailor-made for each specific accident site, and having one ready might not help because it would have to be rebuilt anyway for the specific accident site?
From the reports I read it seems that 10 days or so were lost by having to construct this dome, and the cost of cleaning up the mess made during those 10 days would seem to outweigh the "insurance cost" of having a few domes ready by a few orders of magnitude. Or am I missing something here?

I can't say I think the spill response was "adequate". Adequate would be cleaning up all the oil and that is certainly not happening yet.

I think the spill response was substantial but we have a spill that is clearly more than substantial.

How much standby response is enough is a question I'm sure will be debated for months and I am also sure the end result will be to increase the level of readiness.

The dome itself has to be custom made for the situation. If this one works and they deploy a second dome don't be surprised if it has a different configuration to this one.

There are a lot of technical problems, many discussed on this board, that will be solved assuming this dome works. In a way this is like a R&D project and all that knowledge will be available for future use.

Even though the dome itself will probably have to be custom made to meet any future leak there is a lot of the system above the dome that could probably be kept on standby. I don't think the fabrication of the dome itself has been the delaying factor. I think the critical path is probably somewhere else in the system - engineering, vessel procurement, drill string/riser modification, etc.

If, God forbid, this happens again the response will be better and quicker due to lessons learned here.

The dome itself has to be custom made for the situation

Is not this dome a modified coffer dam that was once used in shallow water?

I'm guessing there just is not diagram out there better than the one you posted here. You might note that when I posted it yesterday a I fiddled with the width and height of the jpg a little to bring the drawing a little closer to a proportional representation ?- )

Thanks for the recap, nice job of consolidating a transitioning between the replies you made to HOs key post.

I should mention that this week's episode of This Week in Energy (Episode 23) features interviews on the Oil Spill. One is with Arthur Berman, of our staff. The other is with Dr. Kiki Sanford, who talks more about the environmental impacts.

Speaking as a retired chemical engineer, all I can say is that if oil people have a problem with bad publicity on the causes of the disaster they should have made damn sure it never happened. Saying we don't know yet doesn't cut it, because that fact is self-evident on the face of it. Just the way things are, and blaming the media is irrelevant.

As retired licensed therapist, I can say I have massive problems with the mass media that continually spouts off on subjects in which they have little, or no, knowledge or expertise. Mass media is entertainment. In addition, I have zero expectation for any industry or occupation to deal with all problems at all times in all situations regardless of conditions. I've made far to many mistakes in my own professional life to think that way.

I really appreciate the Oil Drum and articles such as this that are written by knowledgable people. Without sources such as this I would be left with the "entertainment".

Thank you.

I'm not commenting on the bad publicity, bad publicity is a given in this situation.

I'm disgusted with the misinformation from the media and also the lack of factual information both from the media and BP.

We, the people on this board, "don't know yet" because we don't have the required information and are being fed a lot half truths and untruths by the media.

It is possible that BP already know exactly what happened and it is also possible they won't know until the BOP is recovered - which is at least 3 months in the future.

BP, as the operator, is ultimately accountable and they will be paying in many ways for many years, including the bad publicity.

There is a root cause and responsibility for this accident and hopefully there will be proper accountability for the mistakes or failures that caused the accident. Even more important is to understand what happened so safety can be improved and hopefully keep it from happening in the future.

But there is still no excuse for the media to do such a poor job of explaining what happened and what is going on.

All judgments aside, I agree with that tactic. Obviously the BOP is one the root cause factors, so wait until it can be recovered and analyzed. Until that time, "work the problem in front of you" (I watched Apollo 13 the other night).

Once again Boyle's Law proves true; a gas will expand to fill a vacuum. Here the vacuum is lack of knowledge to meet inquiry and expectations and the gas is poor information.

Thanks Shelburn and Rockman for providing insights into the complexities of very high rapid pressure transients and high uncertainties of unknown gas bubbles.

Are you claiming omniscience with an immaculate record in all projects?

We all seek to emulate the Deacon's Masterpiece in constructing his One Horse Shay.

However, we actually experience:
To Engineer is Human, the Role of Failure in Successful Design
Henry Petroski, ISBN 0-679-73416-3

Nope. I'm claiming impatience with the media after you've caused a disaster and have no better explanations is fruitless.

Right now I'm watching CNN and the dome effort has failed, apparently because of hydrate formation.

"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."


Great post Shelburn. In talking about the media distortions, let's not forget about Fox News, which is trying to blame the spill on Obama and his staff.

Actually it was a North Korean mini-sub that used a torpedo to set the rig on fire and two days later blew itself up in a suicide mission directly under the rig to sink it.

Believe it or not - that is from an actual "news article" floating around the internet attributed to the Russian Navy - and 2/3 of the comments were from people who believe the report and were belittling the comments saying it was horsepuky!

I'm selling tin foil hats a wholesale prices.

So it wasn't Dr. Evil with his (air quotes) Laser installation on the moon? Geez, I didn't see that one coming...

"A number of years ago, a small tanker with a full load of fuel broke up on the Scottish coast during a North Sea winter storm......... But after the storm abated, there was almost no sign of the oil. The power of the storm had effectively dispersed all the oil and cleaned the rock beaches and cliffs."

Because the oil was not found on the beaches it was probably on the bottom of the ocean, after coagulating into tar balls and sinking. Light oil can evaporate if exposed to higher temps (sunlight), but this would probably not happen in a storm.

My concern would be the damage to the environment from the oil at the ocean bottom, such as in the GOM where crabs, other shellfish, and scanvenger fish reside and lay eggs. Until the oil is broken down by microbes, the oil is still adversely affecting the aquatic environment. Just because you can't see the oil on the beach doesn't mean that it does no harm. In fact it is still doing great harm to the ocean's creatures at the bottom, beside killing the fishing and shellfish business for years.

Mark S. Bucol
Engineering Consultant, BSME

My concern would be the damage to the environment from the oil at the ocean bottom,


Rick says that the fact that this spill emanates from the bottom of the gulf (5,000 feet down), where the water temperature is approximately 1 degree Centigrade (and the oil is hot) means that by the time the oil reaches the surface, it has thoroughly mixed with water and therefore does not appear to be the kind of gruesome slick that is so famous from previous disasters. .... The dispersant being used at the wellhead – tradename “Corexit,” is nicknamed by Rick “Hidez-it” because the real reason it is used is to keep the damage out of sight. He points out that oil is toxic to wildlife, dispersant is toxic to wildlife, but the toxicity of the two combined is greater than the sum of the parts.

I'm sure many are reflecting on this incident in the larger context as I was yesterday and it occurred to me Tolkien warned us of the consequences of Peak Oil before Hubbard.

Saruman: "Moria... You fear to go into those mines. The dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dum... shadow and flame."

This oil disaster may be our Balrog.

Maybe if Hirsch used this analogy instead of the 0,10, and 20 year planning horizons more people would have readily accepted the recommended plans of action. Nothing like some scary monsters with flames and whips to get people motivated!

Just something to ponder as we appear to up against the limits of our technology...

Tolkien is a very apt prophet for peak oil. We share the fate of Middle Earth... after all, it is us... and we grapple daily with events similar to those which disturbed the Shire and launched the voyage to the Mountain of Doom.

Tolkien writes of the hope of those who face uncertainty, danger and change - none of which is our choosing - but face we must.

With foes ahead, behind us dread,
Beneath the sky shall be our bed,
Until at last our toil be passed,
Our journey done, our errand sped.

We must away! We must away!
We ride before the break of day!

Yet what awaits us may not be all darkness. He goes on to write in the Fellowship:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fires shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

Other parallels can be gleaned from the mantra about the rings:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for mortal men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Modor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Modor where the Shadows lie.

It doesn't take too much imagination to link our modern dependence on oil with the One Ring.

Yes, BC_EE, indeed this is something to ponder. Thank you for raising for us the wisdom of Tolkien.

Thanks for the excellent and illuminating post. Just a couple thoughts on the political aspects of "who" is to blame. I think we should be aware that the industry, not just BP, will want this event to be seen as preventable i.e., that there was negligence. The worst thing, politically, for the industry would be a conclusion that these spills are random events due to unforeseeable circumstances. Therefore, someone "will" be found negligent so that we all can feel safe about deep-water drilling. All the necessary safety procedures "will" be put into place so that this kind of thing cannot happen again and drilling "will" proceed.

We are lucky that this happened to one of the very few companies in the world that has the financial resources to pay the billions of dollars this will cost.

Um, if we were "lucky" we wouldn't be drilling for oil in these places to begin with. Barring that idyllic state of affairs we could still count ourselves "lucky" if sufficient precautions had been taken to prevent such a catastrophe from occurring in the first place.

Given the magnitude of the disaster currently unfolding in the GOM I find myself at a total loss to understand how any of this can even remotely resemble "luck".


The alternative is that it could have been a small or mid-sized independent oil company who might immediately throw in the towel, declare bankruptcy, and leave it to the government to sort out, the taxpayers to foot the bill, and little or no hope for compensation for those who suffer economic damage.

The government may be OK at oversight and promulgating and enforcing regulations, and even the oil cleanup - or maybe not - everyone has their own opinion.

But the government does NOT have the organization or people with the technical expertise to handle well control operations. I shudder to think how disorganized this effort would be if the government had to come in cold turkey and try to run it.

In other words there is a even worse case scenario, and we are lucky that didn't happen.

Thats like saying, Iraq is lucky it was invaded by a large financially well of country.

It appears the dome has filled with hydrates, and they have moved it to the side.

Really weird presser. The BP guy said about four sentences about the dome and then moved on. Didn't stop the questions, though.

OK, the few sentences from CNN say: "The effort to place a containment dome over a gushing wellhead was dealt a setback when a large volume of hydrates - crystals formed when gas combines with water - accumulated inside of the vessel, BP's chief operating officer said Saturday.

The dome was moved off to the side of the wellhead and is resting on the seabed while crews work to overcome the challenge, Doug Settles said."

Any thoughts on what the fix for this problem might be? Do they actually need to circulate warm sea water around the containment dome to prevent the crystallization? (I guess this would require a re-designed dome - perhaps they could re-fit the second one I believe they are preparing).

Also - does this give any new information about the composition of the leak and potential problems with the well?

Some additional info from the AP:

"The buildup on the specially constructed containment box made it too buoyant and clogged it up, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said. Workers who had carefully lowered the massive box over the leak nearly a mile below the surface had to lift it and move it to the side. Now they're trying to unplug it while they look at other solutions."

They want to unplug it just drag it up to warmer water. The problem is probably that it will plug again instantly if they put it back.

NG freezing up as pressures drop is a very common result. Most NG producing wells use a "line heater" to keep the flow lines from freezing up. Given how cold the water is at this depth it's not difficult to imagine some problem like this developing. Just pure speculation on my part but line freeze may actually be reducing the flow rates from the various leaks.

PV = kT will get you every time.

ROCKMAN - any chance they could use something like liquid nitrogen to freeze the lower part of the BOP?

I'd envision two mating (but not necessarily interconnected) semi-circular halves, each independant with own supply of LN2, sealed and pressurized, as you couldn't just spray LN2 into the water.
At the BOP, they're placed together as low as possible, then LN2 is allowed to flow through the channels in the "cooling coils". Maybe a jacket of glycol or something that wouldn't freeze quite as soon as water - maybe not. Might need to have the reservoirs detachable so they can be changed out (or refilled underwater). When the well stops, hot tap into the riser nearby to check it.
Then pop off the riser, cut the drill pipe if it's still there and stick on another BOP real quick.

They did some freeze seals for an underground power line in LA:

For that matter, why not hot tap into the upper loop of the riser pipe if you're just looking for leak containment?

The Dome hit a snag!


Two days to trouble shoot.

from AP - "Icelike crystals encrusting a 100-ton steel-and-concrete box meant to contain oil gushing from a broken well deep in the Gulf of Mexico forced crews Saturday to back off a long-shot plan to contain the leak. The buildup on the specially constructed containment box made it too buoyant and clogged it up"


The buoyancy problem should be an easy - but time consuming - fix. EVERYTHING at 5,000 feet is time consuming.

I don't know much about hydrates but that much buildup doesn't sound good.

Maybe they need to hook it up to the drill string, get their hot water and methanol running and use the drill ship to lower it. Which should be doable.

By the way I think they may be planning to use an ROV to inject the methanol.

OK, I see some plumbing incorporated into the 'dome' that I had missed before - is it possible that the pipes were expected to circulate the warm water?


I suppose the crystals started to form as soon as the solution inside the box became saturated. So perhaps they will need to install the dome 'hot' with the pipe attached? Or maybe this is impossible to do...

I doubt the dome idea has any chance of success, but regardless, have you done a calculation of how fast you need to pump in hot water at the top so that it reaches the bottom relatively warm? 5000' in a metal pipe is a lot of area for heat exchange. From the diagram it looks like the "hot water" enters the dome, but that seems unlikely as it would flush oil out the dome.

No, but it clearly was anticipated that circulation of warm water was a requirement.

A closer look at a more complete photo of the 'dome':


shows that the large pipes on the outside are non-functional as they were cut to allow the installation of the mud flaps. There really is quite a bit of plumbing on it, but as it is mainly a recycled piece I find it impossible to speculate what, if any, portion of the plumbing was expected to function in it's current application.

Looks like a back to the drawing board situation to me.

If you look at the diagrams published any fluids needing injected would come down the drill pipe maybe using something like a inner pipe that extends into the 'dome' and injects something to keep hydrates from forming and then the oil/water/gas comes up the outside. Kind of like pumping mud down the drill stem when drilling. The ROVs could also "plumb" something up as they have all kinds of cutting and welding tools as evidenced when they put the valve on the other leak. These guys are not going "back to the drawing board" that quick.

I think what you say was the plan - that is to heat the delivery pipe and possibly inject methanol. However, it seems to me that what happened was that as soon as the 'dome' box was set over the leak, the solution inside became saturated and crystallization began rapidly enough that it plugged the outlet and the dome became buoyant. When I first saw the plumbing on the box I thought they might have intended to use it to circulate warm water, but closer examination shows most, if not all of it is just leftovers from the previous function or application - it has been cut up and is non functional. Can't say about the portion on the pyramid top as I believe that was fabricated for this use and may be functional.

In any case I conclude that in order to use the box it will have to be heated immediately upon being set over the leak and I am skeptical that this can be accomplished without some significant re-engineering - beyond the capabilities of the submersible ROVs.

The entire dome is brand new and everything on it is there for some purpose, much of it I can't tell without seeing the blueprints or at least the inside of the dome but I can identify transponder cages, ROV hand holds, pulling pad eyes as well as a number of fittings. Some of the things that look like pipes running up and down the outside are structural members. Offshore engineers often use pipe where an engineer onshore would use a channel or I beam.

You use what you are comfortable with and if you ever look at ships or offshore rigs you see very few I beams or channels on permanent equipment because around salt water they are prone to rust and corrosion and are high maintenance, not to mention unsafe if they have hidden corrosion.

If you have the picture showing a square on top made out of tubulars that is actually the lifting frame which is probably attached with ROV operatable quick release shackles.

The only reason for them to keep the dome hanging off is that they think they have a plan that does not require any retrofit to the dome. If they have to retrofit the dome they can bring it up on deck in about 3 hours (+/- 2 hrs) and the vessel that is holding it has welding and cutting equipment and a fabrication crew onboard.

If they need to remove the hydrates they can just raise the dome a few thousand feet and the hydrates will melt away, in fact I would bet they have already done that, or brought it back to the surface.

I'm not sure what the configuration of the Discoverer Enterprise is but these kind of drillships have power plants that can power a small city - literally - so supplying the required hot water should not be a problem. The problem is how you can configure the plumbing a mile away straight down, in the dark, in the open ocean, through differing currents in the water column and do it all by remote control.

The entire dome is brand new and everything on it is there for some purpose,

Where did you find this information. The earliest reports had them retrofitting a coffer dam/s that I believe had been used after Katrina. That yellow looking concrete in the early pictures when two identical domes were side doesn't look like any I've seen on freshly poured structure I have ever encountered, and I've worked with thousands of pours.

Since those early reports none have mentioned the origin of the dome/s. Those pipes cut off at the shelves look very much like a retrofit. I'm sure there are plenty of people who were involved in either the fresh pour (you are the only source I have claiming it is one) or in retrofitting the old structure.

The pipes of course could and probably would have run all the way to the bottom when they were a lifting cage or part of a pumping system or both for the domes in their former lives as a coffer dams. Just a thought from someone who has poured a lot of different boxes and has spent a little time around those obfuscating spinners known as BP.

Look at the rust marks on that concrete next to the vertical pipes on both coffer dams and tell me they are new.

This thread is kind of dead and shelburn has left in disgust after some insults were thrown his way - but I am sure you are correct Luke. It might have been that shelburn was referring to the cover for the box which I do believe was fabricated specifically for the task. Moot point now as this thing didn't work and the new version can be seen in the new BP graphic here:


This is clearly an all new, made to order affair - and only about 5' tall.

I sure hope the tophat works. All solutions that have BP potentially increasing the flow in order to plug it are not in the low risk realm. They have more than a month to try and get something to work while the relief well work goes on. Two more failed project that take two weeks each will get them pretty close--though I'm hoping it goes down better than that.

Sometimes you have to have thick skin to post around here. I try to keep my comments civil enough but on occasion I've looked over my words and have been glad no one locked in what I posted with a reply (a couple times I may have been too late). I then usually have found I could drop the whole section that might have been too pointed and work any important thoughts into a cooler response.

I thank Shelburn for his efforts--hope my comments didn't help drive him off.

More misinformation. Apparently this author has ignored undersea videos of an oil "geyser" with a much higher flow rate than the authorities would like to admit.

From the Green section of the New York Times:

3:59 p.m. |Officials for BP on Saturday encountered a significant setback in their efforts to attach a containment dome over a leaking well on the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico, forcing them to move the dome aside while they evaluate find another method to cap the crude oil flowing into the Gulf since April 20.

Officials discovered that gas hydrates, ice-like crystals, had built up inside the 100-ton metal container. The hydrates tried to make the dome buoyant, preventing it from being effective.

“I wouldn’t say it has failed yet,” Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said at a news conference in Louisiana, “what we attempted to do last night hasn’t worked.”

They lifted the dome off the well and placed it on the seabed.

BP officials said they had anticipated a problem with hydration — but not this soon in the operation. Since last week they had been cautioning that this type of procedure had never before been attempted at 5,000 feet below the surface.

The news on Saturday came as BP has struggled to find any method to stem the majority of the oil, leaking at least 5,000 gallons per day.

For now, they have put the dome 650 feet to the side of the leaking well, “while we evaluate options,” Mr. Suttles said.

“I wouldn’t say it has failed yet,” Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said at a news conference in Louisiana, “what we attempted to do last night hasn’t worked.”

If that was said about something else, let's say birth-control, you would have a spike of anxiety the morning after.

Mr. Suttles' words have spiked my anxiety in a similar way.

RE: BOP and chart-spinning fraud?


Former Oil Rig Worker Says Cheating on Blowout Preventer Tests Widespread
24 Corporate Crime Reporter 19, May 6, 2010

BP will not be happy with Mike Mason.
Mason is a 27 year oil industry veteran who worked on oil rigs at BP facilities on the North Slope of Alaska.
He knows the ins and outs of blowout preventers.
And he says that cheating on tests for blowout preventers is widespread in the industry.
He says he’s witnessed BP cheating on such tests in the North Slope.
On January 21, 2005, Corporate Crime Reporter ran an article detailing Mason’s allegations of BP’s cheating on blowout preventer tests.
At the time, Mason was working for Nabors Alaska Drilling Inc. – a BP contractor on the North Slope.
Mason witnessed two blowouts of BP wells on the North Slope in 2003 – one on July 3 and one on December 6.
At the time, Mason was feeding information to oil industry critic Charles Hamel.
Hamel wrote to then Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), asking for an investigation.
“BP and Nabors Alaska Drilling are reported to be falsifying drilling records and critical AOGCC (Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) required Blow Out Prevention tests as well as concealing from AOGCC and ADEC (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation) at least two reportable blow-out/spills,” Hamel wrote.
The Wall Street Journal followed up with a story on February 5, 2005.
As a result of the Corporate Crime Reporter and Wall Street Journal articles, investigations were launched.
In June 2005, the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC) ruled that a Nabors' employee had falsified blowout preventer tests.
How? Chart spinning.

What is chart spinning?
Well, to test a blowout preventer, you build up the pressure for five minutes.
And you record the pressure test on a chart.
The Commission found that the Nabors employee cheated.
They built up the pressure for only one minute.
Or two minutes.
And then manually moved the chart to show that it had been pressurized for the required five minutes.
Nabors also investigated the situation and agreed with the Commission’s findings.
The Commission ordered Nabors to pay $10,000 in costs.
And according to Mason, Nabors fired the responsible manager.
But Mason says that that was just one instance.
He says that cheating on blow out prevention tests is a way of life in the oil industry.
“They cheat to save money and time,” Mason said.
Mason says he personally witnessed BP managers repeatedly cheating on blowout prevention tests.
But BP was never charged.
Why not?
Mason says that he spoke with the Nabors manager who was fired.
And the Nabors manager who was fired said that he wouldn’t tell investigators who at BP was complicit.
Why did the Nabors manager take the fall for the BP managers?
“That’s just the type of person he was,” Mason says. “He wasn’t the type of person who was going to turn other people in.”
Mason was fired from his job at Nabors on July 16, 2006, four days after he wrote a letter to the editor of the Anchorage Daily News.
In the letter, Mason criticizes Nabors for incorporating in Barbados for tax reasons.
“My son has made a commitment to his country, and I will see him off to Iraq soon,” Mason wrote. “All I can think about is he could end up making the ultimate sacrifice for his country and at the same time Nabors is avoiding their responsibilities as Americans. Forget Benedict Arnold. Nabors Industries is the ultimate American traitor.”
Mason says his son has done two tours in Iraq and is now home safe in Texas.

Corporate Crime Reporter
1209 National Press Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20045

The news story about what cause the explosions stating methane as the cause has been repeated on some blogs as gospel. The ignorance takes flight.
I hate to see what the hydrates story will spawn.
I just registered because this site gives the best information.
I know nothing about offshore oil rigs and this is a great way to learn.
The msm has been derelict in reporting on this story.
They picked up the Katrina comparison and then the Obama caused it lie. After the Sunday shows, maybe they'll pick up another tale for the masses.
People need to be informed about what is going on.
My thought is that considering how complicated offshore drilling is and the aftermath of the explosions, working out ways to make alternative sources of energy practical is possible. It will take time.
My hat is off to all those working on this spill.

Slightly OT:
Sunday is Mother's Day. The date BerryBob declared "Hang out your washday" Ten years ago.
Very simply, turn off the clothes dryer, string up a rope and show your colours.
I realise in many developments across North America, hanging out laundry to dry is a crime. Time for a little civil disobedience.
I'm going for the front yard. Make part of your display an American flag to confuse Hummer Owners.
What's the worst nasty neighbours can do, bomb the home with those little sheets of no cling?

To Shelburn, Rockman et al. Thank you for all the information. As a retired oil biz guy who worked in technical and management positions for several companies around the world I can't tell you how nice it is to have a place to find sanctuary from the the storm of media "out of context sound bites " and hysteria. Nice to find people who are actually interested in science, engineering, and problem solving.
Keep up the good info stream-all of you. I do not know how long this can last because based on news sites and blogs this incident will cause the world to end. Gotta tell you though, you could not pay me enough to want to be in the shoes of the BP execs now. What a nightmare.

Is the dome a dog and pony show? This took all of a few hours to fail....what is next, golf balls? Oh yes, that is Plan B.

So if this "dome" structure doesn't work out, the only plan "B" I've heard about is the relief well, which is also tricky from what I heard the Commandant of the Coast Guard say yesterday. Very frustrating, (living along the gulf coast) listening to everyone try and determine what exactly went wrong to cause this. I know thats important..but to those of us who live here, the most important thing is finding a way to stop it from continuing.

Long time reader, new poster. Not an oilfield hand, just someone who has tried to educate themselves about it as best I can reading people like Rockman and others here on TOD and in other places they link to.

No, BP isn't going to waste millions on a show, it had a chance to work and still does. Keeping the hydrate formation down is the key, sometimes "crazy" ideas DO work or the give you great clues to something that does work. These are very smart engineers with an unlimited budget and resources, but limited time, so trying something quick and relatively simple makes sense. How to fix the hydrates? Maybe Pumping methanol down and into the dome to mix in might do the trick, sending down hot water or a combination of the two may work as well, high pressure pumps would be needed but the drillship has all that. I wonder if heat cables similar to those used in a greenhouse might work? The riser pipes look like they have foam on them for bouancy, could that also double as insulation to keep the solution hot all the way down?

As far as golf balls go, you must have read the idea of a "junk kill" but that would require getting access to the BOP lines to pump in the "junk". Once they killed the well then they could stab in another BOP on top of the other one, close it off and the problem is solved. I've read about these kills but it would be just to keep it under control for the relief well to arrive. Rockman and others can tell you more about it. Maybe "junk" is just some sort of really special Mud as the oil biz seems to have nicknames for most everything but it may just be anything laying around that can be used to plug a hole. Sounds simple, but what do I know??

Keep up the good posts Rockman, HeadingOut and all the others who have been there, done that and have the scars (mental and physical) to show for it. I have utmost respect for your taking the time to share your knowledge. In many cases your time is also money. To get this sort of education would cost a fortune.

Actually, the dome was becoming buoyant, ie lifting off the floor of the seabed. They had hoped to heat the pipe that led to the surface, not the entire containment structure and everything inside. Pumping in methane? How much would have to be pumped in, and wouldn't that just create more ice, as the hydrate is formed by methane reacting with very cold water....obviously, none of this was in the plans as the last thing BP wanted to to have to announce this today. They had said monday for the first oil so this announcement is very abrupt IMO.

Methanol..not methane..very, very different. Announcing it didn't work isn't giving up it's actually good PR practice. It lets the public know what is going on.

No, BP isn't going to waste millions on a show, it had a chance to work and still does

Rockman originally (several articles ago) responded to a poster that asked why such domes aren't around ready to go by saying

Just a guess 292 but maybe it's because they never saw much possibility of such a method working. I hope I'm very wrong but I don't expect much relief from this approach.

A couple million for a show that at least has a long shot possibility of working is nothing in a multi billion dollar screw up. Of course they hope it will work. The more they batted around difficulties and came up with solutions on this approach the more those directly involved were able to convince themselves it could work--we saw our conversations on this site have more or less the same effect.

Back when BP and ARCO were partners on the slope they built a twenty to thirty million dollar bridge over the causeway to their seawater inlet plant. Then they dug a channel under it. The whole project was a big green show. A lodge owner in the general area (there are few) had claimed the causeway had blocked fish migration and wanted damages. No baseline studies were available and the science really wasn't much a part of the show.

The family that started the action just wanted to get a couple bucks from the oil companies--I had that first hand from one of the family members who just happened to be in my fencing class at the same time I was flying back and forth to work on the bridge. BP and ARCO saw the situation as an opportunity to make a big green splash that would be very beneficial to their future operations. It gave a lot of Alaskan construction workers jobs when things were slow so I am not complaining--but there was minimal scientific basis for the project. And the lodge owner family that started the commotion--didn't get a dime.


BP calls its blowout plan “top kill.” The idea would be to block the oil from rising and direct it back into the well, Fryar said. Scientists and engineers working on the project were even considering untried methods such as injecting golf balls and other debris into the blowout preventer to gum it up, he said.

Where was the contingency plan two months ago? BP saying was no backup plan if the BOP failed/ That is unbelievable.......no tests, no plans, not enough boom, no acoustic trigger on the BOP, untested at 5,000 feet.

What about having barges filled with concrete designed to harden in water, dropping load after load onto the leak areas to seal them? Wouldn't that work?

I guess they don't want to disturb the BOP that is sitting on the well. Disturbing the BOP may dramatically increase the flow.

Earl -- As I envision it the basic problem would be containment sufficient to let the cmt to cure. Imagine a bucket with a garden hose flowing water into the bottom of it. You could easly dump wet cmt into the bucket but the water flow would wash the cmt out before it could set. Same old chicken and egg problem: gotta stop the flow to set the cmt but have to get the cmt to set to stop the flow.

Yeah, I realized after making the suggestion it probably wouldn't work.

How about if they were required to have a relief well from the outset, they could have shut this down already.....in other words, no way to plug it fast, no drill.

How about if they were required to have a relief well from the outset, they could have shut this down already.....in other words, no way to plug it fast, no drill.

Anybody know if a projection map of the spew exists out for 30-45 days? Is it likely to spread west?

The traditional winds for this time of year are going to bring it straight to Louisiana, both East and West of the river......bit that is a lot of oil if we are talking 60 days.

In Canada relief wells are required to be built along with exploratory wells in season....and this will probably be mandated here in the US after this catastrophe,


"In Canada relief wells are required to be built along with exploratory wells in season....and this will probably be mandated here in the US after this catastrophe, "
What you mean to say is that:-
"In the event of an uncontrolled Frontier onshore or offshore blow-out that is not quickly brought under control at the existing well head, relief wells are required to be built along with exploratory wells in the same drilling season ... "
I wonder what NEB will require in the way of contingency plans and performance bonds for a relief well. It is the increased performance bonds that will be the killer for juniors in the Frontier.

The onshore PanArctic King Christian blow-out in October 1970 flowed at an estimated 50 MMcf/d (PanArctic initial estimate) to 200 MMcf/d (geologist's estimate) and was brought under control by a relief well at the first attempt at the end of January 1971. But this was a posthole, the target was at 2000 feet.
And oh the stunning silence and oh the blinding darkness on Melville Island from the exact moment the well was killed.
From memory, Canada has had no serious Offshore Frontier drilling disasters (the Ocean Ranger was not a drilling disaster).
In comparison, the famous Amoco Lodgepole 13-12 48-12W5M (which I worked on, afterward) blew at less than 50 MMcf/d for 3 months.

What Canada requires is that any relief well must be drilled during the same season as a blowout happens. That doesn't have any particular application in the Gulf of Mexico because there is no season, you can drill at any time of the year.

The concern in Canada, especially in the far north, is in some places you can only operate a few months a year and if you were to have a blow out near the end of the season it could be up to nine months before you could even start a relief well.

The oil companies planning to drill in the Beaufort have been trying to get around that requirement - that they always have enough time to drill a relief well that season - as it essentially cuts their season in half or worse. A side benefit, if you will, of the current disaster is that they will probably not get away with it, at least not for a few more years.

Rockman or others could tell you better that I what the time frame is to set up to spud a relief well in 5,000 feet of water but I guess it would take about 5 to 7 days from arrival onsite until you can actually spud (start drilling). First they have to lower the BOP stack and all the associated equipment and bolt together a mile of risers sections and lower it all to the seabed and that takes a number of days. Probably at least a day of that time is set aside for safety checks, DP trials, etc.

In this case they spudded the first relief well in less than two weeks from the initial blowout which seems very fast to me as the rig had to plug the hole they were working on, pull all their riser and BOP stack and then travel from where they were to the new location. In fact it was so fast that it is possible they weren't actually making hole.

One of the possibilities that might be considered is that there be one ultradeep rig on standby whenever deep water drilling is going on in the Gulf. That would probably shorten the time to start a relief well by about 5 to 7 days.

It would probably require all the operators to chip in about $100,000 per day for every rig they had drilling but that cost could probably be reduced as only a marine crew would have to be onboard full time and the drilling, ROV and catering crew staffed from off duty crews could be flown out when an emergency arose.

From today's Toronto Star: Gulf oil disaster fuels fears in Arctic


Towards the end of the article:

"In the western Arctic, oil companies are pressing federal regulators to ease demands for relief wells that might help avert disasters like the one unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.(emphasis mine.)

Oil firms operating in the Beaufort Sea must be able to drill relief wells, and if necessary, safely shut them down with original wells during a single Arctic drilling season.

Imperial Oil, BP, which owns the well leaking in the Gulf, and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers have asked the National Energy Board to suspend the regulation, which has been in effect for more than three decades."

Thanks for correcting me about the relief wells......in that case I think oil companies need to find a way to drill so that the safety "hole" is part of construction of the well.

But would not the relief well have the potentional for BOP issues as well?

The 'easy' fix may have been to take their time with the drilling , having redundant systems or even not cheating on testing. (all of these issues have been mentioned here today)

Well, duh.
Of course the relief well has the potential "for BOP issues".
Who do you really think runs these wells? Joe Sixpack from Ponoka? Haven't you grasped that there are redundant systems all over these on these rigs? Do you think the industry deliberately plans for disaster, and that heads are not going to roll for this one? Do you think that a technical risk assessment was not done?
You're paying for the Western political and economic demand for cheap oil.
Get a grip.

Who do you really think runs these wells?

The kind of people who are willing to take shortcuts to feather their own nest. The same kind of people who let sleeping security guards lie. Or fake weld xrays. Or ....

Joe Sixpack from Ponoka

Canadians have funny names, tee hee.

Haven't you grasped that there are redundant systems all over these on these rigs?

Haven't you read upthread about the claim that a waver was issued for some kit that is alledged would have prevented this?

Or how about the claim that industry fakes the performance tests on the BOPs?

Redundancy and safety has a history of taking a back seat to production and profits.

Do you think the industry deliberately plans for disaster

Given 'the industry' used to have George Walker Bush as one of its members I'm taking that as meaning almost anyone can get a job there - and more than a few of 'em have poor connections between cause and effect.

and that heads are not going to roll for this one?

11 heads have already rolled. And I'm sure a few token people will be "fired". (Vs some of the 11 who's head have already rolled - I'm guessing they got fire'd and that is how their heads, well, rolled.)*

Do you think that a technical risk assessment was not done?

Now lets get to brass tacks. Yes a 'risk assessment' was done. Duh. But you seem to be implying that this 'risk assessment' was honest, compentent and followed.

"Risk Assessments" would have had to been done to get the alledged waver - unless the waver process is 100% political and has no basis in technical analysis. If the claim that 'the items waved in 2003 would have prevented this disaster' is true:

1) The rules were created with risk mitigation in mind.
2) BP to try and save a few bucks created a 'risk assessment' that supported kit being removes and got the safety kit removed.

Hopefully the paperwork on this will become part of the public record.

You're paying for the Western political and economic demand for cheap oil.

I thought the various people in other nations were paying that price what with the knock off effects of the Carter Doctrine in play.

If the comments/speculation about rushing the job turn out to be true or even the reports of a waver of kit that could have prevented this and/or faked BOP tests turn out to be determined to be true - the issue is not "the people's fault" but that of firms like BP and Coots in Boots If it costs more to do the job right, then it costs more and the consumers should pay for that, no?

Get a grip.

Its almost like you have a stake in the matter.

*Gallows humor attempt

I'm hoping that Rockman or Shelburn might be kind enough to answer some questions I was thinking about.

This link shows how far along the current relief well drilling has come. A BP spokesman today said it was ahead of schedule.

1) Can you explain why they need to intersect at 18,000 feet instead of, say, 5,000 feet below?

2) Is there a way of estimating how long it will take to intersect the wells given the data so far? The data seems to say they've gone 10,000 feet & 3 casings in ~6 days, which is about 1,600 feet/day or a casing every other day. The article says they have 8,000 feet and 4 casings to go. A linear extrapolation gives completion in ~ a week, which seems way too fast. Given their progress so far, can you estimate how long it will take to intersect the wells?

Found this on another site, have no idea how accurate it is, but thought I would put it out here for the people who know much more than I do about these things can see it.

Noted environmental attorney Stuart H. Smith of Smith Stag Law Firm, New Orleans, Louisiana released the following statement:

"We have been advised through a confidential reliable source, as yet unconfirmed by BP or a second source, that the cofferdam operation, which British Petroleum hoped to seal the DEEPHORIZON well, has failed. Presumably, BP and government officials will address this at the 2 p.m. CST press conference called to discuss status of Cofferdam operations.

"It is our understanding BP may proceed with a "TOP-KILL" to the well, as its next attempt, from the Gulf surface. This involves pumping rubber trash down the pipe and then cementing to try to get a new well plug. This is a very dangerous operation because if it fails, there will be nothing to impede flow of oil from the well, which BP has admitted could reach 60,000 barrels a day.

"In a similar option, an industry source told UpstreamOnline that BP may try to fill the broken BOP with cement, using a slurry that will flash set in seconds.

After the BOP is plugged, the company could tap into the choke and kill valves on the subsea wellhead to pump heavy fluid and cement down into the wellbore and kill the well.

A third option may be to shear the lower marine riser package and stab a new BOP on top of the existing one.

“That also is a very, very complicated task and also brings risks with it,” Suttles said.

It is understood that the BOP on board the Discoverer Enterprise, which is on location, would be used.

According to Transocean's fleet inventory, the BOP is a Hydril 18¾ inch 15,000 psi, six-ram system with a Cameron 15,000 psi wellhead connector.

Any of these options could likely be done faster than the 90 days Suttles estimated it would take for the relief well to intercept the Macondo bore but none has been done before at this depth and depend on pressure readings from inside the BOP"

This is the same thing BP stated in the press briefing today.

I would like to hear some of the better informed folks opinions on these other methods-- personally, I think that BP knows that none of these are likely to work and may actually do more damage than good. Thoughts?

x -- As you drill you encounter rock pressures that increase with depth. Sometimes slowly and other times quickly. As a pore pressure analyst it was my job to estimate these changes. You need to increase the mud weight to counter these increased pressures. But if you exceed the fracture gradient of the shallower rocks you'll destroy the well bore. So you run a string of casing over the lower pressure rocks and can then raise mud weight. This process might have to be repeated several times.

If the cut the casing shallow and expose the lower pressure rock you could cause a second blow out. In this case it might be an "underground blowout": the high-pressure oil/NG is injected into other reservoirs. But the pressure surge could also rupture the shallower casing and the blow out cold leak to the surface from these other casing strings. It could also greatly increase the chances of the relief well being lost and, in a worse case scenario, cause it to blow out.

They should have as accurate estimate aas you can ever have: they’ll drill it just like the blow out well.

I'm just an old retired commercial fisherman with no formal education and zero experience with oil wells (other than passing by the rigs when I shrimped out of Cameron, LA 50 years ago). I just want to express my complete appreciation for the effort you guys (especially and particularly Rockman and Shelburn) have put in here explaining a complicated and complex situation in terms a layman can begin to grasp.

I have a thought. If I understand correctly, the 5,000' length of drill casing(right term?) above/after the BOP is what's leaking. The dc itself can't be totally crimped off for fear of it blowing out completely as the dc isn't strong enough to withstand full pressure from the well. The leaks are some ways (100's of feet) beyond the non functioning BOP.

If that's the case, would it be possible to "sleeve" say first 10' or 20' or 100' of the dc immediately after the BOP. If the dc is 10" od (I don't know what it is) then weld 2 10" id half sleeves of reenforcing strong pipe around the dc. Sort of like is done to fix leaks on submarines (or water pipes in the cellar). Then crimp the far end of the welded sleeve.

Just a thought (and again keep in mind my total lack of engineering experience). While that particular method probably wouldn't work (for any number of reason I'm ignorant of), it just might spark another solution.

And again, kudos to all you guys who enlighten us.

Here is a picture of the top of the BOP stack:


(If anyone knows of a larger version how about a link?) You can see that the top of the stack has been tweaked and stressed with probably unknown consequences for the integrity of the BOP should BP decide to mess with it.

The following:

"Horizon37 says:

The choke and kill lines are out here is a side view, as you can see they are kinked shut. And the only other way into the stack is to remove the LMRP, which they can't do. Here is a link to the side view of the kinked and collapsed riser twitpic.com/1m8f4c as you can see it has the gimbal joint pulled over and there is not enough room to put on a saddle tap, even if one could be made to fit the egged riser."

was posted here:


re #2 - note the depth scale on the graphic - 8788 is from the drilling ship deck.
The 1st 5249 feet (note depth of BOP) is "free", just send the drill pipe down the riser.
So from May 2nd -> May 7th = 5 days. 8788 - 5249 feet - 3538 feet of actual drilling.

average is 707 feet per day.

BUT - they have to stop and let the cement set after each casings, so the actual rate of drilling is higher than rate of hole progress. As they go deeper, progress will slow as the drilling will usually be tougher and they'll spend more time "tripping" dull bits and casings/cementing.

n.b. it took them about 3 months to drill the leaking hole, they had no incentive to dally doing that hole, so the relief well will take about the same. They got a long way to go...thus the focus on leak containment/top kill attempts.

re #1 - my guesses are:
(a) there is less casing to cut into at the lower depth - note they intersect just beneath the 9 5/8" liner, so only one liner to cut into.
(b) the lower down, the slower the flow as gas bubbles haven't expanded as much and there is the back-pressure from all the stuff above, so the more effective the heavy mud/cement will be in killing the well, as it won't be swept away by high flow rates.

Rockman - how'd I do?

Are they likely going to actually machine a hole in the old liner, or just use a perforation gun or something like that?
(close (enough) only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and well killing?)

Pretty good sunny. When they reach the csg in the blowout they'll trip for a mill bit designed specifically to cut metal csg. A common bit but normally used to cut from the inside of csg out. This phase will be very slow and very dangerous.


Firstly I have not drilled using the casing sizes in these holes, but the technique is still the same. For this hole design there are 4 sizes of casing before you run the BOP ie 36", 28", 22" 18 5/8". First you make up the 36" hang it off under the rig, then make up the bottom hole assembly (BHA) with a mud motor which will turn the bit (32") by pumping. The BHA is made 1ft longer than the casing. The BHA has drill ahead tool that allows you to pick up the 36" casing. Run this to the sea bed, start pumping to rotate bit but not the drill string. This makes a hole and the oversized casing follows under its own weight. When at the planned depth, stop pumps get the casing stuck, no cement, "J" out of the drill ahead tool, drill 32" hole to 28" casing depth, pull out of hole.

Now here comes the real tricky part. As DDII has a twin derrick, they will already have run the second string of casing, so as soon as the bit is out of the hole, the rig will move over and run the 28" in the hole and cement. This tag team will continue until the 18 5/8" is run followed by the BOP. At this point everything will slow down. It does make the top hole quite quick especially when they four strings of casing before the BOP is run.

As said by others, if the first hole took 3 months, the relief wells will take about the same, though there could be some learning on optimizing casing depths and avoiding some of the loss circulation events that seem to have occured on the discovery well.


Not really but I got your attention, didn’t I? But this is just too good an opportunity to talk about the human element problem. I got a phone call just now from my company man on a well I’m drilling in onshore Texas. The large hose carrying the drilling mud violently ruptured about 40’ above their heads and sent him and the drilling hands jumping off the 9’ high drill floor. An 800-psi catastrophic failure is a great motivator. Other than some bruised nerves no one was injured. Afterwards my company man learned the crew had noticed a weak spot developing in the hose earlier that day and did a poor man patch. We’re almost finished drilling so they hoped it would carry them through the job. And why a quick patch instead of replacement? They knew I wasn’t happy with a number of mechanical problems they had experienced and didn’t want to lose another 4 hours. They felt the patch would PROBABLY hold till the job was over.

Another situation where a judgment call was required. We weren’t at a dangerous phase so there was PROBABLY no chance of the well coming in. But if the well had kicked us at the time of the failure we PROBABLY would have had no ability to kill the well. They assumed we PROBABLY weren’t in danger of a kick but they didn’t know it. More importantly they didn’t tell my company man. Would my company man insist they replace the hose had he known? PROBABLY but not for fear of a blow out but for crew safety. PROBABLY. And would he have informed me at the time. PROBABLY.

I’ve seen similar stories as I just laid out regarding blowouts that killed. And a common element is all of them is the word “PROBABLY”. The saddest use of the is word comes post-incident when the question arises: could something had been done to prevent the fatalities? PROBABLY.

Just finished a short B&B on the rocks...helps me relax after phone calls like that. Played with the dog a little...that helps too. And now I'll get a little more sleep. Probably.

They knew a hypothetical someone wasn’t happy with a number of mechanical problems they had experienced and didn’t want to lose another 4 hours.

Now this hypothetical unhappy person - if you were to theorize about their reasons for a state of non-happiness - was the unhappiness over objects having problems (here we'll blame things made in other countries so Adam Smiths hand can come into play), over 4 more hours one will never get back, or over some effect on the "bottom line" where some actuary can click their tounge later?

Time = money. And money is the bottom line.

Another thought occurs to me. There's a company BendTarp in Bend, OR that makes toxic dump liners virtually any size (acres). Would it be possible maybe to have them make a "tube" say 25' diameter and lower/anchor one end down over the top of the leak (leaving the bottom open so the rising oil/gas in the tube will draw water into the tube as it rises) to channel the oil as it rises to the surface. The exit end could be in the center of say a 1/4 mile diameter heavy duty containment boom on the surface.

Then at least the oil would be contained somewhat as it reached the surface and skimming equipment have a better chance of recovery as they could locate it exactly where the bulk of the oil surfaces. Less oil would get dispersed into the water column on the way up

The large diameter of the tube wouldn't have any ice blocking problem. NOr would it have any pressure containment problem such as a smaller pipe would have) Lots of problems holding the tube in place with currents, etc. And certainly not a solution but it would cut down on damage until a permanent solution is found.

Wouldn't work in heavy weather but should/could cut down significantly on ecological damage.

Again lots of problems to work out but as been said here many times. Some very good minds are already at work.

Can’t they setup an ROV to use a modified hydraulic shear to “pinch” (not cut) the riser pipe and stop the flow? Then they could do a "HOT TAP" into the damaged riser near the BOP, put on a new BOP, and put the well back into production!

Nice piece. The powerpoint floating through the web shows the violence of the event. It is a tragedy of epic proportions and the loss of live was terrible.

This will break the BP brand for sometime. My guess is a $8 billion hit to them.

Sir, reading your informed and detailed account of this event was a pleasure. We know from experience that operators and service companies will now focus on trying to ensure that this type of tradgedy does not happen again... that is until the next similar type of event occurs. The complexity of offshore operations and inevitable human error (no matter how careful we are) will lead to similar events happening in the future. We engineer a good margin of safety in the products we rely on daily, but often fail from an operational point of view due either to inexperience, cost cutting or through making an un-educated guess which can be catastophic.