Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Deepwater Horizon: Worst Case Scenario

So what is the worst case scenario? I recently came across a forum called The Oil Drum, and it appears that some gas/energy/oil professionals are debating the various aspects of this utter catastrophe.

One of the members, dougr, paints a grim portrait indeed...

First of all...set aside all your thoughts of plugging the well and stopping it from blowing out oil using any method from the top down. Plugs, big valves to just shut it off, pinching the pipe closed, installing a new bop or lmrp, shooting any epoxy in it, top kills with mud etc etc etc....forget that, it won't be's done and over. In fact actually opening up the well at the subsea source and allowing it to gush more is not only exactly what has happened, it was probably necessary, or so they think anyway.

So you have to ask WHY? Why make it worse?...there really can only be one answer and that answer does not bode well for all of us. It's really an inescapable conclusion at this point, unless you want to believe that every Oil and Gas professional involved suddenly just forgot everything they know or woke up one morning and drank a few big cups of stupid and got assigned to directing the response to this catastrophe. Nothing makes sense unless you take this into account, but after you will see the "sense" behind what has happened and what is happening. That conclusion is this:

The well bore structure is compromised "Down hole".

That is something which is a "Worst nightmare" conclusion to reach. While many have been saying this for some time as with any complex disaster of this proportion many have "said" a lot of things with no real sound reasons or evidence for jumping to such conclusions, well this time it appears that they may have jumped into the right place...

This was probably our best and only chance to kill this well from the top down. This "kill mud" is a tried and true method of killing wells and usually has a very good chance of success. The depth of this well presented some logistical challenges, but it really should not of presented any functional obstructions. The pumping capacity was there and it would have worked, should have worked, but it didn't.

It didn't work, but it did create evidence of what is really happening. First of all the method used in this particular top kill made no sense, did not follow the standard operating procedure used to kill many other wells and in fact for the most part was completely contrary to the procedure which would have given it any real chance of working.

Almost like they wanted it to fail...

When a well is "Killed" using this method heavy drill fluid "Mud" is pumped at high volume and pressure into a leaking well. The leaks are "behind" the point of access where the mud is fired in, in this case the "choke and Kill lines" which are at the very bottom of the BOP (Blow Out Preventer) The heavy fluid gathers in the "behind" portion of the leaking well assembly, while some will leak out, it very quickly overtakes the flow of oil and only the heavier mud will leak out. Once that "solid" flow of mud is established at the leak "behind" the well, the mud pumps increase pressure and begin to overtake the pressure of the oil deposit. The mud is established in a solid column that is driven downward by the now stronger pumps. The heavy mud will create a solid column that is so heavy that the oil deposit can no longer push it up, shut off the pumps...the well is can no longer flow.

Usually this will happen fairly quickly, in fact for it to work at must happen quickly. There is no "trickle some mud in" because that is not how a top kill works. The flowing oil will just flush out the trickle and a solid column will never be established. Yet what we were told was "It will take days to know whether it worked"...."Top kill might take 48 hours to complete"...the only way it could take days is if BP intended to do some "test fires" to test integrity of the entire system. The actual "kill" can only take hours by nature because it must happen fairly rapidly.

He than goes on to deconstruct some vague statements from BP and some articles, in which he than leads up to his conclusion:
All the actions and few tid bits of information all lead to one inescapable conclusion. The well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking. Now you have some real data of how BP's actions are evidence of that, as well as some murky statement from "BP officials" confirming the same.

I took some time to go into a bit of detail concerning the failure of Top Kill because this was a significant event. To those of us outside the real inside loop, yet still fairly knowledgeable, it was a major confirmation of what many feared. That the system below the sea floor has serious failures of varying magnitude in the complicated chain, and it is breaking down and it will continue to.

What does this mean?

It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot...the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop?...the more it will transfer to the leaks below. Just like a leaky garden hose with a nozzle on it. When you open up the nozzle? doesn't leak so bad, you close the nozzle? leaks real bad, same dynamics. It is why they sawed the riser off...or tried to anyway...but they clipped it off, to relieve pressure on the leaks "down hole". I'm sure there was a bit of panic time after they crimp/pinched off the large riser pipe and the Diamond wire saw got stuck and failed...because that crimp diverted pressure and flow to the rupture down below.

Contrary to what most of us would think as logical to stop the oil mess, actually opening up the gushing well and making it gush more became {the }direction BP took after confirming that there was a leak. In fact if you note their actions, that should become clear. They have shifted from stopping or restricting the gusher to opening it up and catching it. This only makes sense if they want to relieve pressure at the leak hidden down below the seabed.....and that sort of leak is one of the most dangerous and potentially damaging kind of leak there could be. It is also inaccessible which compounds our problems. There is no way to stop that leak from above, all they can do is relieve the pressure on it and the only way to do that right now is to open up the nozzle above and gush more oil into the gulf and hopefully catch it, which they have done, they just neglected to tell us why, gee thanks.

This does not look good. No surprise that we're not getting the truth from BP, the media or our President.

A down hole leak is dangerous and damaging for several reasons. There will be erosion throughout the entire beat up, beat on and beat down remainder of the "system" including that inaccessible leak. The same erosion I spoke about in the first post is still present and has never stopped, cannot be stopped, is impossible to stop and will always be present in and acting on anything that is left which has crude oil "Product" rushing through it. There are abrasives still present, swirling flow will create hot spots of wear and this erosion is relentless and will always be present until eventually it wears away enough material to break it's way out. It will slowly eat the bop away especially at the now pinched off riser head and it will flow more and more. Perhaps BP can outrun or keep up with that out flow with various suckage methods for a period of time, but eventually the well will win that race, just how long that race will be? one really knows....However now?...there are other problems that a down hole leak will and must produce that will compound this already bad situation.

This down hole leak will undermine the foundation of the seabed in and around the well area. It also weakens the only thing holding up the massive Blow Out Preventer's immense bulk of 450 tons. In fact?...we are beginning to the results of the well's total integrity beginning to fail due to the undermining being caused by the leaking well bore.

The first layer of the sea floor in the gulf is mostly loose material of sand and silt. It doesn't hold up anything and isn't meant to, what holds the entire subsea system of the Bop in place is the well itself. The very large steel connectors of the initial well head "spud" stabbed in to the sea floor. The BOP literally sits on top of the pipe and never touches the sea bed, it wouldn't do anything in way of support if it did. After several tens of feet the seabed does begin to support the well connection laterally (side to side) you couldn't put a 450 ton piece of machinery on top of a 100' tall pipe "in the air" and subject it to the side loads caused by the ocean currents and expect it not to bend over...unless that pipe was very much larger than the machine itself, which you all can see it is not. The well's piping in comparison is actually very much smaller than the Blow Out Preventer and strong as it may be, it relies on some support from the seabed to function and not literally fall over...and it is now showing signs of doing just that....falling over.

So what happens if it falls over?

Well...none of what is likely to happen is good, in's about as bad as it gets. I am convinced the erosion and compromising of the entire system is accelerating and attacking more key structural areas of the well, the blow out preventer (BOP) and surrounding strata holding it all up and together. This is evidenced by the tilt of the blow out preventer and the erosion which has exposed the well head connection. What eventually will happen is that the blow out preventer will literally tip over if they do not run supports to it as the currents push on it. I suspect they will run those supports as cables tied to anchors very soon, if they don't, they are inviting disaster that much sooner. 

Eventually even that will be futile as the well casings cannot support the weight of the massive system above with out the cement bond to the earth and that bond is being eroded away. When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? won't be too long after that the entire system fails. BP must be aware of this, they are mapping the sea floor sonically and that is not a mere exercise. Our Gov't must be well aware too, they just are not telling us.
All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of." The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying I said...all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now? the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.

 When you think things can't get any worse, that's exactly when we find out that indeed they can...

We are not even 2 months into it, barely half way by even optimistic estimates. The damage done by the leaked oil now is virtually immeasurable already and it will not get better, it can only get worse. No matter how much they can collect, there will still be thousands and thousands of gallons leaking out every minute, every hour of every day. We have 2 months left before the relief wells are even near in position and set up to take a kill shot and that is being optimistic as I said.
Over the next 2 months the mechanical situation also cannot improve, it can only get worse, getting better is an impossibility. While they may make some gains on collecting the leaked oil, the structural situation cannot heal itself. It will continue to erode and flow out more oil and eventually the inevitable collapse which cannot be stopped will happen.
It is only a simple matter of who can "get there first" or the well.  We can only hope the race against that eventuality is one we can win, but my assessment I am sad to say is that we will not. The system will collapse or fail substantially before we reach the finish line ahead of the well and the worst is yet to come.

Sorry to bring you that news, I know it is grim, but that is the way I see it....I sincerely hope I am wrong. We need to prepare for the possibility of this blow out sending more oil into the gulf per week then what we already have now, because that is what a collapse of the system will cause. All the collection efforts that have captured oil will be erased in short order. The magnitude of this disaster will increase exponentially by the time we can do anything to halt it and our odds of actually even being able to halt it will go down.

The magnitude and impact of this disaster will eclipse anything we have known in our life times if the worst or even near worst happens...
 Take note. While it seems we can't get a straight story from our mainstream media, you now know what to look for. Should the remaining well structure collapse, we very well could see a worldwide pollution of the oceans as an unprecedented amount of oil gushes from that hole.

We are seeing the puny forces of man vs the awesome forces of nature.


Anonymous said...

Well, thanks for scaring the shit out of me, but there's not a damn thing I can do in response to this information. There is nothing practical any individual can do to prepare, and nowhere one can go to escape.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping that the centrifuge that Kevin Costner had invested in could be of help here, but BP is draggin their damn feet about getting it out on the water. They supposedly bought 24 of them, but they aren't out there. It supposedly seperates oil from water at about a 99% efficiency. They could run these things 24/7 to recoup as much oil as they could and keep it out of the ocean.

Oil floats on top of water, so it should be easy to see where the stuff is.

I keep in mind that British Petroleum used to be the biggest funder of the Sierra Club, which inhibited our domestic companies from being able to drill onshore in Alaska for years.

About Peak Oil: some people I respect really believe in this, and some other people I respect assure me that there is oceans of oil underneath the surface of the earth. If the later is true, its hard for me to believe that it all came from rotting dinosaur carcasses personally.

I wish we'd get off oil, and use nuclear power, and electric cars with LARGE batteries (think hatchback-looking cars with BIG batteries) that got about 2-300 miles per overnight charge.

Worse comes to worse, they'll have to burn the suface oil every few weeks. This really will put a bunch of carbon in the atmosphere. BP should have to pay for this in blood if the worst case scenario happens. I think they should be "moved off" the well and the military/domestic oil companies be given a shot at it.

I agree wholeheartedly about artifical scarcity as a method of buffering price. Corporations lie, and lie often and do it professionally. Oil companies, with a product the whole world needs, would probably be even more egregious in said practice than ordinary companies would.

Aaron B. said...

I don't mean to let anyone off the hook here, but: a 'gusher' beneath the ocean could be caused anytime by an earthquake, couldn't it? Is there anything about undersea drilling that makes a failure worse than a natural fissure would be?

jonw said...

My earlier post apparently was taken down (pointing out that a large oil spill doesnt disprove the idea of "peak oil"). Not sure what's the censorship criteria, the fact that there would even be one on a "libertarian" blog is disturbing. I thought you were better than that.

I'm with ya on human nutrition, and if you hadnt clued me into game my wife would have left me long ago. Given that you got some stuff right, I've been a regular reader to see what other insight you have. That said, if your blog comments space is only for those who agree with you or post biblical add-ons to the conspiracies, I'll stop reading. Any nut can come up with a theory, the hard part is sorting out what makes sense.

"Well's all good. For those of you that read my stuff and think I'm a total tinfoil-hat wearing loony toon...I doubt there is anything more I can say to make you think otherwise. people who might be curious as to what the hell this is really all about..."

Don't lump all your readers into the two extreme categories. Is there any room for accepting some conspiracy theories, but not all of them? Or will you censor anyone who argues. Your blog will be a better place if you keep the discussion open.

Keoni Galt said...

jon...I don't know what happened, but I have never deleted any comment on this blog other than obvious SPAM. Ever.

It wasn't me. You can pick any post in my archives and find the commentary full of arguments, criticisms, insults and disagreements with me.

You may not know it, but I argued with Welmer to not impelent his comment registration system at the Spearhead either. I basically agree with your point - uncensored commentary is the best way of discussing and debating.

Don't know what happened with your comment...but if there's one thing I absolutely abhor about the feminist websites, it's their censoring of comments. I will never do that here.

Keoni Galt said...

My earlier post apparently was taken down (pointing out that a large oil spill doesnt disprove the idea of "peak oil"

I agree with you too, it doesn't disprove or prove anything.

Hughman said...

Now that, is a worst case scenario!

Hestia said...

My husband and I said we ought to buy lobsters this weekend and take pics of Peapod eating them. In the future should seafood be more we'll have proof that she once indulged in lobster. ;)

Anonymous said...

"don't mean to let anyone off the hook here, but: a 'gusher' beneath the ocean could be caused anytime by an earthquake, couldn't it?"

No. There *are* natural seeps that come out at low volume/pressure, and the ecosystem has adjusted to it over millions of years.

But the blowout is a totally different story. The well bore is a pipe that descends 18,360 ft below the sea floor (in 5000+ ft of water) directly into a high pressure reservoir. Short of a massive meteor strike, there is no way would any natural event would cause a fissure to open into that reservoir.

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