Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blue Angels Weekend: July 10 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Oilcast.

Not much has changed in the weather forecast from yesterday. Chances of rain have increased somewhat. NOAA's surface oil forecast for the next three days warns there is a chance of "beached" tarballs in and near Pensacola Beach and the island.

2. Offshore Oil.

Yesterday, posted a satellite photo (above) which they've been analyzing. The photo was taken three days ago, on July 7. It shows, Skytruth's analysts say, "A large dark area extending from west of Mobile Bay to beyond Panama City [that] may include patchy oil slicks and sheen... ."

3. Blue Angels Day Reminder.

Today's, local paper reports "The beach on Friday was a nearly perfect white and the water seemed mostly oil-free for the first time in weeks. The water was filled with swimmers, despite the presence of rip currents."

For those watching the Blue Angels show today here's our own public health alert: Don't go near the water ... be careful of toxic oil stains in the sand ... and don't breathe the bad air. Otherwise, have a ball.

4. BP's New 'Containment' Plan.

Yesterday's oil leak news cycle was dominated by U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen's announcement that he has authorized BP to proceed with a plan to try installing a new "capping stack" on the underwater riser pipe. Click here to read BP's response letter with attachments.

AFP News says the hope is the new containment system will substantially staunch the flow of oil. In the most optimistic circumstances it might stop it altogether:
If successful, the new cap could capture all of the crude spilling into the Gulf and allow it to be siphoned up to container vessels on the surface, in effect halting the devastating spill of crude into the sea that has imperiled fragile coastlines and wildlife across the Gulf Coast.
The bad news is the old cap has to be removed first, the replacement procedure could take seven to ten days, and that "means about 15,000 barrels of oil a day that had been collected through the old capping system will spew directly into the Gulf until the new cap is in place." The total amount of oil leaking from the well is commonly said to be estimated at 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil daily, although others fear it is higher.

Once again, nothing could possibly go wrong -- right?

5. Containment Cap Details.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a helpful graphic of the containment cap replacement process (click graphic, left, to enlarge). Reporter Jaquetta White adds:
Allen said remote operated vehicles, or ROVs, will begin working Saturday to remove the current cap, an ill-fitting device put in place a little over a month ago.

Taking off the cap requires unbolting the flange at the top of the blowout preventer, a five-story device resting on the sea floor over the well head. The blowout preventer should have stopped the Deepwater Horizon rig from exploding April 20 killing 11 people and leading to the oil spill. After the flange is removed, the ROVs will tie together what appear to be two drill pipes that are protruding from the top of the blowout preventer in order to make room for the new cap.

AFP adds that the device also has "quick-disconnect couplings which would allow container ships to shut down operations and exit the area quickly in the face of a hurricane."

Reporter White has succinctly described two possible outcomes, assuming installation of the new cap proceeds as planned:
The new cap's success in shutting in the well will depend largely on the pressure inside the well, Allen said. Now at 12,000 pounds per square inch, the hope is that pressure would equalize inside the well and fall to 9,000 pounds per square inch when the new cap is in place, Allen said. If that happens the well would be left alone until a relief well permanently seals it in mid- August... .

But if pressure falls below 9,000 pounds per square inch after the new cap is put in place it will be a sign that there is damage to the well and that oil is perhaps escaping from places beneath the surface, Allen said.
That last bit about oil leaking "from the beneath the surface" echoes the nightmare scenario we've written about here.

6. Mystery Pipe.

Welcome as yesterday's new containment cap plan may be, there is ample reason to suppose that, once again, BP isn't sharing the whole story. A companion piece by David Hammer in today's Times-Picayune is merely the latest evidence of wool being pulled over the public's eyes.

Hammer describes how yesterday BP and the Coast Guard "for the first time" acknowledged that "a mysterious second pipe, wedged next to the drill pipe in what remains of the Deepwater Horizon's riser" has been "fouling up the works" for months. This is the very same thing BP Corp. expressly denied long ago:
The Coast Guard's acknowledgment of the two metal tubes Friday -- and a subsequent reference by BP to its plans to tie the two pipes together as the company installs a new oil collection system over the shaved-off riser -- actually comes more than a month after the Department of Energy noted the existence of two pipes using special imaging technology. At the time, BP dismissed the Energy findings as "impossible" because only one pipe in sections was used for drilling, a Tribune News Service story reported last month.

Video images of the riser when it was cut in early June clearly showed the two pipes, raising speculation on blogs. Allen said the second pipe also led to a jagged cut on the larger riser pipe, forcing the response team to use the loose cap with a rubber seal. And now, the two pieces are forcing the team to spend several days tying them together and clearing the way for a new, hopefully more solid connection.
The second pipe, Adm. Allen conjectures, "presumably fell down beside [the present containment cap] as a result of the explosion and the riser pipe being bent over."
While Allen said he believes the second pipe fell from above, some experts have advanced another explanation. They believe poorly cemented casings -- tubes that are supposed to form solid walls down thousands of feet of the well bore -- may have been dislodged by the blast of natural gas that shot up out of the well and above the sea floor.
* * *
The idea that a loose pipe shot up from deeper in the well and prevented the shear ram from closing has been espoused by such experts as oil industry investment banker Matt Simmons and Bob Bea, a University of California at Berkeley engineer leading a scientific investigation into the blowout. But others have wondered if the mystery pipe isn't just a section of the same drill pipe that came loose, or even a pipe that fell down the riser from the rig 5,000 feet above.
It's also of interest that BP and the Coast Guard have been aware of this second pipe since the day they "used a diamond saw and ... got inside," Admiral Allen admits. It was over a month ago when the saw 'hit a snag.'

minor edit 7-10pm


Anonymous said...

Why wasn't a relief well dug BEFORE drilling took place?



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