Unstable well in North Sea – Gullfaks field – Timor Blowout 2009 – pattern?

Posted: May 21st, 2010 by: h2

This story is interesting because it shows just how dangerous this deep sea stuff really is. I’ll assume Statoil is a bit more safety focused than BP, given how Norwegians tend to be in general.

May 21 (Bloomberg) — Statoil ASA partially evacuated platform C at the Gullfaks field in the North Sea after pressure in a well destabilized, shutting production at the facility and the nearby Tordis field.

“We still have an unstable pressure situation,” Gisle Johanson, a company spokesman, said by phone today. The company is continuing to pump drilling mud into the well and is putting together a plan on how to proceed, Johanson said. Output was halted at Gullfaks C and Tordis, he said.

There were three different events starting on May 19 and continuing yesterday when workers were evacuated, he said. The chance of a blowout is “very small,” Johanson said, adding that there was no leak and no injuries.

The North Sea Gullfaks field produced about 78,500 barrels of crude oil a day in March. Platform C is one of three at the field and processes oil and gas from the Gullfaks Soer and Gimle fields and is also involved in production from the Tordis, Vigdis and Visund fields, according the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate. Tordis produced 15,500 barrels of oil a day in March, according to the directorate.

But of course, it was only last year that the West Atlas rig blows out in Timor Sea (2009).

An out-of-control rig fire off off the coast of Western Australia could prove a clarion call for the hazards of deep-sea drilling. Since Monday, a fire emanating from an oil and gas wellhead in the Montara Field has engulfed a drilling rig called West Atlas being used by Thai company PTTEP Australasia, according to industry publication Upstream Online. “The measures which we have been able to take so far can only mitigate the fire. They will not stop it,” said executive Jose Martin of PTTEP Australasia, which owns the actual well.

The towering inferno is only the latest twist in an ongoing aquatic nightmare unfolding in the Timor Sea, an area rich in oil and gas between Australia and Indonesia. The well in question had also been responsible for a large oil spill in deep water. The well was drilled by the West Atlas rig in efforts to locate high-priced light-grade crude more than a mile beneath the waves.

The broken well began to leak oil to the surface in late August and has since created a slick that is over 100 miles wide. Environmental groups have claimed that the Australian government has consistently low-balled estimates on the severity of the spill, which is coming from a ruptured well more than a mile below the surface.

hmmm. So we’re actually looking at failure rates that are pretty significant here, not at all flukes. Maybe there’s actually something not so smart about dealing with 10, 15, 20 thousand pounds per square inch pressures? In fact, maybe the idea of trying to extract almost all the carbon fuels the planet contains in a relatively short period, 200 years or so, isn’t such a bright idea in the first place?

And where is it we actually get to by driving anyway? Not to actually ask a real question, but it strikes me the further you drive, the further you are from yourself.

As Kurt Kob notes, in The Wages of Complexity

While accusations continue to fly back and forth about who is to blame for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and investigations commence into the recent wild one-day gyration in the American stock markets, the real culprit stands quietly and in plain sight in the corner: Complexity.

…The broader question is how such a system of oil exploration became subject to such a catastrophic failure.

One answer is that offshore drilling, specifically deepwater drilling, is an exceedingly complex enterprise. And, the more complex an operation is, the greater the chances of a breakdown. Counterintuitively, the safer we try the make such operations, the more the operators of such rigs will likely push the limits of what those rigs are capable of doing and thereby invite additional disasters.

(TheOilDrum.com has a thread on this topic now.)

And that’s really what all this is about in the end, first we stuck pipes down short holes, now we are going to greater than one mile depths in the ocean, then drilling down tens of thousands of feet. Because that’s where the only oil can be found. This is another way of saying we are basically at the beginning of the downward slope of global oil production.

The one interesting thing is that this downward slope may end up being far rockier and bumpier than was expected. After all, it is the very resource we used to fuel the upward slope of the peak that is now becoming too complicated to get more of. So assuming the downhill part of the peak will be neat and orderly may be a quite serious miscalculation, sort of the same as budgeting for an increase in taxes during a recession… like California and other states are doing.

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