Summary of BP Gulf Oil Spill to Date

Posted: June 9th, 2010 by: h2

In another posting, Diogenese II asked a series of questions in the comment discussion that were not in context for that posting (Schlumberger BP), but which were good questions never-the-less.

Here’s the basic questions and answers given, which are sort of wasted in a regular comment thread which has gotten too long as it is.

Questions and Answers about the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill

Q: What is a good source for ongoing quality information and actual real analysis?
A: Most of the questions you’ve asked or might have have been handled in the daily discussion threads over at You can’t have looked for this information very hard or you would have easily found most of it.

Q: Where is the 60 minutes video report?
A: I linked to the CBS 60 minutes videos here.

Q: Where is the well, how deep, what is the pressure?
A: The ocean floor is a bit more than 5k feet down, the well is about 13k feet, for a total of 18k feet. Pressure on the ocean floor is about 2200 pounds per square inch. There’s debate about the pressure in the BOP, most people feel it’s about 8 or 9k psi due to some down hole obstructions. This is based on I believe what BP discovered during their ‘top kill’ attempt, where they realized that there was an obstruction down the hole somewhere that was further blocking the flows in that direction, which is why top kill failed. Most of the serious drilling guys thought top kill would fail, by the way. The top kill operation took the pressure in the BOP to about 10k psi, at which point they decided to stop because it became apparent that the damaged casing or pipe down hole could very well fail, creating a sub surface leak or blowout that would be impossible to handle at all. The first 1k or so of the well are going through Gulf mud, not rock. Ie, nothing solid to hold in the blowout if the casing fails.

[UPDATE June 9: please read the latest well pressure reports from the US government]

Pressure at reservoir is estimated at about 12 to 13 k psi. Since the BOP is partially activated, there’s only a smallish opening from the main pipe, estimates are that the pressure difference between the outside water and the top of the BOP is about 4-500 PSI or so, give or take, ie it’s flowing out at about 2600 psi, if I understand it right. Don’t quote me on these numbers, it’s off the top of my head, memory.

Q: I thought I saw a cloud of oil spewing out from the ocean floor away from the well head or drill pipe?
A: The thing that appears to show oil flowing out from the ocean floor was I believe a ROV clearing mud off from the riser pipe, that’s a cloud of mud, that is. All these questions have been answered over the past weeks over at the, I suggest you head over there and start reading up, warning, it’s going to take you a few days to get up to speed, there is a lot of data there, and most of the good stuff is in the comment threads. Your other questions are too specific and many do not yet have answers. I’ve covered a few of the more interesting areas here, so feel free to check out the other BP Deepwater Horizon blowout postings over the past months.

Q: So why can’t they stop this blowout with all our technology?
A: Here’s the short answer: they knew from the start that the only way to stop this for real was via the relief wells. Everything else is just an experiment and an attempt to limit the physical quantity of oil that will flow into the Gulf waters before the relief wells are finally completed, which could be September, or later, if they run into problems, which could well happen. It’s not easy to make guesses about the oil flow because the state of the well under the BOP is not known but it’s assumed to be damaged fairly badly, ie, it’s not free flowing. The drill pipe is still in the well. BP believes the flow is coming up around the drill pipe, not inside it. There is speculation that the casing shot up into the BOP, which is why the shear rams failed to fully close, but nobody knows for sure.

Obama also knew that it was unlikely any of the well sealing methods would work from the start, the relief wells are the real solution, and always were from the first day of the blowout.

Q: What is the real solution to this blowout and oil spill?
A: If you don’t like the spill or the risks involved in deep sea oil drilling I suggest you stop consuming oil to the greatest degree you possibly can, since drilling at these depths is risky no matter what. The US currently consumes about 25% of global production, with 5% of the global population, give or take. Deepwater gulf oil is about 30% of US production (roughly 3 million barrels per day I guess), which means 15% of total, since we import roughly 1/2 our oil. Welcome to Peak Oil. This is what it looks like. People in the industry, I gather, call it simply: reservoir depletion. Peak oil means the easy stuff is gone and all that’s left is the hard and messy stuff. Like deep water GOM for example, or deep water Nigerian oil.

Q: BP seems like they are flailing around like a bunch of amateurs, can’t we get someone competent in charge?
A: It’s my impression that BP is not being amateurish, the problem is we simply have never sealed a well blowout at 5k deep, and it’s just very difficult to do. Again, the problems here are caused mainly by failure to regulate this drilling adequately in the first place, and by sloppy/loose BP drilling practices. Plus the well was well overdue and was costing a lot of money, ie, there was a lot of pressure to get the rig moving to th next well and seal up this one so they could move on. New regulations have already been put in place I believe, along with a drilling moratorium in the deep water gulf.

Q: Are the guys trying to fix this incompetent?
A: I’ve now read repeatedly that the guys working their butts off out there in the Gulf to try to stop this thing have stopped watching TV because they are so sick of people who have no idea what is involved making comments about their efforts, it’s I guess demoralizing. This is just a very complicated problem, and it doesn’t have a neat made for tv or movies happy ending or fix. Basically we’re in too deep, to put it simply. We are beyond our technical capacities, which is what may create that illusion of amateur type actions, I guess.

Check out the other postings here and on the oildrum and you’ll be up to speed soon.

If I have made any factual errors feel free to correct them with the actual facts.

By the way, Hurricane season is also here now, starting soon. That’s not going to help matters, let’s hope for a mild one, and no major hurricanes aiming for the relief/oil pumping operations, or will get even worse, not to mention the oil in the Gulf getting blown all over the place in a storm.

3 Responses to “Summary of BP Gulf Oil Spill to Date”

  1. h-1 says:

    Just wanted to add this re the role of the MMS and drilling, this is a fairly clear and explicit statement about their part in the drilling process, from ROCKMAN again:

    ROCKMAN on June 9, 2010 – 10:06pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top

    Et – Some clarifications. First, the MMS didn’t green light any of BP’s drilling decisions. Nor do they cast judgment on any other operator’s decisions while drilling. The MMS does have standards and regs operators are required to follow. The MMS does do well site inspections on an irregular basis to check compliance. Once again the BIG IF: if the well blew out because the cmt job failed due to the decrease in back pressure due to displacing the heavier drilling mud with sea water. It was BP’s sole responsibility to make sure this was a safe. No one at BP called the MMS and asked them to pass judgment on this decision.

    There was some discussion about the MMS approval of BP’s final csg program. The MMS did approve BP running a csg string that some felt would have been more difficult to get a good cmt job. Even if that point is valid it did not relieve BP from the responsibility of making sure they had a good cmt job before displacement. In fact, it should have made them even more cautious.

    The chain of command is very clear: BP, as operator, is responsible for all aspects of the blow out including the spill clean up from day 1, The Coast Guard has the responsibility for ascertain that BP is conducting these ops properly. At anytime that the Coast Guard feels that BP is not conducting the effort properly the gov’t has authority to immediately take over all aspects of the incident. But if that were to happen it would not relieve BP of any financial responsibilities: they will still pay all the bills including any that the gov’t runs up. That’s a very big motivation for operators to take care of business properly.

    I’ve noticed some not quite correct views of the role of the MMS and I think this statement helps clarify the question a bit.

  2. Women says:

    Everyone is pointing fingers and accusing Bp, the president, Congress, the states, etc. As long as there no problems, though, no one questioned the wisdom or risk of drilling underwater, at depths where we cannot even pretend to know or control what we are doing. What kind of federal response do you expect, after all the years of downsizing and cutting back on undersea research and exploration? The federal government does not have the equipment or expertise, and it is likely no one can do anything until new technology ids developed to address the problem. Do the critics of the president expect him to send soldiers to enforce a repeal of the laws of physics, or build a dam big enough to place the oil well on dry land? At least this catastrophe may lead us to realize we HAVE to develop alternative energy sources, because we are poisoning the earth in our mindless quest for more, more, MORE!
    Stephanie Mcnealy

  3. h-1 says:

    The critics of the president have gotten so used to polarized political blame assignment, ie, blame the liberals for everything and never blame anyone on the right, no matter how many times worse their actions are in comparison that they have grown completely unable to think for themselves.

    Basically, all authoritarian personalities suffer from the kiss up/kick down syndrome, which was very well outlined in John Dean’s ‘Conservatives without conscience’, a book originally slated to be co-authored by the legendary right-winger Barry Goldwater, who unfortunately passed away before the book was started. These are both serious right wingers who had come to view the coming neo-con movement as essentially fascist in nature.

    However, I have to disagree with your notion that we will somehow transfer to some mythical alternative energy and then keep going on our happy motoring way. This, while it sounds nice, and lets people think they can keep wasting the planet’s resources to the bitter end, simply has nothing to do with reality. Conservation, cutting down on consumption, then an aggressive attempt to locate truly sustainable energy sources, coupled with a serious drop in population growth, until we hit negative growth rates, ie, population drops, are the only actual long term fixes.

    Remember, if you have a state, say California, that expands its population by 25% in 10 years, about what it’s done by the way, then increases per capita efficiency by say, 10%, ie, each person uses 10% less total energy (which they don’t I’m sad to say, but let’s pretend anyway), then you have a net increase of about 15% give or take.

    To be clear: Spain is heralded as one of the top wind power generating nations in Europe, and the world. At times they have produced about 20% of their nation’s electrical needs via wind. Sounds great, no? The problem is, their overall hydrocarbon consumption has increased by significantly more than this in the last 10 years.

    So reread what you just typed, and realize, yes, we are engaged in a mindless quest for more more, but the only way to achieve that is to have less less people, less less consumption per capita, and to drop the consumption based lifestyle, the one nobody can even visualize living outside of, well nobody outside of a tiny core of people who do understand parts of this predicament.

    As a realistic first target, dropping US consumption to about 25% of current levels would enable us to being planning for a somewhat sustainable future. Remember that Europe’s per capita consumption is about 40% of the USA’s, so that helps create a rough baseline. Longer term consumption would have to be maybe 10% of current levels in the first world, which is by no means sustainable, but at least it would slow core system failures like climate change and resource depletion down enough for us to begin working out new ways of living that do not depend on non-renewable raw material consumption.

    Long term, of course, the word ‘sustainable’ has only one meaning, and that is that it is a sustainable, ie, biologically sourced system, a closed loop of production/consumption. We have thousands of examples of such loops, most smaller native tribes that had endured for more than a few thousand years had this solved, and implemented via a complex system of social mores and taboos, coupled with religious systems that were directly tied into the local ecosystem’s limits and productive capabilities.

    And the option to live sustainably or not is not a true option, you either live sustainably or you die, over time. Most people refuse to grasp this point, liberal or conservative doesn’t matter.

    Take a look around you, how many people do you know that do not own cars, tvs, who do not shop for fulfillment? Count, you can use 2 hands if you want, but I doubt you’ll need that many.