Understanding the work going into the efforts to stop the BP Deepwater Horizon Blowout

Posted: June 5th, 2010 by: h2

I am posting this in its entirety, because I want this message to be clearly understood.

Shelburn posted this in order to clarify the complexity/difficulty, as well as the frustrations, of the people who have been brought in to deal with the results of some bad decision making/processes/internal BP policy in regards to safety vs economics. So I think people should understand that dealing with the results of catastrophic errors is not the same as watching a CSI investigation where everything ties up neatly by the last commercial break.

shelburn here is responding to another poster’s comments, one who I believe well represents the views held by people who depend on TV for their news. To get to the original theOilDrum.com thread, just click on the link on shelburn’s name below.

shelburn on June 5, 2010 – 4:06am Permalink | Subthread | Comments top

From “bucket” on June 4, 2010 – 9:37pm


With all due respect:

1. We would recall that the object here should be to keep the oil out of the water, not to obtain production from this blown out well.

2. If there is any question of processing capacity at the surface, the better answer is to increase processing capacity, not to send more oil into the water.

3. The top hat may not have been designed to take any significant pressure, but there are various kinds of containment structures even of the size of the BOP that will take a lot of pressure, like 15,000 psi. They are not cheap. But they are cheaper than what the spilled oil costs the nation and the world.

4. There exist various techniques for “gasketing” the bottom of such a containment structure placed over the BOP etc. now gushing oil, including into the mud of the sea floor, such that oil will not be forced out the bottom because the top is sealed. Interlocking heavy concrete pads, with multiple packing structures, etc.

5. If there are concerns about the strength and ability to handle pressure of the BOP structure or the well casing below it (as well there may be) the right answer is to drill into the sea floor in the area surrounding down to solid rock (even if it is some distance down), set fasteners of great tensile strength, and then pull against them (through sheaves, etc.) using cables from surface ships, pulling down any device (containment structure) that one needs to seriously seal. (With tons of force.) The reserve buoyancy of the large surface ships is the biggest physical “fulcrum” in the whole picture. (The weight of a drill collar under water is laughably small in the scheme of things.)

One can tell you are a very smart guy, and know the oil business, and can think carefully in an “oil business” kind of way. For the rest of the country watching the live feed videos, however, the anger and frustration at watching the various “cutesy” and, basically, “fussing” approaches taken when we want to see executed a very simple, very certain, very capable, approach that will stop the flow of oil from the blown out well into the water, without any concern as to cost (whatever it is, it will be vastly cheaper than the costs imposed by the spill), or as to production (the world will be just fine without ever seeing a drop of oil from this reservoir). Quite literally, put a very, very strong bucket over it. Tie it down very tight. Then talk to us about any other issues.

There are a number of ground rules you should understand:

A – the safety of the several hundred men working directly above this well is an absolute priority.

B – the laws of physics must be obeyed, not my choice, just immutable fact.

C – If what you do increases the spill you haven’t done any good.

D – cost is no object, well maybe if it is $100 million or over, but then BP would pay $100 million in a heartbeat if they could stop this spill.

Your points –

1 – If you have a better way to keep the oil out of the water than “producing” it, ie getting it into a tank on a ship; I’m eager to know what it is. Bringing the oil and gas to the surface in an uncontrolled fashion is just starting another blowout with the almost certain probability of explosions, fire and death. It has to be brought to the surface in a safe manner, with minimal risk to personnel, and that means piping it into processing and separating equipment, in other words producing it.

As discussed previously in these threads the commercial value of the oil recovered is peanuts. If you considered only the direct cost of recovering the oil without any of the environmental or economic damage, it is still far greater than any possible value of the oil recovered.

2 – I would assume that if there was a way of increasing the processing capacity on the Discoverer Enterprise then BP will have done it. A lot might be done now that they know the make-up of the flow from the RITT. In addition they plan to start “producing” (that is the proper technical nomenclature) from the choke and kill line to a second vessel. If you watches the video feeds last night you saw an ROV holding the handle of a valve that was blowing oil straight up in the air. The choke and kill line are each the size of that valve.

3 & 4 – If you are going to attack my work please at least do me the courtesy of reading it first. If the well head to BOP connection was to break you would increase the spill as much as 100% and greatly increase the difficulty to catch and recover it. The same for a major shift in the BOP internals. And if there was a rupture on the casing below the mud line then you have the worst case scenario, a totally uncontrolled blowout from below the mudline, probably twice as much as there is now and absolutely no way to recover or stop any of it until the relief well is completed.

All of the equipment and piping down there saw pressures during the blowout that might have been double their working ratings and the entire stack and wellhead were yanked on for two days by the rig before it sank. They are in an unknown condition.

By the way, one of the alternatives recently discarded was to attach another BOP on top of this one which would allow a complete shutdown of the well. That was rejected by people who have much more detailed knowledge of the condition of the BOP, wellhead and casing than any of us. The only logical reason to not put the second BOP on was the possibility it would make the situation worse.

The top kill and junk shot may have either contributed to the overstress or gave BP and the MMS some indication that things were not right. I know there is a group, including experts on this board, that didn’t think they should even try the top kill or junk shot due to the safety concerns.

5 – Anchoring the wellhead is a great idea but let see how practical it is. The hold-down force required is about 3,000 tons using a minimal 25% safety factor.

If you used the minimum number of anchors to achieve stability and save time you would need three. These would have to be drilled as the depth to even reach rock is over 1,000 feet and to reach solid rock and set a 1,000 ton capacity anchor would probably require about 2,000 to 3,000 feet of drilling. Luckily we have a drill ship on site and we could use high strength drill pipe as the anchor string, I believe it is capable of a 1,000 ton axial load.

Of course during the drilling any ongoing oil recovery operations would have to cease. There is only room for one drillship, and to setup, drill, install and cement the anchor in 5,000 feet of water would probably be at least one week per hole. Allow another week for the initial mobilization, design and fabricate the first anchor and a final week to install the rigging, valves, and so on – all with ROVs. So a best case of about 5 weeks, during 4 of which there is no oil recovery. Your choice.

People have a right to be angry about the blowout and the spill.

They have a right to be angry about the lack of preparation for emergenvy intervention in 5,000 feet of water.

From what I have seen they may have a right to be angry and frustrated about the onshore clean-up, at least as presented by the media.

But there has been nothing “cutesy” or “fussy” about the effort to stop the blowout or recover the oil. That perception is being fostered by the media and politicians who don’t take the time to understand anything about what they are saying, never bother to admit when they get it wrong and continually malign and disparage the engineers, technicians and offshore hands working trying to stop the leak.

They bring in “experts” who don’t know the pointy end of a boat, have no underwater experience and don’t know anything about the oilfield. The greenest of offshore diver/tenders can pick holes in their statements.

Publicity hounds like James Cameron jump on the band wagon and call people morons without the slightest understanding of what is involved.

If the American public were given the facts and the media took the time to help them understood the immense engineering and operational challenges presented by trying to control a 10,000 psi blowout in 5,000 feet of water they could actually have a portion of this disaster that would be positive and something they could be proud of.

It’s an undertaking that dwarfs any emergency engineering project that the US has had since Apollo 13. In size and complexity it even dwarfs that.

As long as I’m slagging people I won’t leave out BP who could have opened this effort up to the world, warts and all, and shown what an amazing effort it is.

To paraphrase an earlier post:

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is quick, simple and wrong”.

Forgive me if I seem to be coming on pretty strong but tonight I learned that most of the vessels and rigs working on this project have turned their TVs off. The crews working to control this well were getting so depressed and demoralized watching the misinformation, slander and outright BS from the media, politicians and instant experts that it was starting to affect their work. Believe me those people out there who have been working 12 to 14 hours per day, every day since April 20 doing everything they can to stop this spill don’t deserve this. Very few are actually BP employees, almost all are subcontractors.

Three men, a least one who used to work for me, were on the Deepwater Horizon when it blew up. They did not even go back to shore to see their families. They went straight to an ROV support vessel to try to get control of the BOP. I repeat – THEY DON’T DESERVE THIS.

Incidentally, I’m not from the oil side, I spent nearly 40 years in the underwater service industry from heavy gear diver and diver welder to project management, engineering and most points in between. Before I retired I was running worldwide operations for the largest diving and ROV company out there so I actually know whereof I speak

As about 90% of all the deep water work in the world is for offshore oil I was forced to learn a lot about the oil industry, and I still learn everyday courtesy of people like Rockman and the other drillers on this board.

Along the way I worked in the North Sea and lived in Aberdeen so I also know the true meaning of “with all due respect”.

I had a few martinis tonight in honor of an old friend who died this morning, martinis were his favorite, but I hate them – so I quit, I’m off to bed.

I’ll also raise a toast to shelburn, it’s important to focus one’s anger on the causes of this event, NOT on the people who are working their asses off to help try to fix it. This is not a TV show, this is a major disaster in a deep sea environment that in my opinion we have no business being in, but we have asked these men to go there to do that work, and now we’ve asked them to clean it up, so let’s try to be a bit clear when it comes to the blame game, OK?

2 Responses to “Understanding the work going into the efforts to stop the BP Deepwater Horizon Blowout”

  1. WhatTheHeck says:

    “As long as I’m slagging people I won’t leave out BP who could have opened this effort up to the world, warts and all, and shown what an amazing effort it is”

    Yeah, there is that problem here with hidden info. That and always being wrong about the amount of oil being spilled into the Gulf, saying the pay for stuff but never actually paying. Why all the lies, why not open this up to public rather than be depressed because nobody understand? THAT does NOT Comput. Someone has an answer to sealing this well – as there are tons of people in oilfield work and the higher education of oilwell drilling, engineering and geology. People in wireline services, that offer bridge plugs, frac plugs, packers, and retainers services for pipes. So WHY is BP hiding so damn much if indeed, they really want to seal this damn well.

    BP doesn’t want this well sealed, that’s a fact.

  2. h-1 says:

    I’m sorry, I disagree. You’re combining different things here. First, BP of course wants to minimize the barrel count spilled because when the fines come in, they will be based in part on that total count. So that’s one thing. The US government has known these figures were lies and never used them in their estimates, that’s why they commissioned independent researchers to come up with reasonable working estimates. BP of course is going to lie in this area. BP is not just one unitary thing, it’s a bunch of things/groups/interests tied together, and of course some of those are in conflict, lawyers in there are working to limit long term liability, and lying is one way you do that. That’s just standard for corporations, it’s what they do and it’s who they are. If lying is profitable, then lying is what you do when you are not personally liable for the results of those actions, which is why entities become corporations, to avoid personal liability and personal responsibility.

    BP is currently spending 27 million US dollars per day trying to seal the well, give or take. They are losing vast amounts of money on it, not to mention a horrible PR disaster, not helped a lot by Tony Hayward putting his foot into his mouth constantly.

    There has I believe never been a blowout at 5k feet wellhead, and it’s simply not something they were prepared for. The relief wells are being drilled, each slated to cost about 100 million or so. You can’t speed that process up, it takes as long as it takes, and if you try to go to fast the well fails and you have to start over.

    BP is hiding so much because they are a for profit corporation whose primary obligation and duty, by law, is maximizing shareholder value. This is the essence of what makes all corporations tick, there is no real difference between them, though some find it smarter to practice safe and secure drilling practices by company order, like Exxon, and others don’t, like BP.

    As has been pointed out repeatedly by drilling professional of all types on theOilDrum.com – this is not a tv show, there is no mcgiver to whip out his toolbelt and bind the leak. There is no happy ending, the show does not end after 50 minutes plus commercial breaks. This is the cost of deep water drilling, and it’s not the first ocean rig to blow out in this way, and it won’t be the last. Ixtoc took 10 months to stop, and that was in the Gulf too, in Mexican waters. But only at about 150 depth. IE, the divers could access the bop and work directly. Still took 10 months to stop it.

    BP wants more I’d guess than almost everyone else, except the gulf coast residents impacted by this, to plug this well, it’s a disaster for them, and may end up breaking up their company in worst case scenarios, though that’s unlikely.

    Next time you hear people opposing deep water drilling because it’s dangerous and a potential disaster, maybe just maybe, we can give them a little bit more of a hearing before handing out the next bunch of drill permits? Regulations are being revised after being not enforced/gutted during the Bush jr. administration, so the odds of something like this happening again are lower than they were.

    Whatever you do, don’t tell the guys working to stop this that they aren’t doing everything possible, they are. Sure BP lies about areas where they might suffer liability, that’s their nature, they are a corporation, they all do that. The only way to stop that is by legislation, rewriting the laws that govern corporate behavior. Long process, will be difficult, but it would certainly be a good thing overall, no argument there.