Friday, July 16, 2010

BP caps leaking well, but industry experts say it may not be a permanent fix

BP announced yesterday that at 2:25 PM CST, a cap placed over the leaking well had stopped the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. While that is great news for everyone, some industry experts caution that it may not be a permanent fix.

BP is now conducting integrity tests for up to 48 hours in order to determine whether or not there are additional leaks in the well bore deep beneath the seabed or in other areas of the ocean floor.

As early as May 31, after the top kill procedure failed, a BP official admitted to the Washington Post that "We discovered things that were broken in the sub-surface." He said that mud was making it "out to the side, into the formation." The official said he could not describe what was damaged in the well.

According to industry experts, if that is the case, the integrity tests with the new cap could make matters worse. Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of geosciences programs at the University of Houston, told CNN today, "We don’t know if there are significant leaks deep in the well. There’s a couple of weak points at 9,000 feet, and one at 17,000 feet, that they might be particularly interested in looking at and watching in the seismic."

Any additional leaks in the well bore below the surface could cause the well to blow out again during integrity testing, and make it more difficult, if not impossible, to plug with relief wells. Recently-retired Shell Oil President John Hofmeister made a similar point:

I think the fundamental issue… is there are serious concerns about the integrity of the casing that is the well itself. And that by putting the cap on and doing the stress tests… that the integrity of the steel is insufficient to hold the pressure of the well. And if you lose the casing it's game over. It’s like having a volcano on the bottom of the sea. If you lose the casing and oil starts coming up on the outside of the casing you cant stop it. There’s nothing you can do that would stop it…other than implode the well. There are many in the industry that feel the casing must have been damaged because of the power of that well, the pressure of that reservoir.

Another oil industry expert, Rob Cavner, who has been correct about virtually everything regarding the disaster thus far, previously explained that there is damage in the oil well beneath the seafloor. He also says that he is worried that the well integrity test could further damage the well bore and could blow out the entire well even further (see video below):

[BP has] only 34 more feet to drill before they get to casing point for the last string of pipe...and they stopped. They're just sitting there circulating on bottom at 17,840. Just sitting there. Wells claims that they are doing that for "safety reasons" during the well integrity test. What? I'm sorry, but I have to ask, What the hell are they doing? We now have an ability to capture all the oil and stop this massive pollution of the Gulf (as well as measure it). We have great weather to get the relief well completed. We already know, without the "well integrity test", that they have severe damage to the BOP and other surface equipment and casing. If that weren't true, [it] wouldn't have blown out in the first place.

Cavner believes BP may have an ulterior motive in capping the well instead of just completing the relief well: "While they have every incentive to get the well killed, BP also has every incentive to not capture 100% of the well flow until they do," Cavnar wrote last week at Huffington Post. "As soon as they do capture all the flow, then a real, measurable number will be in front of the public, and that's the last thing BP wants, since that number will then be used to extrapolate environmental damage, hence per barrel fines that will likely run to the tens of billions anyway."

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen's comment on CNN yesterday seems somewhat suspicious in light of Cavner's allegation. He cautions: “This isn’t over" and talks about the cap as a temporary measure to be used for hurricanes. “It remains likely that we will return to the containment process… until the relief well is completed," (see video below). So it looks like the plan is to go back to releasing the oil and letting it pump up to the surface.

Worse yet, there have been reports of additional leaks in the seabed miles away from the well, (see videos below). Rep. Ed Markey, Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, addressed that issue in a letter to BP asking: "Do any or all of these events indicate that oil and gas could be flowing from somewhere other than the target reservoir?" If he has received an answer, it has not been publicized. If the answer is "yes," then neither the new cap nor the relief wells will stop the flow of oil into the Gulf.

BP does not have a good record in terms of public disclosure. BP suspended the "top kill" operation for 16 hours because, according to numerous experts, it was creating more damage to the well bore. BP did not tell the media, local officials or the public that it had delayed the effort until long afterwards. Similarly, it took more than 5 hours for BP to publicly announce the delay of the well integrity test after the decision to delay was made.

Is the well integrity test a meaningless PR stunt or a ruse to hide the true scope of the leak, which is delaying completion of the relief wells, and failing to bring us any closer to permanently killing the oil gusher? Or is it a valuable tool to see if the well can be protected from further damage during a hurricane?

Only time will tell... Let's continue hope for the best.


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