Thursday, July 15, 2010

Well Integrity Test - Where Did That Come From?

Sunday, BP surprised everyone by announcing that now that they had a "capping stack" set, they were not going to actually hook up all the ships they have on station to collect the oil; rather, they were going to run a well integrity test to see if they could shut-in this badly damaged well that has been flowing into the Gulf now for 86 days uncontrolled. My first reaction was What? Well integrity test? I've looked back through all of my notes, blog entries, and reviewed BP's and the Unified Command's communications. I've even done multiple internet searches, and found the first mention of a "well integrity test" related to BP on this past Sunday, July 11. Certainly I could have missed something, but I don't recall even a single mention of what I consider to be probably the most significant (and risky) operation BP has conducted since the much hailed, and utterly failed, top kill procedure that kept the masses enthralled during the Memorial Day weekend.

All of us who are paying attention have been watching ROV feeds, and listening to the briefings by Adm. Allen and Kent Wells that continue to be long on words and short on information. The press continues to let them get away with it, not asking the pertinent questions and holding them to a standard of transparency so we can really know what's going on. Wells is now actually holding 2 "technical briefings" a day, which are also long on words, short on technical, where he basically talks in long sweeping statements talking about safety and "making sure everyone knows what we're going to do", without actually telling anyone what they're going to do. This morning, we learned that, even thought the stack has now been set for 3 days, they actually haven't hooked up the two new valves. He also announced that yesterday, they pulled all of the ships off site to run a seismic survey, and, alarmingly, have stopped drilling the relief well, which is now only 4 feet away laterally from the blowout well. Since Dudley's letter to Adm. Allen last Friday laying out the relief well timeline, they have made little progress and have only 34 more feet to drill before they get to casing point for the last string of pipe. 34 feet, 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. The one they're not going to run for at least another 24 hours. 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, the damn thing wouldn't have blown out in the first place. We also know that between the "capping stack" and the old BOP that there is a non-wellhead rated piece of equipment, known as the flex joint, along with the riser adapter, that we've talked about before. This piece of equipment, that normally sits above the BOP, is not rated to nearly those pressures encountered by wellhead equipment. All of the other components in this BOP are rated to at least 10,000 psi (new, off the shelf, and undamaged); this piece is by far the weakest link in the chain, especially since it took severe stresses as the rig sank and 5,000 feet of riser torqued it as it sank. Yesterday, Adm. Allen announced they were going to take the stack, including this flex joint, to as high as 9,000 psi for up to 48 hours. I have been unable to learn the model and rating of the flex joint here, but Oil States advertises their LMRP flex joints to be rated 600-6,000 psi, far below the 9,000 to which Adm Allen said they would potentially go; even with the 2,200 psi of hydrostatic pressure on the outside of the compenent caused by it being in 5,000 feet of water, it's still at least 1,000 psi differential pressure over the rating of the component.

Surely, I'm missing something here, but all of this seems like reckless rope-a-dope in the tradition of Muhammad Ali in his best rope-a-doping days. Either that, or there are so many cooks in the kitchen that the pot is boiling over while the chefs all stand around arguing about spices. Boxing and cooking analogies aside, I don't think anyone is actually in charge, and if anyone is, they are certainly not interested in giving any real information.


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