Thursday, May 27, 2010

BP's Top Kill Appears To Be Stemming Oil Flow Into Gulf; UPDATE: Top Kill Halted

It appears that British Petroleum's efforts to seal the leaking wellhead with a top kill of mud is working. Once the pressure reaches zero, the mud being used to stem the flow will be replaced with concrete, sealing the well.
Once engineers have reduced the well pressure to zero, they will begin to pump cement into the hole to entomb the well. To help that effort, he said, engineers are also pumping some debris into the blowout preventer at the top of the well.

Allen said one ship that was pumping fluid into the well has run out of the fluid, or "mud," and that a second ship is on the way. He said he was encouraged by the progress.

"We'll get this under control," he said.

Allen also said that later today, an interagency team will release a revised estimate of how much oil was flowing from the well into the Gulf before the "top kill" effort began. The Coast Guard has estimated the flow at 5,000 barrels a day, but independent estimates suggest that it was much higher – perhaps tens of thousands of barrels a day.
They're busy pumping mud into the damaged wellhead so as to choke off the flow and will continue doing so until they think that they've stemmed the flow - and will then replace the mud with concrete to cap the well. If this works, it will stem the flow of new oil into the Gulf, but doesn't do anything to deal with the ongoing mess from the millions of gallons that have already flowed into the Gulf.

In the years since the Exxon Valdez, how come scientists and researchers haven't come up with better ways to deal with oil spills than containment booms and skimmers? Is there no better technologies that can clear the oil spills? Dispersants are being used in some areas, and the federal government doesn't want them used because of the toxic effects, even as they were previously approved. Other areas have seen crews burning off the oil, which exchanges one form of pollution for another (and which leaves one wondering whether it would have been better to leave the Deepwater Horizon burning so as to minimize the spill damage in the Gulf rather than attempt to fight the fire that ended up sinking the rig and damaging the riser and related parts to cause multiple leaks down to the wellhead.

Out of disasters come the opportunity for new tech and techniques to deal with such messes. Let's hope that the oil industry gets the lesson and that Congress does the right thing too (and on that I'm not hopeful).

Congress should do what it should have been doing all along in increasing the liability caps for years to account for inflation - and required that not only that skimmers and booms be present in the Gulf, but that BOPs and other shutoff technologies be better tested and required. Moreover, special consideration must be paid to deep water drilling sites, where the pressures and technologies must be much more robust than surface or near surface sites.

Even as the good news about the top kill continues to filter in, reports of discovering another undersea plume of oil from the well show just how difficult it is to get a handle on the amount of oil that leaked from the damaged well.
The discovery by researchers on the University of South Florida College of Marine Science's Weatherbird II vessel is the second significant undersea plume recorded since the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20.

David Hollander, associate professor of chemical oceanography at the school, says the thick plume was detected just beneath the surface down to about 3,300 feet. He says it's more than 6 miles wide.
The report also indicates that the plume may be the result of using dispersants on surface oil.

The head of the Mineral Management Service that has oversight responsibilities for offshore wells resigned. Earlier reports had indicated that she had been fired, but it's clear that there was pressure for her to be canned.

BP has halted their attempt at a top kill because pressure flows indicate that there are additional leaks that have to be stemmed before they can seal the well. That's not good news and can delay shutting down the flow. It means that the oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico and add to an already estimated 230,000 barrels that have done so thus far.

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