Sunday, June 13, 2010

The BP Blowout: Worst Case

Update (6/25/10): The consensus at The Oil Drum is that dougr's post is highly flawed. I think that this was not quite so obvious when I wrote this post, but since then it has become clear that there are no cracks in the seafloor, and no oil is escaping from the seafloor around the riser pipe. I had my own reasons earlier for questioning dougr's scenario, and some of them have appeared in others' comments at The Oil Drum. Yesterday another Oil Drum poster provided a much more detailed and knowledgeable takedown of dougr's post.

I've been following The Oil Drum for the best discussions and speculations about the BP Blowout. Overnight there were a couple of especially good speculations. I am not watching cable news or reading much of the MSM coverage, so some of this might have appeared there. I'm going to try to explain the comments in less technical language and will make some comments of my own.

From dougr:
OK let's get real about the GOM oil flow. There doesn't really seem to be much info on TOD that furthers more complete understanding of what's really happening in the GOM.

As you have probably seen and maybe feel yourselves, there are several things that do not appear to make sense regarding the actions of attack against the well. Don't feel bad, there is much that doesn't make sense even to professionals unless you take into account some important variables that we are not being told about. There seems to me to be a reluctance to face what cannot be termed anything less than grim circumstances in my opinion. There certainly is a reluctance to inform us regular people and all we have really gotten is a few dots here and there...

First of all...set aside all your thoughts of plugging the well and stopping it from blowing out oil using any method from the top down. Plugs, big valves to just shut it off, pinching the pipe closed, installing a new bop or lmrp, shooting any epoxy in it, top kills with mud etc etc etc....forget that, it won't be's done and over. In fact actually opening up the well at the subsea source and allowing it to gush more is not only exactly what has happened, it was probably necessary, or so they think anyway.

So you have to ask WHY? Why make it worse?...there really can only be one answer and that answer does not bode well for all of us. It's really an inescapable conclusion at this point, unless you want to believe that every Oil and Gas professional involved suddenly just forgot everything they know or woke up one morning and drank a few big cups of stupid and got assigned to directing the response to this catastrophe. Nothing makes sense unless you take this into account, but after you will see the "sense" behind what has happened and what is happening. That conclusion is this:

The well bore structure is compromised "Down hole".

That is something which is a "Worst nightmare" conclusion to reach. While many have been saying this for some time as with any complex disaster of this proportion many have "said" a lot of things with no real sound reasons or evidence for jumping to such conclusions, well this time it appears that they may have jumped into the right place...
Dougr then discusses "top kill" and "junk shot" and concludes that BP learned from these operations that the casing of the well, the piping intended to contain the petroleum, is badly broken. Several commentators at The Oil Drum have speculated that the mud from top kill and perhaps stuff in the junk shot were lost to the formation, which means they went into the rock downhole, which means that the casing is broken. As the petroleum gushes out of its formation, it is eroding the rock around it and the structure of the well. It carries sand along for sandblasting, and the liquids and expanding gases do their damage as well.
What is likely to happen now?

Well...none of what is likely to happen is good, in's about as bad as it gets. I am convinced the erosion and compromising of the entire system is accelerating and attacking more key structural areas of the well, the blow out preventer and surrounding strata holding it all up and together. This is evidenced by the tilt of the blow out preventer and the erosion which has exposed the well head connection. What eventually will happen is that the blow out preventer will literally tip over if they do not run supports to it as the currents push on it. I suspect they will run those supports as cables tied to anchors very soon, if they don't, they are inviting disaster that much sooner.

Eventually even that will be futile as the well casings cannot support the weight of the massive system above with out the cement bond to the earth and that bond is being eroded away. When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? won't be too long after that the entire system fails. BP must be aware of this, they are mapping the sea floor sonically and that is not a mere exercise. Our Gov't must be well aware too, they just are not telling us.

All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of" The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying I said...all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now? the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.
There's a lot more, with links. I'll emphasize that this is speculation, but it's plausible and not obviously contradicted by any of the information we have.

That's another problem; BP seems to be stingy with the data it's making available to the public. It's not clear whether the situation is better for the various groups of experts assembled to try to figure out what can be done. One piece of information that would be very helpful is the geology of the reservoir they've drilled into and the formations above it.

R2-3D comments in more detail on the structure and possible breach of the casing. He argues that dougr's scenario is too pessimistic.

Both posts are fairly technical, but I suspect have long stretches that can be understood by the layperson who's willing to spend some time thinking about them.

Update: BP has some explanations here. You can expect them to put their best spin on them, but the descriptions and graphics are informative.

And yet more diagrams and dimensions here(pdf).

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