Gulf Oil Spill Updates, Thread #7

For previous updates on the BP oil spill:

7-19-10, 4:15 p.m. – From this afternoon’s Thad Allen briefing, the new stack atop the Macondo well is leaking – but only slightly. And as a result, they’re going to leave it on there and keep the well shut in.

There are three spots where seepage is occurring. One is at the top of the new stack, and another is two kilometers away, which Allen admitted might not have anything to do with the Macondo well (as we said this morning).

Well pressure is still climbing, and it’s at 6,811 psi. It’s climbing slowly – about one pound per square inch each hour. That would indicate the integrity of the well is relatively good.

Meanwhile, BP announced its costs for the spill have begun to approach $4 billion, and on that news the company’s stock took a dump today – down $1.47 to $35.63. It was a 4 percent drop, which wasn’t the worst among companies involved in the spill. Shares of Transocean, owner of the doomed rig, lost $4.02, or 7.7 percent, to close at $48.06. Shares of Anadarko Petroleum, which has a 25 percent stake in the well, dropped $1.94, or 4.1 percent, to close at $45.52.

7-19-10, 9:30 a.m. – Events from Sunday and this morning make you wonder whether the feds are really interested in stopping this leak after all.

It all started over the weekend when someone detected a “seep” of oil somewhere near the Macondo wellhead. There was no word on how large a “seep” this was, or how far away from the well it was.

Bear in mind, of course, that oil seeps from the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico are anything but rare. Some 40 million gallons of oil per year seep out of the Gulf seafloor naturally. And seeps occur most often in places where there’s oil. Like Mississippi Canyon Block 252, where the Macondo well is.

So it does not necessarily follow that because somebody found oil seeping out of the sea floor it’s automatically a result of BP capping the Macondo well. It’s a possibility, but by no means a certainty.

At the wellhead, BP notices that pressure continues to rise. The latest reading was 6,778 psi, which is just shy of the 6,800 psi BP was looking for. Originally they were looking for 8,000 psi, but BP’s engineers and geologists had said they wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be a little less given how much oil has already come out of that well. The temperature of the oil and gas sitting in the blowout preventer under the cap is 40 degrees, which is good. Higher pressure will compact that gas, and that will tend to drop the pressure. Rising temperatures indicate less pressure, and that would be evidence of a leak somewhere.

So the indications at the wellhead don’t particularly support the idea of a seep, though one would hardly be a major surprise.

But upon news of a possible seep, Unified Command Incident Commander Thad Allen fired off a letter to BP which caused something of a stir.

“Given the current observations from the test, including the detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head, monitoring of the seabed is of paramount importance during the test period,” he said in the letter to BP operations chief Doug Suttles. 

“As a continued condition of the test, you are required to provide as a top priority access and coordination for the monitoring systems, which include seismic and sonar surface ships and subsea ROV and acoustic systems..

“When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours,” Allen wrote. “I direct you to provide me a written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed.”

He went further. “Now that source control has evolved into a period beyond the expected 48 hour interval of the Well Integrity Test, I am requiring that you provide me a written update within 24 hours of your intentions going forward. I remain concerned that all potential options to eliminate the discharge of oil be pursued with utmost speed until I can be assured that no additional oil will spill from the Macondo Well.”

In other words, Allen is riding herd on BP about the idea of shutting off the well, which is something the feds have done ever since BP used what might have been an anonymous idea from a plumber named Joe to latch on to the top of the blowout preventer with a collection stack they’ve since employed to shut the well in. Late last week the feds delayed the implementation of the current test of the shutin, and now they’re screaming about a seep somewhere which may or may not be related to the blowout and making noises about changing the current setup back to a collection regime.

Bear in mind, it will take three days to set up all the collection assets, hook up the riser and start pulling oil up to the production vessels at the surface, and during the transition oil is expected to flow freely. But according to our favorite Congressional moron Ed Markey (D-Soros), that’s a small price to pay – because Markey is itching to hook all that gear up to that well and see how much oil can be collected in a day so he can find out how much BP owes the federal government in fines.

“If it is necessary to again allow the well to flow, either because a decision to keep it shut in indefinitely is unsound, or in order to conduct the relief well ‘bottom kill,’ then there would be no reason at that point for not taking the opportunity to conduct a 100 percent hydrocarbon collection test,” Markey wrote in a letter to Allen.

So we’re clear, here in Louisiana we really don’t care how much of BP’s money the federal government gets to reel in in fines. In fact, the presence of those confiscatory fines have been a big negative for us in the first place, as they’ve served as a disincentive to BP to collect the oil before it could damage our ecology. Huge fines mean huge amounts of dispersant, which means oil in the water column all over the Gulf and who knows what kind of effect on wildlife and/or fisheries. Besides, folks like Markey and Nancy Pelosi don’t exactly do a good job of spending what money they do manage to claw in.

BP is on the hook to pay for our losses and to clean up the damage from this spill. That’s what’s important. Ed Markey’s stupid fines are only important to Markey and other stooges of the environmentalist Left and George Soros, etc.; they absolutely do not concern us or anybody who actually cares about the Gulf Coast – which does not include Markey given his pigheaded obstinance concerning the drilling moratorium.

Maybe if/when the Republicans get control of the House of Representatives, they can impose a gag order on Markey which keeps him from saying anything else that would cause people in Louisiana to stroke out. That might be the best piece of legislation to come out of Washington in some time.

7-16-10, 9:30 a.m. – It’s a day or so later, and there is still no oil coming out of the Macondo well. So far the new cap is holding.

At this point, it might be worth mentioning something a bit off the beaten track of what coverage of the spill has usually focused on – which is that despite all of the hassle and heartache this nightmare has been, it seems we’ve finally arrived on something of a procedure to handle deepwater oil spills.

It’s a procedure largely arrived at through the process of elimination, because the fools in charge have done more or less everything but what they should have before finally beginning to get it right.

First, two laws currently on the books need to go away immediately. The EPA standard of 15 parts per million on the maritime discharge of oil should NEVER be applied to efforts to get oil out of the water again; for two months that asinine rule was applied to the oil skimming operations in the Gulf, which made it virtually certain that the oil would hit shore. And it has, to the tune of 540 miles of oiled shoreline.

The other law which should be dumped is the federal fine of between $1,100 and $4,300 per barrel per oil spilled in cases like this. Those fines are far too high, and they provide perverse incentives to the oil company who the federal government will now depend on to handle the spill. In this case the fines married BP to the use of chemical dispersants, creating an extremely controversial practice of dumping Corexit on the surface and at the sea floor. While the screaming about Corexit’s toxicity is, we think, overblown and panic-mongering – and highly convenient to the mass of trial lawyers descending on the Gulf Coast with an eye toward any possible angle – the reality is that dispersing oil on this scale isn’t a good idea.

You don’t want to disperse that oil, you want to collect it, or at least burn it. Dispersing it means you won’t know where it’s going, and while it will break down naturally more easily it will also descend down the water column and affect marine life more than it would if it was on the surface. But if you’re BP, and you’re looking at an $1,100 or $4,300 fine for every barrel spilled, you want to make as much oil go away as possible before the government can count it. Thus the widespread use of Corexit.

Change the fine structure so that the oil company loses a little bit off each barrel, and make their focus on keeping the oil away from the fish, turtles, birds and beaches.

And that means skimmers. Lots and lots of skimmers. Big ones, which sit on top of oil slicks and suck up massive quantities of oily water, separate the oil from the seawater and shoot water out of the stern. Skimming needs to be Jobs One, Two, Three and Four at the surface, with a massive fleet of vessels deployed to the spill site as fast as possible in an effort to handle the oil before it can spread.

And at the spill site, a collection stack like the one BP finally arrived at needs to be brought to the scene and deployed as soon as possible. Lock on to the blowout preventer, produce from the well safely and get your relief well started. If it takes 120 days to complete a relief well, at least you’re getting the oil onto boats.

Skimming and a collection stack aren’t earthshakingly new. But that’s what works. This disaster proved it, as poorly run as it’s been. 

7-15-10, 3:30 p.m. – As of right now, for the first time since April 20, there is no oil coming out of the Macondo well. As you can see from BP’s live feeds page, it’s just sea water.

Whether the cap will hold, or whether that wellbore will hang on and not allow oil to seep out elsewhere, we won’t know for 48 hours. But as of right now, they’ve got it shut.

Bout friggin’ time.

7-15-10, 9:30 a.m. – So overnight BP says they found a leak in one of the lines feeding oil to the surface from the Macondo well’s beat-up blowout preventer, and the company says they fixed it. Which means the test of their new setup atop the well to see whether it can be shut in using the new stack they’ve affixed atop the BOP can continue.

But the standard they were looking for to let them know it’s safe to shut the well in is 9,000 psi. A number significantly less than that would indicate that oil is seeping from the wellbore – which would mean shutting the well in won’t stop the leak; it’ll just surface somewhere else.

So given that, the live feed from the Olympic Challenger ROV, which is monitoring pressure levels in the well, isn’t very encouraging if we read it correctly. The pressure readings on that video hover somewhere between 2500 psi and 3000 psi.

We don’t know whether that’s significant, and we’ll keep watching that feed. They may be opening and closing vents while this is going on and they may be in a phase of their testing program which isn’t the “money” part of the thing. But earlier this morning BP said they’d be going live by now, and 2500 psi is not the number we were looking for.

At The Oil Drum, they’ve got a thread going which speaks in exhaustive detail about leaks and well pressure, using the statements of BP vice president Kent Wells and Unified Command head Thad Allen from yesterday to describe what’s going on. A lot of this stuff amounts to a trip through the weeds, but one piece of information which does not particularly radiate a pleasing odor is the disclosure that back in May when BP tried the top kill, while they were able to stop the flow of oil out of the well by shooting mud into the BOP they were never able to get a pressure above 6,000 psi. What that would mean is they were losing mud somewhere in the wellbore – and oil as well, since the well pressure is supposedly around 11,000 psi.

All this stuff taken in concert leads us to the tentative conclusion that shutting the well in at this point won’t work, BP is going to be producing oil out of that well again by tomorrow and this situation won’t be in hand at the wellhead until the relief well is finished.

7-14-10, 7:45 p.m. – Some things don’t surprise you, but they still make you shake your head.

“NAACP President Benjamin Jealous also released a letter to BP chief executive Tony Hayward, asking to meet with company officials to discuss his “outrage” that minority contractors are apparently being left out in the cleanup of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.”

7-14-10, 6:45 p.m. – After a pressure test of the new stack on top of the Macondo well was delayed earlier today, it’s happening now. BP vice president Kent Wells said this afternoon that one of the main valves on the new containment system was shut at about 5 p.m. today, while two others are going to be shortly. And if the pressure readings taken inside the well are as hoped for, BP will be able to pump mud and cement into the well and kill it in advance of the relief wells hitting the reservoir and permanently shutting it in.

The delay in the test occurred as a result of government experts putting on the brakes:

Thad Allen announced the decision today at a press briefing, saying that the government had made minor modifications to the test to guard against damaging the wellbore.

The well integrity test had been on hold since Tuesday afternoon when BP officials had announced it would take place.

The decision to postpone the test was made following a meeting with US Energy Secretary Steven Chu and a team of government scientists and “industry experts”, Allen said.

Earlier today, BP announced it has hit the pause button on the relief well just as it is poised to enter the Macondo well bore.

BP executive Kent Wells said Transocean’s semi-submersible rig Development Driller 3 ceased drilling as a “precaution”.

“We’ve stopped drilling there at 17,840 feet until after we do the well integrity test,” he said during a press briefing this morning.

“We’re only four feet away horisontally from the well,” Wells said, adding however that there exists a “possible scenario” that during the planned shut-in test oil flow could get to the relief well and possible complicate efforts.

“We don’t believe it actually is going to happen,” Wells said.

Drilling would resume once the planned well integrity test is over, he added.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are attempting to keep BP from drilling ever again. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) has an amendment at the House Natural Resources Committee which passed today that would bar the company, or anybody else with a similar lousy safety record (note: NOBODY in the American oil patch has a safety record as putrid as BP does) from getting leases from the federal government.

The amendment did not mention BP specifically, but it would not allow any company to get leases that had more than 10 fatalities at drilling and production facilities or refineries that resulted from violations of federal or state health and environment laws within the last seven years.

“The Miller amendment would prohibit BP or any other company with an egregious worker and environmental safety record from new offshore oil and gas drilling,” Miller’s office said in an email after the vote.

The measure was added to a sweeping bill that the committee expected to clear tomorrow morning, but which would have to pass both the full House and Senate before reaching President Barack Obama’s desk.

While that amendment is only tangentially noxious, if hideously shortsighted, the quote the AP article printed next from Bart Stupak of I-got-rolled-by-the-White-House-over-my-pseudo-pro-life-stance-and-so-called-principled-opposition-to-Obamacare-on-that-basis fame which is breathtaking in its imbecility:

Representative Bart Stupak, who chairs a separate House subcommittee investigating the BP oil spill, said he supported giving the Interior Department the discretion to block BP from getting future leases because of the company’s bad safety record.

He downplayed concerns raised by some that BP needs continued drilling access to US waters so it can earn money from the oil it produces to pay for billions of dollars in Gulf Coast cleanup costs and liability claims in the years ahead.

“I’m not going to allow BP to drill more so they make more money so they can pay us, and as they do that then there’s more environmental damage,” Stupak told reporters while speaking at the Platts Energy Podium.

“It’s a pretty big corporation. I’m sure they can find some money.”

Stupak assumedly has heard that this purported $20 billion fund BP set up is supposed to be paid into over the next four years, and is therefore subject to the company – or more specifically its American operations – not going belly-up during that time. How he squares those concepts with “I’m sure they can find some money” is an interesting question. Does Stupak’s callous concern over the thousands of jobs that will be lost by BP being banned from the market extend to whatever company might buy up the company’s American assets when it decides to sell out and pull out (which we’d have no problem with, by the way)? Or does he advocate standing in the way of any successor companies to BP drilling as well?

The guess here is that since these are somewhat sophisticated concepts they fly far over Stupak’s head. He’s never been a particularly bright bulb. Which, of course, explains why he chairs a committee in Nancy Pelosi’s House of Idiocracy.

7-14-10, 9:20 a.m. – We’re at a loss on this one. See if you can figure this out:

After days of progress on the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, BP said Wednesday that delays have temporarily stopped work beneath the water on both a stopgap solution and a permanent fix to the gusher. BP was vague about the reasons for pushing back tests of a new cap meant to trap oil in the well and why it stopped, for up to 48 hours, drilling on a relief well aimed at plugging the gusher for good from underground.

Kent Wells, a senior vice president at the oil giant, said at a morning news briefing that it was the government’s call late Tuesday to re-evaluate plans for testing the new cap over the leak. That plan was put on hold for 24 hours.

With oil still gushing freely into the Gulf, Wells said BP and federal officials will re-evaluate the best path forward after the 24 hours.

But he did not commit with certainty to returning to the plan, in place before the late Tuesday delay, to shut the leak off by closing the valves on the new cap. Wells suggested other oil collection options might be redeployed.

“We want to move forward with this as soon as we are ready to do it,” he said.

Wells said the cap test, which could put the oil in the well under added pressure, could have an effect on the relief well. He did not elaborate.

The relief well’s timeframe has always been hazy, with company and federal officials giving estimates ranging from the end of July to the middle of August before it can be completed.

Wells said the test delay was ordered by National Incident Commander Thad Allen, who wanted to make sure everyone was clear on the steps involved and what the data gathered during the test might mean.

“This test is so important a decision was taken to give them another 24 hours to make sure this was the best possible test procedure we could execute,” he said.

But Wells declined to say that the company would definitely proceed with the “shut in” of the new cap, which was its planned course a day before.

All we can think of is these guys are freaked out about the possibility of opening other vents the oil could come out of that they’re afraid of doing anything. What any of that might have to do with the relief wells is beyond us, though. Our commenters are welcome to share their theories.

7-13-10, 10:30 a.m. – Fox 8 in New Orleans had a pretty cool story about Big Gulps and Little Gulps, which are barges retrofitted as oil skimmers to collect huge amounts of oil from the water’s surface and decant it while shooting water out of the side…

This is, of course, a product of the EPA’s finally backing off on its stupid 15 parts per million rule which crippled the effort to skim oil from the spill for the first two months of this disaster. Now that waivers have finally been issued in a number of cases, the oil can be picked up. And while the A-Whale continues to be tested with mediocre effects compared to the local invention’s stellar ones, we can perhaps brag that while the Taiwanese have the entrepreneurial spirit, they still can’t compete with Louisiana folks.

Meanwhile, at the Macondo wellhead there is finally something to feel good about. See for yourself…

There is still a little oil being vented out of the new stack BP has just installed, which is part of the plan. Today, BP is doing “well integrity testing,” which essentially consists of pressure readings. What they’re looking for is 9,000 psi or thereabouts. At that number, they feel like they can shut the rams on the stack they’ve put down and essentially shut the well in while they’re waiting for the relief wells to be finished.

But if the number is significantly more, they’ll produce from the well so as not to risk the system. And if it’s less, which might indicate a significantly compromised wellbore and the chance that oil would be seeping out of the seabed someplace else, they’ll produce from the well so as to try to channel the oil through Macondo.

Either way, the spill, for the most part, is finally just about over.

But the fallout isn’t.

7-12-10, 8:00 a.m. – Today we can offer one of two perspectives.

The first is that things are worse than ever, as all weekend long the Macondo well was spewing oil unabated into the Gulf of Mexico. The second is that we’re coming – hopefully – to the end of the current phase of this nightmare; namely, that BP is about to install a new cap on top of the well which they think might collect all of the oil coming out of it. And the work on the relief wells is proceeding apace, with a possibility if everything goes well (it almost assuredly won’t, as it certainly hasn’t so far) that the well might intersect the well and begin to kill it before the end of the month.

On Friday, BP’s Ken Wells put out a video outlining what the company was planning. Essentially, they pulled the Lower Marine Riser Cap they’d been using to collect some 20,000-25,000 barrels a day of oil off of the blowout preventer (between the 15,000 the Drillship Enterprise was collecting and the 8,000 being flared by the Helix Q4000), and several actions followed. First, instead of sawing through the riser pipe, which they’d done to mediocre effect, BP unbolted the phlange that had connected the riser to the BOP. After that came the current procedure, which involves bolting a transition spool onto the BOP, which they did last night, and then installing an 18-foot high, 150,000-pound stack on top which has three rams in it – giving BP the potential option to shut in the well if it has enough integrity to do so.

Four different oil-producing vessels are at the scene, and with the lines and risers already attached to the BOP and those attached to the new stack BP thinks they’ll collect all of the 60,000-80,000 barrels a day of oil coming out of the well. But they’re going to be doing a pressure test – and if the pressure is 9,000 psi at the wellhead or less, they’re going to shut those rams and perhaps close off the well entirely.

Meanwhile, the first relief well is at 17,810 feet, which Wells says is about 60 feet from the depth they’re looking for. It’s also very close horizontally to the Macondo well, so after some well maintenance they believe they’re relatively close to punching through and intersecting the gusher. The second relief well is more than 16,000 feet down as well. But because of all the steps which will need to be taken and the tests which will have to be done, Wells is still saying it’s going to be next month before this is over.

So while it’s been slow as can be, there does appear to be some progress in shutting this thing off at the wellhead. By Thursday or Friday, we might see subsea pictures of that well which don’t have any oil shooting out since it’s all going up the various pipes to the drillships or not flowing at all. Best case scenario is that by Thursday or Friday that well is going to be stopped.

On the surface and the shore? Still a complete cockup.

On the business front BP is a burgeoning disaster, as they’re trying to unload U.S. assets in an effort to cover the costs of this thing. Apache is talking to them about buying $12 billion worth of BP stuff, including BP’s stake in the Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska. And ExxonMobil is looking into buying everything – whether that includes all the American assets or the whole company. With the Gulf spill crisis hopefully coming to something of an end soon and an actual estimate of the cost of this thing beginning to be possible, it’s going to become easier to set a real value for BP stock. Right now that stock is probably undervalued due to the publicity this mess has caused.

And of course that publicity, at least in the United States, has taken another sizable hit as folks have noticed that Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi, the scumbag who helped plot the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 on behalf of the Libyan government but who was let go last year so he could die back home in Tripoli of the prostate cancer that was supposedly eating away at him, is still around. And Megrahi now has a prognosis that he could live another 10 years. And meanwhile Libya’s sovereign wealth fund is buying BP stock, and meanwhile BP’s got a sweet deal to develop deepwater assets in the Gulf of Sidra. Of course, despite the denials by British government officials that any quid pro quo was going on, it’s patently obvious that Megrahi’s release was effected on BP’s behalf – with the benefits of that deal beginning to flow.

Which means we want ExxonMobil to pick up BP’s American assets (and not the rest of their diseased and corrupt enterprise) at fire sale prices so that a real oil company will be in control of them. And then we want BP to disappear, British pensioners be damned.

On the governmental and spill cleanup end, it’s still 20 minutes of work an hour for $18 bucks along the beaches, with $1500 a day or more for owners of boats in the Vessels of Opportunity program – and most days, not much to do for the hirees. Oil keeps washing ashore from Texas to Florida, including in Lake Pontchartrain where they’re testing out a permeable boom which extends all the way down to the waterbottom if it’s a shallow area like the Rigolets in order to catch tarballs. The Times-Picayune today wonders whether the Coast Guard should have anything to do with future oil spills given how poorly it has performed with this one, while Reason Magazine does a piece cataloguing the pathetic government response overall with emphasis on the 15 parts per million idiocy we’ve discussed at length here.

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