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The Next Idea

Gulf Gusher symbolThe Times-Picayune, one of the last real newspapers in the country, reports that BP says top kill has not stopped Gulf oil leak and now considering other options

A source told The Times-Picayune that officials would announce the failure of the top kill option at a 4 p.m. Saturday briefing in Robert .

BP is expected to announce that it will move on to its next option, known as LMRP. The procedure involves cutting off the failed, leaking riser at the top of the Lower Marine Riser Package on the blowout preventer to get a clean-cut surface on the pipe.

Then the company will install a cap with a sealing grommet that would be connected to a new riser from the Discoverer Enterprise drillship, with the hopes of capturing most of the oil and gas flowing from the well.

So, why wasn’t this one of the first things tried after it was verified that the blowout preventer wasn’t going to work? Why is there no shut off valve mentioned in this new riser?

Once again it would appear that BP is more interested in getting the oil out of this well, than stopping the flow. That oil is eroding the insides of the BOP and the riser with grit, and the longer it flows, the weaker they become. Who really believed [other than Admiral Thad Allen who has been a BP cheerleader since the beginning] that the top kill would work while oil and gas were still flowing out of the well?

8 comments

1 Badtux { 05.29.10 at 7:20 pm }

Okay, over at The Oil Drum there’s real oil people (da dum!) who will tell you this:

1) The ‘top kill’ procedure wasn’t going to work unless the ‘junk shot’ could clog up the bend in the fallen-over riser and allowed enough pressure to build in order to push the mud down into the hole. The ‘junk shot’ didn’t.

2) What this implies is that the bend in the fallen-over riser isn’t stopping the flow of oil in any significant way, and thus there’s no need to keep the fallen-over riser on top of the well. They didn’t know this until they tried the junk shot and the junk shot failed, before that they thought the bent pipe was restricting the flow of oil somewhat and thus was worth keeping on top of the well. But now it’s clear that’s not true, so they might as well cut the riser off.

3) The main problem with closing in the well at this point is that the flowing oil is full of sand that has been steadily sandblasting the casing and the interior of the blowout preventer and there’s no guarantee that if they close in the well, the casing or blowout preventer will hold. Remember, there was 14,000 PSI of oil that blew out the original riser. The casing and blowout preventer as spec’ed could handle that, but both have been sandblasted to a fare-thee-well by a month’s worth of oil-borne sand.

4) The LMRP cap and riser package is probably the best bet right now to at least keep the oil out of the water. There is the possibility of putting a valve in it to try to close in the well again if a hurricane comes along and filling tankers at the surface no longer becomes possible, but they really, *really* don’t want to close that valve, because if the casing blows out in the subsurface muck below the blowout preventer (the most likely scenario given how eroded it undoubtedly has become), then there’s nothing left that can be done until the relief wells hit the casing down in the rock, game over.

So basically, by fiddling around for a month, they allowed the well to get so eroded that it *can’t* be closed in. Was that by plan, by stupidity, or what? I have no idea, but the LMRP cap will hopefully keep the oil out of the water until the relief wells come in. Unless a hurricane comes through. In which case the game plan is to shut the valve on the LMRP cap, cut off the riser a couple hundred feet below the surface and attach it to a float and let it float around down there, and get the tankers somewhere safe until it blows through — and just pray that the casing doesn’t burst, because that’s all that’s left at that point.

– Badtux the Oil Penguin

2 Badtux { 05.29.10 at 7:26 pm }

Oh, one more thing. Apparently at the bottom of the string where the oil is entering the casing, erosion has proceeded to the point that significant amounts of sand are no longer coming up the hole. So at this point letting the oil flow (with 4,000 feet more of back pressure slowing the flow somewhat, but nowhere near at the full pressure they’d get if they tried to close in the well) isn’t going to make anything any weaker. The problem is that there was a month of sandblasting that preceded this, and there’s no telling just how close to bursting the casing really is. They know that it can take the pressure of pushing oil to the surface, because they managed to put that much pressure on it with their top kill attempt, but beyond that they’re just crossing their fingers.

– Badtux the Oil Penguin
.-= last blog ..Crashing halt =-.

3 Bryan { 05.29.10 at 9:40 pm }

Essentially as soon as I heard about the grit, I realized that it was the time to cut it off and put in a valve. I have never been a fan of just installing another BOP because the sudden pressure spike that would cause, could burst something, even before the month of erosion. It is always better to shut the tap slowly and watch for trouble.

Having that riser bent might have reduced some of the flow, but it was also a weak spot and the arrangement had to be stressing the BOP and vertical portion of the riser.

The sudden release of a lot of oil when the riser was cut and the new pipe added would have been nothing compared to the weeks of leaking waiting for the containment vessels that didn’t work, and it would have been done before the start of the hurricane season.

Shut off the well should have been the first consideration, and it obviously wasn’t. Now they are in a position that it may be impossible to stop the flow until the relief well is completed, and there are no guarantees that the hurricane season is going to cooperate.

4 Badtux { 05.29.10 at 10:43 pm }

I think that’s a fair summary. BP’s initial efforts were incompetent and slow, and now we’re left with no really good options. The LMRP cap is the least bad of the options left, and the most likely to succeed in at least slowing how much oil enters the water (there undoubtedly will be some leakage from the seams, but nowhere near what’s currently happening), but if the right thing had been done from the start (i.e. cut the pipe, put another BOP on top of the old one) this would be all over except waiting for the relief wells to be finished to do the final bottom kill.

Now, the question is, could a top kill be done from the surface once they have the LMRP cap on? Well, it’s a possibility if they put the right structure in place, but what are the chances that BP is going to put the right structure in place (basically a “cross” to allow temporarily diverting the oil elsewhere while the pipe strand is filled with mud)? Besides, we’re then left with the same problem that prevents just closing in the well in the first place — the casing and lower BOP have been eroded by a month of flowing grit, and there’s no telling whether they’d hold. I do think that if a hurricane starts threatening they should try it anyhow… there’s no more pressure involved than just closing in the well, after all, and if they manage to push the oil 5,000 feet below the surface into the rock layer and then get a plug of concrete down there, the strength of the casing is no longer an issue and waiting for leaks to spring no longer on the agenda. But that’s one of the things they should be planning for, but IMHO probably shouldn’t do at this point — too risky.

– Badtux the Oil Penguin
.-= last blog ..Crashing halt =-.

5 hipparchia { 05.30.10 at 5:45 pm }

the casing and lower BOP have been eroded by a month of flowing grit, and there’s no telling whether they’d hold.

i didn’t watch most of it, but didn’t we see new leaks forming in the bop casing during the attempted top kill? in which case, the answer is most likely, no it won’t hold.

6 Badtux { 05.30.10 at 7:05 pm }

No, the new leaks were in the bent riser pipe at the first bend in the pipe (it has another bend when it hits the bottom, then runs along the bottom a while and just ends), which was just another reason to get rid of it — clearly it’s not putting any significant backpressure on the well because even the little bit of pressure they could shove in through the manifold was enough to cause it to leak like a sieve. The riser pipe is what came out of the top of the blowout preventer and went up to the drilling rig. When the rig disconnected because it, well, blew up (heh), the riser collapsed over to the side, and that bend is what the robot cameras were focused on during the junk shot attempts, because if the junk had clogged the holes in the riser there was a chance the well could have been closed in enough to make the top kill work. But the junk just flowed through the bend and on out the end of the pipe, alas.
.-= last blog ..Crashing halt =-.

7 hipparchia { 05.30.10 at 10:43 pm }

The riser pipe is what came out of the top of the blowout preventer and went up to the drilling rig.

i did know this, ackshully. and this part too:

When the rig disconnected because it, well, blew up (heh), the riser collapsed over to the side,

but didn’t know what the cameras were focused on [i misread something somewhere too, which led me astray].

8 Bryan { 05.30.10 at 11:27 pm }

Hipparchia, I don’t think I’ve seen any video of the BOP since we started getting live shots, I’ve only seen shots of the bends where the riser is broken.

Very early there were stills or short videos of the BOP while the ROVs were trying to get the BOP to function, but absolutely nothing in recent days.