BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Stopped (For Good?)

Screen capture from Skandi ROV2 live spill cam, 12:42am EDT, July 16, 2010

Finally, after 87 days, the leak from BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico is fully stopped. All the valves on the new sealing cap have been closed and an “integrity test” is being conducted on the well. If the pressure steadily increases in the well, that’s a good thing: it would mean there are no leaks in the wellpipe and casing below the seafloor. In that case BP will keep the valves closed, effectively shutting off this catastrophic spill. If the pressure doesn’t build in the well it could mean there are leaks below the seafloor, and BP will re-open some of the valves and the spill will resume. In any event, the only permanent solution is a successful relief well that fills the damaged well with cement.

MODIS / Aqua satellite image, July 14, 2010

This MODIS / Aqua satellite image, taken on July 14, shows that the area of oil slicks and sheen appears greatly reduced: slicks cover approximately 3,786 square miles (9,805 km2) on this image. Radar satellite images taken on July 11 and July 12 confirm this smaller slick area.

Persistent, moderately strong winds over the past few days (ranging from 7-20 miles per hour) may have dispersed thinner portions of the slick over much of the region.

4 replies
  1. Phil says:

    See also:
    Washington's Blog: July 15, 2010: The "Well Integrity Test" Is a Sham: "This Bet Is Against The Citizens Of The United States Of America Being Smart Enough To Figure Any Of This Out"

    Washington begins:

    Yesterday, I pointed out that two oil industry experts – Robert Cavner and former Shell CEO John Hofmeister – said that the "well integrity test" should not be conducted because there is no benefit, and it could very well blow out the well.

    Cavner thinks that the well integrity tests are really an attempt by BP to underestimate the amount of oil gushing out – and so pay lower fines under the Clean Water Act (fines are calculated by the number of barrels leaking into the Gulf) – by waiting to "test" the flow until the flow has been reduced. In the real world, of course, BP could have tested the flow from day one.

    Today, an oil and gas industry veteran with 30 years experience who goes by the alias Fishgrease says that the well integrity test is a PR stunt meant to fool the American people:

    and ends:

    Indeed, the well integrity test is exactly like the stress test for the banks: a meaningless PR stunt devised by the industry itself with the blessing of government. See this and this.

  2. Ian says:

    What is oil? When does discharge start?

    Here is a puzzle: The Oil Pollution Act stipulates as follows:
    §4301(b) Civil penalties are authorized at $25,000 for each day of
    violation or $1,000 per barrel of oil discharged.

    What is oil and when does discharge start? In a geological reservoir
    like the one BP drilled, all hydrocarbon components occur as a super
    critical fluid with no separation between gas and liquid phases. At
    the moment of discharge from the BP well-head (1500 m depth), the oil and
    gas begin to divide into separate phases, but this partitioning is
    very much dependent on temperature and pressure. So the "gas" rising
    through the water will include components that will become liquid at
    STP and "oil" in the same transit will degas continually, losing
    volume and mass to the water as it does so.

    Once on the ocean surface, liquid oil rapidly (minutes) evaporates its
    more volatile components into the atmosphere. And oil on the surface ocean
    evaporates, emulsifies, dissolves, and is consumed by micro-organisms–
    with a half-life of about 5 days. This means that a theoretical
    discharge of 10 barrels of oil, would be reduced by natural
    consumptive processes to to about 2.5 barrels after 10 days in the

    I think no one could convincingly argue that the actual release of that
    10 barrels should be assessed as 2.5 barrels because natural processes
    during an oil spill will have consumed the other 7.5 barrels. But
    suppose the same 10 barrels of oil, when discharged from an open pipe
    at the sea-floor, included 5 barrels of gas (in equivalent units of
    mass or energy). Some of that gas would dissolve into the deep water
    and eventually be consumed by bacteria. Some would make it to the
    surface and then rise into the atmosphere–but only after it has spent
    several hours floating up through the 1500 m of water. Could one
    argue under science or the law that the actual discharge should be
    assessed as 15 barrels?

    This is not a question that the framers of the Oil Pollution Act had in mind. You can read the act here:

    The circumstances and setting for the BP blow-out force us to think carefully. It is clear the the framers defined oil very broadly and discharge very broadly, i.e.
    (23) “oil'' means oil of any kind or in any form, including
    petroleum, fuel oil, sludge, oil refuse, and oil mixed with wastes
    other than dredged spoil

    The courts will test whether BP is liable for total released hydrocarbons into the ocean. This could have billion dollar consequences.

  3. Ian says:

    What seep is this?

    What an amazing day this was. They invoke a threatening seep "within two miles of the well" for the morning talk shows. They cite this as a reason to resume oil release to de-pressure the well. But by 4pm, the seep is just an anomaly and nothing to worry about.

    I'm not necessarily worried, but this was a big deal. It swallowed an entire news cycle without any clarity at the end of it. BP stocks dipped sharply. However, once again the public is held in blindness regarding. Thad Allen did not clarify his reasons for concern, he swept them under the rug.

    There is a video cut on the web here:

    This shows an ROV in a turbulent cloud of mud. The cut is terrible quality–a video of a full screen display from teh BP web site. It lasts about 5 min with occasional comment from the poster– who appears to be monitoring a site maintained by Alexander Higgins here

    Here is the pertinent data from the ROV screen:
    Ship: Ocean Intervention III
    ROV: 2
    Dive: 53
    21:56 (cdt?)
    Depth: 1524.5 (m?)
    Altitude: 11 (m?)
    E1202676.49 (UTM ft, zone 16 NAD83?)

    Although ROV thrusters CAN be operated generate clouds of resuspended sediment, it would be unusual to actually do it for several minutes because the danger of visual disorientation would increase. This looks more like the discharge of fluidized mud from the seafloor. I have seen similar displays from erupting mud volcanoes. It was particularly diagnostic to see small particles of gas-charged clay rising in the cloud of sediment. Each was raisin-sized or a bit larger and released a comet like tail of sediment as it moved upward. Although this is very distinctive, I have only seen this particular feature in erupting mud volcanoes.

    My conclusion is that this could very likely have been a genuine eruption of gassy mud from an open conduit. But the video I saw does not constitute a legitimate inspection of this feature to determine its origin or age. A detailed survey of this feature should be made immediately and the government should consult with knowledgeable experts regarding its conclusions. Credible experts on this topic would agree to be named.

    Thad Alan's assertion that they are certain this is normal and no cause for concern rings hollow in aftermath of his earlier statements and in the absence of credible data to support or contradict his claims.

    The government should make an immediate survey of all the "anomalies" near and far from the wellhead to establish their current magnitude.

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