BP / Gulf Oil Spill – Any Backup Containment Devices Ready?

We’ve got a couple of questions for BP and Coast Guard, given yesterday’s troubling incident with the LMRP and the significantly increased flow from the well ever since they cut off the damaged riser pipe:

  • If the LMRP should break down, gunk up, or otherwise fail, is there a backup LMRP ready and waiting to be immediately deployed?
  • If the well casing fails beneath the seafloor – it’s been under a steady high-pressure, high-temperature sandblasting since April 20, and the BOP is reportedly leaning slightly to one side – much of the leaking oil would likely bypass the BOP entirely, possibly raising the flow rate to BP’s worst-case scenario estimate of 100,000 barrels per day. In that event, we’d need to immediately deploy a large containment device similar to the “dome” that was initally tried and quickly failed. Something we can lower over the entire BOP and onto the seafloor surrounding the well. Has such a device been designed and built, in case it’s needed? If not, why not? It’s imprudent to just hope the casing will hang on until a relief well is successful, and it could take weeks to build and test a backup containment device. Let’s get to work on that ASAP if we haven’t already.

Unless we’re willing to risk weeks of uncontrolled flow at 2.5-4.2 million gallons per day.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – ASAR Image June 21, 2010 – The Power of Radar

Here’s a great example of why radar is the go-to tool for mapping and monitoring oil pollution (and why I think the US needs to launch a civilian radar imaging satellite). The MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken early yesterday afternoon is mostly obscured by heavy clouds over the area of the ongoing BP spill. But an Envisat/ASAR radar image taken late on the previous day clearly shows oil slicks and sheen spread across an area of 26,053 square miles.

Now you don’t see it:

MODIS/Aqua satellite image taken around 1:00pm on June 22, 2010

And now you do:

Envisat/ASAR radar satellite image (black-and-white inset) taken at 10:48pm the previous day (June 21). Color backdrop is June 22 MODIS/Aqua image. ASAR data courtesy of CSTARS.

Bad news todayan ROV bumped into the LMRP containment cap that had recently been diverting about 700,000 gallons of oil a day from the leaking well to vessels at the surface. The LMRP has been removed for repair and, as of right now, oil is gushing unchecked from the Macondo well, possibly at a rate as high as 2.5 million gallons (60,000 barrels) per day. See the spill cam video here.

BP / Gulf Oil Spill – MODIS Images, June 18 and 19

MODIS Terra and Aqua images on June 18 and June 19 have some cloud-cover problems but still show oil slick and sheen spanning areas of 11,278 square miles and 18,473 square miles respectively, with oil apaprently coming ashore from Gulf Shores, Alabama to points as far east as Seacrest and Rosemary Beach, Florida. Oil is also apparent in Pensacola Bay on the 18th:

MODIS/Terra satellite image, June 18, 2010

Strong thunderstorms form large, dense masses of bright white cloud in this image — one area of cloud obscures the location of the leaking Macondo well, source of the ongoing BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Oil slicks and sheen viewed through breaks in the cloud cover at least 11,278 square miles (29,210 km2). Oil appears to be making landfall along the beaches of Perdido Key, Alabama, and east along the coast to Destin, Florida. Oil slicks also seem to occur within Pensacola Bay itself. Compare with the MODIS/Aqua image taken the next day, on June 19:

MODIS/Aqua satellite image, June 19, 2010

Not as many thunderstorms and cloudy patches on this image, revealing the continuing upwelling of fresh oil around the location of BP’s leaking well. Slicks and sheen span 18,473 square miles (47,847 km2) on this image. Thin patches appear to be making landfall from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Perdido Key in Florida, and from Grayton Beach State Park to the Seacrest / Rosemary Beach area along the Florida coast.

Leaking Well at Platform 23051 Location – Rate?

Just a quick followup to our last post. The Ocean Saratoga rig is working to plug 26 wells that had been connected to an oil platform damaged (and destroyed, or removed) by Hurricane Ivan in 2004:

The Taylor wells are leaking an average of less than one- third of a barrel of oil each day, the Interior Department said. The leaks have been “substantially reduced” over the years by containment domes and other interventions, Taylor said in a statement yesterday.

1/3 of a barrel is 14 gallons. The slick we measured on June 18 satellite imagery holds an estimated 3,157 gallons of oil, assuming the slick is only 1 micron thick. It would take 225 days, at a rate of 14 gallons per day, to make an oil slick that large. Oil on the surface of the ocean can’t survive that long — especially a slick that’s only 1/1000th of a millimeter thick.

The leakage rate from these wells in recent days must be significantly higher, probably in the range of 100-400 gallons per day. If they’ve been leaking at that rate since Hurricane Ivan, that’s a total of 210,000-840,000 gallons of oil. To put it in perspective, less than one day’s worth of leakage from BP’s Macondo well.

Leaking Well at Platform 23051 Location – New Images

Radar satellite images taken on June 10 and June 18, 2010, show continuing slow leakage from a well at the location of Platform 23051 in the Gulf of Mexico, about 40 miles from the leaking Macondo well that is the source of the ongoing BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Oil from that massive BP spill is visible in the lower right of both images (oil slicks are dark on these images):

CSK radar satellite images of Platform 23051 location taken June 10 (left) and June 18 (right). Images courtesy CSTARS.

Air photos and video shot at the site on June 5 showed a long plume of oil in the water next to a semisubmersible drill rig, the Ocean Saratoga, and no sign of a fixed platform. News accounts and news releases indicate the Ocean Saratoga is working to plug a well that was damaged by a seafloor mudslide during Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and has been leaking at a slow rate ever since. Containment devices are supposed to be capturing much of that oil.

We infer that Platform 23051, installed in the mid-1980s, was destroyed by – or removed shortly after – Hurricane Ivan in 2004; and that the Ocean Saratoga is working at the site formerly occupied by Platform 23051.

The slick apparent on the June 18 image covers 11.95 km2. Assuming an average thickness of 1 micron (1/1000th of a millimeter), that represents a total volume of 3,157 gallons of oil. Certainly this pales in comparison with the BP spill: that well is now estimated to be gushing oil at a rate of 1.47 – 2.52 million gallons (35,000 – 60,000 barrels) per day; the Coast Guard reports that 1.05 million gallons (25,000 barrels) were captured yesterday. But we think it’s important to know how common chronic leaks like this are.