BP's gulf well plug fails, next step LRMP (or nukes) ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , , ,

The SMH reports that BP's "top kill" approach to stopping the Deepwater Horizon leak in the gulf of mexico has failed - BP's gulf well plug fails.

BP's "top kill" operation to plug the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico has failed, in a stunning setback to efforts to stem the worst oil spill in US history.

BP and federal authorities are now turning to a new strategy to stop the leak, but it will take at least four to seven days before it can be put in place.

At least 75 million gallons are now estimated to have gushed into the ocean since the disaster unfolded five weeks ago, threatening an environmental and economic catastrophe across hundreds of kilometres of the US Gulf Coast.

"After three full days of attempting 'top kill', we have been unable to overcome the flow from the well, so we now believe it's time to move on to the next of our options," BP Chief Operations Officer Doug Suttles told a news briefing.

Engineers had spent days pumping some 30,000 barrels of heavy drilling fluid into the leaking well head on the ocean floor in a high-pressure bid to smother the gushing crude and ultimately seal the well with cement. ....

The announcement marks the latest failure for BP, which despite a series of high-tech operations over the past month has appeared powerless to bring the disaster to heel since an explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20 that killed eleven workers. The rig sank two days later.

The British energy giant had stressed that "top kill" was the best chance at stopping the leak other than drilling an entirely new relief well, a process that has already begun but is expected to take another two months.



The Oil Drum has been doing continuous coverage of the spill lately (with traffic starting to head back to the record levels of 2008), and reports BP's latest tactical plan is to try another containment dome style approach while waiting for relief wells to be drilled, this one dubbed the LMRP (lower marine riser package) - Deepwater Oil Spill - The LMRP Attempt Continued and Sunday's Open Thread .
BP said preparations have been made for the possible deployment of the lower marine riser package (LMRP) cap containment system, which would be complex because of the depth of the oil leak.

Deployment would first involve removing the damaged riser from the top of the failed BOP to leave a cleanly-cut pipe at the top of the BOP's LMRP.

The cap, a containment device with a sealing grommet, will be connected to a riser from the Discoverer Enterprise drillship, 5,000 feet above on the surface, and placed over the LMRP with the intention of capturing most of the oil and gas flowing from the well.

Mr Suttles said it should capture "most of the oil" and was expected to last at least four days but "we cannot guarantee success at this time."

Zero Hedge points to a Bloomberg interview with Matt Simmons talking about using a nuclear explosion to plug the well, Russian style - Matt Simmons Tells Bloomberg Only Way To Contain Oil Leak Is With Small Nuclear Bombs, "Top Kill" Is Just A Distraction. It might stop the leak, but presumably the environmental issues will be just as large, albeit different....
In his May 28th interview with Bloomberg's Mark Crumpton and Lori Rothman, Matt Simmons of energy investment bank Simmons & Company, provides some stunning revelations on what is really occurring in the Gulf of Mexico, and proposes that the only effective way to contain the leak is to relieve BP, bring in the military, and do what the Russians have done on comparable occasions, namely explode nuclear weapons within the wellbore. Simmons knows what he is talking about. As Jim Bianco points out: "Matt Simmons gained fame with his book 2005 Twilight in the Desert where he claimed that the Saudis were overstating their oil output because they hit “peak oil.” Right or wrong Simmons claimed the price of oil was going to skyrocket and three years after the book’s release the crude oil hit $147/Barrel.



Grist has an article wondering if people are starting to lose the plot - Is the Gulf oil spill spinning out of control?.
op Hat, Top Kill, Junk Shot, Hail Mary. I don't know about you but it sure feels like nobody's going to stop this leak. Even BP CEO and chief spinmeister Tony Hayward is lowering expectations. This mess is officially out of control.

"Plug the damn hole"

Presidents don't do impotence -- usually. But while BP pipes spew non-stop on webcams, President Obama reduced to sending Cabinet members to the scene where they hold daily press briefings to explain what BP is (or is not) doing. Should we be surprised then at Obama's "Plug the damn hole" outburst at a recent White House meeting?

In his Washington Post blog Joel Achenbach calls BP the ballerina and the federal government the Stage Mom. But here's an alt analogy: BP is the teen learning to drive and the government is the parent in the front seat. Only he doesn't know how to drive either.

They got nothin'

The speculation in Washington is that if BP can't pull off its "top kill" gambit tomorrow, the White House will need to do something dramatic, like take over.

The feds do have the authority. But what would they do if they took charge of the unstoppable spill? The government's top man in the field, Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, flat out concedes that the feds are out of their league-technically-when it comes to plugging the damn hole.

Got any ideas?

Andrew Revkin, in his Dot Earth blog in the New York Times, wants a swat team, of gung-ho geologists and engineers. David Gergen, writing for CNN, wants to rally the country's best and brightest to brainstorm a solution.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) wants to send in the troops. Let the U.S. military take over the cleanup operation.

Screw the army, we want Bruce Willis!

There is one other option out there, a dark option that BP wants nothing to do with. Nuclear weapons. Hey, we're serious here, people! The Soviet Union has used nukes four times in the past to cap leaking oil and gas wells. Sure it sounds crazy, but according to Russian writer Vladimir Lagovsky, the explosion "compresses the rock and squeezes the channel shut."

Of course, resorting to nukes could be a tough call for a Nobel Peace Prize winner, notes Christopher Brownfield, writing in The Daily Beast.
... using nuclear weapons, even for peaceful purposes, would be problematic for a president who stood in Prague and declared that the world should rid itself of such devices. If President Obama were to use a nuke to close this well, he would give other states an excuse to seek nuclear weapons of their own.

Elizabeth Kolbert has some background on oil spills and why these may become more common due to peak oil at The New Yorker - Oil Shocks.
n September of 1968, Union Oil Company of California, which later became Unocal and is now part of Chevron, erected a drilling platform off the coast near Santa Barbara. Over the next four months, four wells were constructed. Work on a fifth had begun and was proceeding uneventfully until, on January 28, 1969, the new well suffered a blowout. It took ten days’ effort before it was finally plugged, with cement slurry. By the time the flow had stopped completely, an estimated hundred thousand barrels of oil had poured into the Santa Barbara Channel. The slick it created covered eight hundred square miles. The area’s fishing industry was shut down, and pictures of blackened beaches filled the news.

Americans had never seen a spill like this, and they were shocked by it. There were protests—Californians stuck their gasoline credit cards on skewers and lit them on fire—followed by new horrors. In June of 1969, Ohio’s spectacularly polluted Cuyahoga River burst into flame. By the end of the year, Congress had passed the National Environmental Policy Act, known by the acronym NEPA, which requires federal agencies to file impact statements for all actions that could have a significant ecological effect. The following spring, millions of people took to the streets for Earth Day, and by the second anniversary of the spill President Richard Nixon had created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed into law the Clean Air Act.

BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill makes the Santa Barbara spill look like a puddle. By some estimates, the BP spill is spewing as much oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day as the Union well spewed into the Santa Barbara Channel in all, and the BP spill is now in its second month. The news out of the Gulf continues to range from grim to grimmer. Recently, it was revealed that the spill has created an undersea plume of oil ten miles long, and that some of the oil has already entered the loop current and is being carried toward Florida. Then the federal government doubled the area of the Gulf that had been closed to fishing. On Friday, the government increased that area again, to forty-eight thousand square miles. President Barack Obama has called the spill a “massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster,” a characterization that, if anything, probably understates the case.

In an immediate sense, the causes of the catastrophe are technical. Apparently, the Deepwater Horizon well was inadequately sealed, and natural gas built up inside it. When workers on the rig tried to activate the well’s blowout preventer, it failed. An attempt to activate the blowout preventer after the fact, using undersea robots, also proved unsuccessful. Another effort to cap the leak, by using what amounted to a hundred-ton steel funnel, flopped as well. Last week, BP finally succeeded in inserting a mile-long tube into the riser leading from the well. The company said that it was capturing a thousand barrels of oil a day, which is what it originally claimed that the well was leaking; nevertheless, crude continued to pour into the Gulf. (In a recent column in the Miami Herald, the author Carl Hiaasen joked that BP’s next move would be to try to seal the well with thousands of tons of instant oatmeal.)

But the real causes of the disaster go, as it were, much deeper. Having consumed most of the world’s readily accessible oil, we are now compelled to look for fuel in ever more remote places, and to extract it in ever riskier and more damaging ways. The Deepwater Horizon well was being drilled in five thousand feet of water, to a total depth of eighteen thousand feet. (By contrast, the Santa Barbara well was drilled in less than two hundred feet of water, to a total depth of thirty-five hundred feet.) While the point of “peak oil” may or may not have been reached, what Michael Klare, a professor at Hampshire College, has dubbed the Age of Tough Oil has clearly begun. This year, the United States’ largest single source of imported oil is expected to be the Canadian tar sands. Oil from the tar sands comes in what is essentially a solid form: it has to be either strip-mined, a process that leaves behind a devastated landscape, or melted out of the earth using vast quantities of natural gas.

Meanwhile, as everyone knows, no matter where oil comes from or how it has been extracted, burning it is destructive: oil combustion accounts for nearly a third of the greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. A report issued last week by the National Academy of Sciences called on Congress to enact legislation to dramatically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, by, among other things, “reducing oil use.”

2 comments

You know that scene, your toothiness, where Slim Pickens rides the A-bomb down on to Moscow. Just brain-storming here. Do you think that if someone could offer a similar option to Tom Hayward, might we then get some more creative, possibly even non-profit oriented, solutions to the greatest environmental catastrophe the United States has experience evah?

Amidst the BP bashing let's not forget the US owned Union Carbide ( now Dow)disaster at Bhopal,India which caused a minimum of 2,259 deaths and where the site is still awaiting a proper clean-up...since 1984.

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