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Tilting at Windmills

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July 15, 2010

OIL WELL SEALED (FOR NOW).... As of an hour ago, the wellhead gushing oil since the Deepwater Horizon explosion was fully contained.

BP said Thursday that it has stopped oil from leaking out of its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. The gusher has been throttled for the first time since the April 20 blowout on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon.

Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president of exploration and production, told reporters that a new capping mechanism shut off the flow of crude from the Macondo well at 3:25 p.m. EDT. He made the announcement after engineers gradually shut off valves to test the pressure. The engineers are monitoring the pressure to see whether the new cap and the well bore hold.

Watching the live feed, it's clear the oil that was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico has, at least for now, stopped entirely. To put it mildly, it's a welcome sight.

The new containment mechanism has been delayed a bit in recent days, but officials shut the various valves today as part of a long-awaited "integrity test," and so far, so good. The "pressure test" will continue over the next 48 hours.

So, are we in the clear? Crisis over? Not yet. The seismic tests will tell us whether to the cap should stay on.

If the well can handle the high pressures, BP could leave the well shut in, and it would not further pollute the gulf.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs discussed the hazards of the test Wednesday. "If the structural integrity of the well bore isn't strong, what you'll get is oil . . . coming out into the strata," he said. That could mean leaks "from multiple points on the seafloor."

If the pressure readings are too low, BP will abandon the test. The well will be reopened and gush anew.

If the new mechanism either has to be removed or fails, MSNBC notes that BP still "expects to be able to siphon up most if not all of the oil starting next week."

Also note, even under the best of circumstances, if the current containment mechanism continues to operate as it is right now, it's still not a permanent solution. That's likely to come from the relief wells, which are very close, but have been halted during the pressure test.

For the first time in a long while, there's reason for optimism -- cautious optimism.

Steve Benen 4:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (13)

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Unfortunately, there's one subject on which we know that there is no possibility of optimism at all, which is that the cleanup will go on for years, will never be fully successful, and will end up killing just about everyone who works on it. The cleanup crews from the Exxon Valdez spill almost all got liver and kidney failure from exposure to those toxic chemicals, and just about all of them are now dead. And that spill amounted to -- what, about one day's worth of the Deepwater Horizon spill?

Oh, by the way, another interesting bit of news about BP -- an investigation is being opened as to whether they pressured the British government to release the man in prison for the Lockerbie bombing last year. We were told it was for humane reasons because he was dying of cancer, but it didn't hurt BP's standing with Libya one bit.

Posted by: T-Rex on July 15, 2010 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Just wondering ... has the GOP called for a repeal of the cap yet?

Posted by: Tang on July 15, 2010 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Hallelujah! Now, begin the public execution of all the top BP and MMS executives and last but not least, Dick Cheney!

Posted by: Sam Simple on July 15, 2010 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

I propose a contest to find the first wingnut to call for us to stop persecuting the oil industry now that the well is capped and the crisis is "over." Wouldn't it be great if they called it, Move-On.biz?

Posted by: Dadidwonk on July 15, 2010 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

The cleanup crews from the Exxon Valdez spill almost all got liver and kidney failure from exposure to those toxic chemicals, and just about all of them are now dead.

Urban legend, apparently, that they're almost all dead, currently enjoying a revival for the purpose of scaring silly the folks working on the Gulf cleanup. See, e.g.:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6690#comment-668235

And that spill amounted to -- what, about one day's worth of the Deepwater Horizon spill?

At the highest goverment estimate of 60,000 bpd for the Gulf spill, more than four days' worth (Exxon Valdez was about 262,000 bbl total).

Posted by: Swift Loris on July 15, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

I don’t get the efficacy of checking the pressure every six hours. Why not just install an alarm to go off it the pressure drops below a certain level ?

Posted by: Joe Friday on July 15, 2010 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

I don’t get the efficacy of checking the pressure every six hours.

Actually they're watching it like a hawk every second. There are go/no-go points scheduled every six hours, when they evaluate the situation so far and decide whether to proceed or stop the test. (They could stop it at any time if it looks like it's starting to go south.)

Why not just install an alarm to go off it the pressure drops below a certain level?

They're watching a whole lot of different stuff, not just pressure, and the readings need to be interpreted, singly and in combination.

It's hugely complex. We're getting the cartoon version from the media, and they often can't even get that right.

Posted by: Swift Loris on July 15, 2010 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

even under the best of circumstances, if the current containment mechanism continues to operate as it is right now, it's still not a permanent solution. That's likely to come from the relief wells, which are very close, but have been halted during the pressure test.

Also important to know that according to Thad Allen, even if the integrity test goes well, they are very likely to uncork the leak again when the test is complete and go back to capturing the oil to avoid strain on the wellbore. That decision is a relatively recent development, and the media haven't all caught up with it yet.

But within about a week after the test is complete, they should be able to capture all the oil with the new equipment they've installed and two new ships they're bringing online; plus which, if the test goes well, they may be able to shut in the well when bad weather forces the containment vessels to disconnect, so no oil will spill until they can reconnect.

There's an outside chance they'll leave the well shut in if they get really good test results, but if so it'll be a pleasant surprise, not anything we should be counting on.

Posted by: Swift Loris on July 15, 2010 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

Joe Friday asked why do they evaluate every six hours? See details at http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6731#comments_top

They will monitor continuously, but the experts get together every six hours to monitor how things are going and whether to move to the next stage of the test. This is a good thing. Unless there's a new blowout (in which case they will end the test quickly), changes should develop slowly. Given all the abuse the pipe has suffered, they will likely lose some pressure somewhere, but whether it's through a gaping gushing hole or lots of little leaks, and near the bottom or near the top will be critical. During the top kill they were unable to get pressure above 6000 PSI and apparently that worries them. There will be a lot of work to do in between those 6 hr evaluations in order to get data in shape and to consider what it means.

From Admiral Allen, via the Oil Drum Here’s how we intend to do the well integrity test. We will slowly take down production from the Q4000 and the helix producer later on today to the point where they are not producing anymore. That will force the oil up through the blowout preventer into the capping stack. At that point, the kill line, the choke line, and the top of the stack will be open, and there’ll be product releasing from there and we know that that's the reason we’ve got the skimmers and the additional capacity on the surface to deal with that.

We will then in sequence close the middle ram here, which will stop the flow out of the top of the stack and then we will take pressure readings.

We will then close the kill line and take pressure readings.

 Following that, we will use a remotely operated vehicle that will hook on to the - that - the little bar here that actually turns a valve, and this choke line has been especially constructed - if you looked at the video, you'll see kind of a yellow object up there with a curved up pipe. That is the choke line. That is the last way for oil to leave the capping stack.

 We will slowly close that, very, very slowly, in partial turns, and measure pressure at the same time. In that manner, we will slowly close the entire capping stack and start the reading pressure.

OK?

 Now, as we do that, we're going to be watching very closely the pressure readings. If the pressure readings stay low, that will tell us that the oil is probably going someplace else and we need to consider the fact we may have a breach in the well bore or in one of the - in one of the casings. If that is the case and we have very low pressure readings for about three hours, we will probably stop at that point. That will be the assumption and we will go into production, bring everything back online so we minimize the amount of oil that's going into the environment and we will assess the results of that test.

Posted by: N.Wells on July 15, 2010 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

I haven’t been following this very closely. Frankly I got sick of it quite a while ago.

I just happened to hear on the evening news that they were only going to check the pressure every 6 hours. There’s a reason it didn’t sound right to me, it wasn’t !

Posted by: Joe Friday on July 15, 2010 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

Hopefully the announcement that they may go back to siphoning the oil is just lowing expectations. Given the very limited capacity of the MSM to cover technical news, why not put the worst case out and then the press won’t overreact if it comes to pass. If things go better, well no problema.
Actually the expectation of a quick (say 1 or 2 years) clean up is good, given the Gulf (unlike Valdez) is warm water relatively rich in oil eating bugs. Not to say that Blue Fin Tuna, Sperm Whales, turtles and other threatened species (including Gulf fisherman and Oysterman) haven’t taken a permanent hit.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on July 16, 2010 at 1:35 AM | PERMALINK

Hopefully the announcement that they may go back to siphoning the oil is just lowing expectations. Given the very limited capacity of the MSM to cover technical news, why not put the worst case out and then the press won’t overreact if it comes to pass. If things go better, well no problema.

I think that's exactly right. The press did overreact at first to the idea that the well might be shut in for good, and the response team is now trying to dial back those expectations.

The first results we've heard of the pressure test have been ambiguous--not high enough for confidence, not low enough to warrant giving up on it, so it'll be a while before we know anything.

Posted by: Swift Loris on July 16, 2010 at 2:02 AM | PERMALINK

For 80 something days now there has been a steady drumbeat of "Obama hasn't stopped the oil! Why won't Obama do something! This is Obama's Katrina!" If this cap works, do you suppose there will be headlines like "Obama stops the oil! Obama succeeds!" Nah.....

I guess the Wingnuts will scream that Obama is punishing private business by cutting off the flow of oil (and oil revenue) to private businesses. Socialism! Government Takeover!

Posted by: eeyore on July 16, 2010 at 7:39 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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