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Saturday, June 22, 2024

The oil spill blame game goes into overdrive

Containment boats work the oil spill (AP)

The blame game is in full throttle as Congress begins hearings on the massive oil spill threatening sensitive marshes and marine life along the Gulf Coast.

Executives of the three companies involved in the drilling activities that unleashed the environmental crisis are trying to shift responsibility to each other in testimony to be given at separate hearings Tuesday before two Senate committees, even as the cause of the rig explosion and spill has yet to be determined.

Lawmakers are expected to ask oil industry giant BP, which operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, why its drilling plans discounted the risk that such a catastrophic pipeline rupture would ever happen, and why it assumed that if a leak did occur, the oil would not pose a major threat.

The morning hearing by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the afternoon session before the Environmental and Public Health Committee give lawmakers their first chance to question the executives publicly about the April 20 rig fire, attempts to stop the flow of oil and efforts to reduce the damage.

Copies of planned testimony, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, brought into the open fissures among the companies caught up in the accident and its legal and economic fallout.

A top executive of BP, which leased the rig for exploratory drilling, focuses on a critical safety device that was supposed to shut off oil flow on the ocean floor in the event of a well blowout but “failed to operate.”

“That was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident,” Lamar McKay, chairman of BP America, says, pointedly noting that the 450-ton blowout protector — as well as the rig itself — was owned by Transocean Ltd.

Of the 126 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig when it was engulfed in flames, only seven were BP employees, said McKay.

But Transocean CEO Steven Newman was seeking to put responsibility on BP.

“Offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator, in this case BP,” said Newman, according to the prepared remarks. His testimony says it was BP that prepared the drilling plan and was in charge when the drilling concluded and the crew was preparing to cap the well 5,000 feet beneath the sea.

To blame the blowout protecters “simply makes no sense” because there is “no reason to believe” that the equipment was not operational, Newman argues.

Newman also cites a third company, Halliburton Inc., which as a subcontractor was encasing the well pipe in cement before plugging it — a process dictated by BP’s drilling plan.

A Halliburton executive, Tim Probert, planned to assert that the company’s work was finished “in accordance with the requirements” set out by BP and with accepted industry practices. He says pressure tests were conducted after the cementing work was finished to demonstrate well integrity.

BP and Transocean are conducting separate investigations into what went wrong.

In Louisiana, the Coast Guard and the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service were beginning two days of hearings on the cause of the explosion. The list of witnesses scheduled to testify includes a Coast Guard search and rescue specialist, crew members from a cargo vessel that was tethered to the Deepwater Horizon rig and two Interior inspectors.

In other developments:

• The Environmental Protection Agency gave the go-ahead Monday to use oil dispersing chemicals near the sea bottom where the oil is leaking, although the agency acknowledged ecological effects of the chemical are not yet fully known. Two tests have shown the procedure helps break up the oil before it reaches the surface.

• BP said it has spent $350 million so far on spill response activities.

• President Barack Obama, after being briefed on the latest developments Monday, directed that more independent scientists get involved in seeking a solution to the spill. Energy Secretary Steven Chu will take a team of scientists to BP in Houston.

• BP said it has received 4,700 claims for damages related to the spill and so far has paid out $3.5 million on 295 of the claims.


Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Frederic J. Frommer contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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11 thoughts on “The oil spill blame game goes into overdrive”

  1. The oil rig disaster is a tragedy for sure, but I thought it would be interesting to put things in perspective relative to the oceans of earth. We can think of it as an Asimovian excercise simply using an arithmetic process.

    A cubic mile holds 1.101117147 × 10~12th = “Trillion” plus gallons of water. = 1,101,117,147,000 gallons Note: A lot of water!

    42 gallons = one barrel of oil

    Dividing total amount of gallons in cubic mile of seawater by 42 equals

    26,217,074,929 bls of oil in a cubic mile of seawater = Billions of barrels of oil

    Let’s propose the leak to the high side at 30,000 bbl per day.

    Divide barrels of oil in a cubic mile of seawater by 30,000 bbl per day, the result is

    873,903 days to equal one cubic mile of crude oil in the ocean.

    Divide number of days to equal one cubic mile of oil by 365.25 days in a year to get total number of years to fill one cubic mile at 30,000 bbl per day flow and the result is:

    2,393 years to fill up a cube one mile on a side at that rate of flow.

    Total cubic miles of earth’s oceans = 326 million cubic miles!

    In terms of it’s effects when making landfall and the further depletion of oxygen in settlement zones which are already naturally low in oxygen, this oil spill is surely not a planetary disaster, but just one big, ugly mess that destroys jobs, tourism and its impact on life in the Gulf which is not a zone of high circulation as the open oceans of the world.

    They could solve the problem by detonating a tactical B61-11, with variable yield Models 3,4 or 10 set to .3 to 5kt yield at the blow hole preferably 5kt’s to compact, slump and fuse the site. Balancing the radioactivity contained by 4200 feet of water with minimal to no atmospheric release against the environmental disaster it would a useful application of tactical nuclear weapons technology rather than screwing around using robotic arms, concrete containment vessels and other such seemingly ineffective nonsense. Tragedies such as this call for drastic measures no differently than the typical sci-fi plot of trying to destroy an incoming asteroid with nukes etc.

    We’ve spent trillions on these weps programs, but never get any utility or payback from them. This is a one time and hopefully the only time such technology could be employed to stave off this continuing disaster. It can be done providing our leadership both scientific, engineering and political have the will and guts to do so.

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. Lest we blow it out of proportion , ignorance post haste,
    what better way for Halicheneyburton to bring on demise ?

    Sheik, I meant Shi6t.

    It’s all good, wander blame direction, hearts of power pump little blood high cost in their margins.

    Margin is an extremely large concept.

  3. Great material Warren and I can corroborate you know your subject matter.

    I’m always enthused when I read material supplied from a an educated, grounded individual such as yourself. Thanks. : )

    Due to the looming mega-environmental disaster, I’ve been thinking that the detonation of a ground effect low yield nuke of 5kt’s or less would slump the well head and seal the site from continued mass seepage regardless of the low yield consequences. It would be a constructive use of “bunker busters”. I’m serious too. : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  4. First, there is certainly more oil flowing from the well than officially admitted. The official estimate is about 5000 bbl/day. There’s an outfit known as that uses satellite photography to do independent analysis of such claims. Based on the size of the oil slick and the thickness of the oil, according to skytruth it is more likely that between 20,000 and 25,000 bbls/day are escaping the well.

    Here’s a bit more insight on what could come down. Out of pure curiosity I’ve spent the past week working on the matter with the guidance of a PhD civil engineer. He’s currently working for the oil and gas industry so I can’t say more. But here’s what I’ve found.

    Right now the output of the well is constrained by kinks in the riser pipe that collapsed when the rig sank. What if the flow restriction of that pipe goes away, possibly due to additional movement, abrasives in the outflow, other failed attempts to restrict flow; or loss of the wellhead itself. That is, what if the well simply flows close to its natural rate?

    From published accounts the depth of the well is about 18,000′ below the sea floor and the well head is in about 5000′ of water. The pressure on the sea floor at the well head is about 2200 psi. Assuming that the rock between the sea floor and the oil deposit is mostly shale with a specific gravity of about 2.4, then the pressure at the oil deposit is about 21,000 psi and the differential is then about 18,800 psi.

    From Halliburton congressional testimony we know that the diameter of the well casing was 7″. The pipe casing was then lined with a cement mixture. The thickness is not known to me at this time, but estimating that it is 1/2″, then the inside diameter of the pipe becomes 6″.

    The actual length of the drill hole has not been divulged, to my knowledge. But we do know that the rig was some lateral distance from the point at which the well entered the oil deposit. I make a guess that the length of the pipe from the deposit to the sea floor is about 22,000′.

    The oil itself has some viscosity that has a marked effect on flow rate, determining how laminar or turbulant the flow is, as described by the Reynolds number. The viscosity of what is desctibed as “light crude” is about 100 cP. (P being Poise, a unit of viscosity. 100 cP is 1 P.) This is about the viscosity of corn oil.

    The oil also has some density which contributes to the Reynolds number. I assume the specific gravity of the crude is about 0.881, a bit lighter than water.

    The lining of the pipe, in this case the cement applied inside the pipe, has some roughness. Roughness slows material flow. I assume the roughness to about the same as moderately rough concrete, about 1mm bumpiness (denoted ‘e’ in the literature). These guys were using some new kind of ‘puffy’ nitrogen-mixed cement which probably contributed to the accident. No idea what the actual roughness number is but this is a reasonable guess, probably higher than actual.

    The surface roughness, pipe diameter, and Reynolds number all together determine a friction coefficent that applies directly to velocity (and so volume) of material flow. A nasty equation, the Colebrook equation, describes the relationship. I say it’s ‘nasty’ because it doesn’t have a ‘rational’ solution, in the mathematical sense.

    Finally, there’s the Bernoulli equation, describing conservation of energy, that brings all this together. To make it simple, it says that the energy of material flowing into a pipe, minus losses due to friction, turbulance and pressure differential, equals energy of material flow out of a pipe. From this equation one can determine velocity of material in the pipe but again it’s not a mathematically ‘rational’ solution.

    Once knowing the rate of flow in the pipe and the diameter of the pipe one can easily determine the volume per unit time. That’s what we’re trying to find out, after all.

    I created a calculator program that starts with some guesses for Reynolds number, friction coefficient, and velocity. It has a loop to, in order,
    Calculate a new Reynolds number,
    Use Newton’s method on the Colebrook equation to find a new root for the friction coefficient, and
    Use Newton’s method on the Bernoulli equation fo find a new velocity
    … until the incremental change in velocity is below the 6th decimal place.

    Given or guessed:
    Pipe Diameter – 6″
    Pipe Length – 22,000′ (estimated)
    Head (Z) – 18,000′
    Rock material specific gravity – 2.4 (shale)
    delta P – 18,728 psi
    viscosity – 100 cP
    mass density – 0.881 kg/l
    surface roughness (e) – 1mm (estimated)

    We get:
    Reynolds number (R) – 14,178
    Friction coefficient (f) – 0.0378
    Velocity – 34.66 ft/s

    That’s 104,681 barrels per day, or about 4.4 million barrels per day.

    That’s more than the Exxon Valdez every three days.

    Let’s hope they don’t f* it up any further.


    • Thursday evening – BP earlier today released a video of the leak. It was analyzed by a professor at Purdue. Quote from the NPR story:

      “The volume of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig may be at least 10 times higher than previously estimated, NPR has learned.

      “The U.S. Coast Guard has estimated that oil was gushing from a broken pipe on the Gulf floor at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day.

      “But sophisticated scientific analysis of sea floor video made available Wednesday by the oil company BP shows that the true figure is closer to 70,000 barrels a day, NPR’s Richard Harris reports.”

      See the full NPR story.


    • Check out this NYT article. Most of the oil released is accumulating subsurface, just as my civil engineer friend said it would.

      Give this another couple of months and the Gulf could become a dead zone.


    • The layout I saw shows a 7″ pipe at 18,000 feet transitioning to a 36″ pipe at ocean floor. If that is accurate, the pipe friction loss is much reduced and the flow will be like 10 times these numbers.

  5. Copies of planned testimony,
    to be distributed boldface, before many puppets.
    Life goes on..Hack.

  6. I have some real serious concerns about this spill. First I suspect that it is spewing a lot more oil than they are admitting. On another site someone took the BP estimate, did the math and it worked out to about 2.5 gallons of oil being leaked/second. Considering the pressures involved this seems pretty low.

    Next this is going to be devastating to the Gulf area because it looks like this thing is not going to be capped any time soon. But beyond that what if it gets picked up by the Gulf Stream and starts working its way up the east coast, and maybe eventually Europe also?

    Here is another bit of food for thought. What if the oil gets picked up in a hurricane then rains down on the east coast as an oily rain. Think of what happens to public water supplies and farm land.

    And finally if you think BP is going to be held financially responsible for this, in any meaningful way, look at what happened in Alaska with the Exxon Valdez spill. They have been fighting the initial reward in court for more than 20 years and keep getting the damages they are supposed to pay reduced.

    I hope I am wrong, but I am really concerned that this could become a mega-disaster if worse case scenarios play out.

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