the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Oil Slick Post at WUWT

Posted by Jeff Id on May 1, 2010

The recent oil rig disaster in the gulf has everyone’s attention.  There are so many safeties and backups, it’s hard to imagine which accident would cause something like this.  Currently oil is flowing rapidly into the gulf from very deep locations both through the well head and at least two fissures surrounding the well.  They are working to seal the breach using a number of methods, I’ll be surprised if they work to shut off the flow before two months time when another rig will drill into the same area and pump heavy fluid to shut the original well off.

Anthony Watts contributor Jimmy Haigh  wrote a really high quality article on the situation which people interested should check out.

Image from WUWT

If a secondary well can shut off the first with a bit of heavy fluid pumped into the wellhead,  perhaps the secondary well should be a safety requirement for deep subsurface wells.  It sure would have been nice to send an ROV and pull the lever this time.  I’m sure a subsurface explosion at 3000 ft next to the shaft could be designed such that the little zit got plugged. Perhaps the explosive could be designed into the whole length of the  well liner to be set off by an immediate proximity ROV explosion.

The true costs which can be associated with this disaster both in direct liability and in indirect perceptions of the usage of oil will be more than astronomical.   It’s up to us to make sure that not improving the safety of these oil releases costs more to the companies than the release itself, however, we need to make sure to charge the companies involved, without punishing ourselves long term.  Backups on the wellhead were not enough, there were many, many backups, none worked.  In my opinion, we should be looking closely for terrorist involvement, but once the event has occurred, we obviously need a fully independent, fast acting and difficult to sabotage shutoff solution.

Check out the article at WUWT, it is excellent.


30 Responses to “Oil Slick Post at WUWT”

  1. sod said

    so Jeff, how about this statement you made in a comment to the last post?

    Why do we want higher cost energy when the current energy production isn’t causing any known harm, seems unlikely to cause any harm and even when we change to higher cost energy and add more layers of government, it won’t change the outcome.

    or have you still not figured out any harm, that the current energy production causes?

  2. Jeff Id said

    #1, I agree that ‘any known harm’ was too far. I was referring to CO2 in the context of the post. Certainly Chernobyl is harm also, and a hell of a lot more than an oil slick. That doesn’t mean that reasonable solutions aren’t an option, and it certainly doesn’t mean abandoning fossil fuel drilling in the gulf.

  3. steven Mosher said

    What I took jeff to mean was that the C02 from energy production wasnt causing any known harm.

    windfarms cause lots of harm, as does solar, and hydro, and basically anything that changes the planet cause its just perfect exactly as it is.. here now. dont change anything

  4. I agree, Jeff.

    I am personally convinced that mankind must return to nuclear energy (actinide fission powered by neutron repulsion rather than fusion), but the nuclear industry “shot itself in the foot” by failing to consider the cost of containing and/or disposing of radioactive waste.

    Radioactive waste is actually a valuable heat source that we must learn to contain and use instead of trying to hide it “out of sight, out of mind.”

    Mankind is curiously blind to see beyond the immediate moment.

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel

  5. BarryW said

    What I don’t understand is why the blowout preventer wasn’t designed as a ‘deadman switch’. If a signal from the surface stops the well does a hard shutdown (even if it killed the well).

    Could this have been eco-sabotage, since it occurred just after Obama signed off on off-shore drilling?

  6. sod said

    Could this have been eco-sabotage, since it occurred just after Obama signed off on off-shore drilling?

    wow, just wow.

  7. Kenneth Fritsch said

    Did Jimmy Haigh just write an article for blog that presents the details (and minus any political implications) of this tragedy better than we would expect from a MSM outlet?

  8. BarryW said

    #6

    We’ve had tree spiking in the Northwest, the arson burning of a Vail ski lodge, and of Hummers at a car dealership. And remember the Weathermen, Bader Meinhof and Red Brigades. Left and right both have their fanatics.

  9. Les Johnson said

    Jeff: your:
    If a secondary well can shut off the first with a bit of heavy fluid pumped into the wellhead, perhaps the secondary well should be a safety requirement for deep subsurface wells.

    No, not possible. The relief well intersects the first well. This would interfere with the first well. It would also suggest that you need another well to be the relief for the second, and the third, and the fourth…..

    You also can’t predict where the first well is going to end up. Even with modern directional drilling, you will still end up meters, or even hundreds of meters, from your intended end point.

    A relief well is always the “hail mary”.

    It sure would have been nice to send an ROV and pull the lever this time. I’m sure a subsurface explosion at 3000 ft next to the shaft could be designed such that the little zit got plugged. Perhaps the explosive could be designed into the whole length of the well liner to be set off by an immediate proximity ROV explosion.

    No, not likely. The differential pressures at these depths are in the 1000s of psi. Any explosion will cause mostly unconsolidated debris, which would in turn be blown out by the differential well pressure. You need a solid barrier in the form of steel or cement; or a fluid with a sufficient SG to control the pressure.

    An explosion would also most likely cause additional channels to be formed, for the well fluids to follow. It should be noted that oilwell production used to be increased by setting off explosives next to the oil zone. Nitroglycerine was the favorite.

    The Blow out preventers used in these wells, are mutli-redundant systems. They are also tested every week, or every change in pipe size used.

    As the well head is not leaking, I suspect that the shear rams failed. The pipe rams seem to be working, as there is no sign of oil around the well head. As oil is coming from the drill pipe, it indicates the shear rams did not fully shear the drill pipe. This could be simply bad luck, with the drill pipe tool joint across the rams. The shear rams will shear the pipe, but not the pipe joints. The pipe joint is about 1/2 meter long, on every 12 meters of pipe. It could also be some system failure.

    The process occuring at the time, was cementing the casing in the well. It is extrememly rare for a blow out to occur during cementing, as cement is a denser fluid, and should have controlled the pressure. It indicates that there was:

    a) a high pressure oil zone
    b) a low pressure lost circulation zone
    c) these two seperated by a low permeablity shale zone

    When enough fluid is lost to the lost circulation zone, the high pressure zone will kick in.

    But, any loss of fluid should be noticed immediately, and well control procedures started.

    Also possible, is that a nitrified cement fluid was used, and that the N2 was allowed to expand, reducing hydrostatic pressure to the point the well came in.

    In this case, they may have assumed that it was the normal venting of nitrified cement at surface, until it was too late.

    Knowing the multiple reduntancies, there must of been multiple system failures. (equipment failures and/or operator errors.)

    I also suspect that existing procedures were probably sufficient, but were ignored or bypassed. In most such incidents, that is the case.

  10. Les Johnson said

    Its highly unlikely to be sabatoge. These installations are closer to military, in terms of security, than industrial.

    All personnel have to be vetted, and highly experienced. It is unlikely that a saboteur would wait several years working land or shallow waters, on the off chance that he is transferred to such a unit in the future.

  11. AMac said

    Re: BarryW (May 1 16:12),

    Best guess re: the BOP failure on the linked WUWT thread is that the rapidly rising oil/gas mix that caused the explosion on the rig, dislodged some cement and carried it up to the BOP. The BOP works like a vice-grip, crimping and shearing the pipe at the sea floor (according to seemingly-knowledgable WUWT commenters).

    So, if theory is right, the cement or other obstruction right at the BOP’s location, prevented it from crimping/shearing the pipe, when activated.

    Apparently the robot-subs (ROVs) have been able to access the BOP controls and actuate them. However, the BOP has not successfully operated as a result.

    So the addition of a further layer of fail-safe switches wouldn’t have helped, if this scenario is correct. And that would be why BP is looking at these cumbersome, time-consuming other ways to slow or stop the leakage.

  12. Jeff Id said

    Les, you know far more than myself but I still wonder if a linear explosive for a substantial length of the tube would collapse it.

  13. AMac said

    Les Johnson #9, thanks for the detailed background.

    #10 in this Boston Globe series of images is captioned “This April 22, 2010 photo… shows the arm of a robot submarine in an unsuccessful attempt to activate a shutoff device known as a blowout preventer (BOP) to close off the flow of oil at the Deepwater Horizon well head.”

  14. Les Johnson said

    jeff: an explosion would not collapse the pipe to the point it forms a solid barrier. It would also open the annulus, to allow the fluid to escape that way.

    An explosion works great to take oxygen from a fire, but in a downhole environment, it almost always works to increase production. Shaped charges are used to perforate pipe. Early wells used explosions to fracture the rock.

    The only way explosives could be used to control a blowout, is if the explosion was used to set a packer or the BOPs, to close off the wellbore. Hydraulics could also do this task, with more control and less hazard. Accumulators store energy, so that even with out the rig, energy is available. That is what the ROVs were trying to do.

  15. Jeff Id said

    Ok so if you were going to prepare a backup to stop a well from a separate location from the head, what would it be?

  16. sod said

    The process occuring at the time, was cementing the casing in the well. It is extrememly rare for a blow out to occur during cementing, as cement is a denser fluid, and should have controlled the pressure.

    Les Johnson, your comment above seems to suggest knowledge on the subject. but on the cementing point, you are contradicted by facts:

    A 2007 MMS study found that although blowouts with offshore drilling operations were becoming less frequent, less deadly and less polluting, cementing-associated troubles persisted.

    Cementing problems were associated with 18 of 39 blowouts between 1992 and 2006, and 18 of 70 from 1971 to 1991. There were 17 blowouts in the earlier period where contributing factors weren’t identified.

    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/deepwaterhorizon/6980770.html

  17. Jimmy Haigh said

    Hi all. I just want to stress that I did not write the article. I work offshore and it was sent to me by another offshore worker – I do not know who wrote it. Probably most of the guys who work offshore will have seen it by now.

    I made a further comment on WUWT which I think worth repeating here and I’ll send that shortly.

    On the possibility of terrorism? – no: this was an extremely unfortunate accident. If you check out the WUWT posting you will find a link to a radio phone-in from one of the guys who was on the rig at the time. It is both informative and poignant.

  18. Jimmy Haigh said

    First and foremost this is a tragedy for the families of the 11 guys who lost their lives.

    This is a huge environmental disaster and a huge disaster for both the operating oil company, BP, and the drilling contractor, Transocean. There are thousands of wells drilled all over the world every year and thankfully events like this are extremely rare. This is thanks to the experience and professionalism of all involved. The top priority of every oil company and every drilling contractor is to drill wells safely. Obviously in this case something went disastrously wrong. What went wrong will become clear over the coming weeks as the inquiries into this disaster are completed. Lessons will be learned and those lessons will be implemented by every oil company and drilling contractor.

    Most people will never have the chance to go onto an offshore rig. They are incredible places. I have worked offshore for about 10 years now: I have worked a total of 22 years in the oil industry. I love my job as a wellsite geologist. Offshore work is not for everybody. Drilling a well is a huge operation. We all know the risks involved and we accept them. One of my best mates lost a brother on Piper Alpha in 1987. We’re all professionals, we all work together as a team and we get the job done.

    Next time you fill your car up with gas think of those 11 guys and the families they left behind.

  19. Les Johnson said

    Sod: I am not contradicted. What is the sample size? Just using the GoM, according to the MMS, 40,341 wells have been drilled since 1970. At up to 10 cement jobs per well, that works out to less than 1 blow out per 100,000 jobs. That should be considered “extremely rare”, no?

    It is even rarer for an escape of well fluids during a cement job. As I stated, when a blow out does occur in cementing, it is due to loss circulation in one zone, until hydrostatic is reduced enough to allow the oil and gas to escape.

    In this case, a loss of fluid should be noticed, and the well shut in. The result is an underground blow out, and there is no escape of fluid to surface. The well is brought under control, behind closed valves.

  20. Les Johnson said

    Jeff: my back up would be to have the sub sea BOPs capable of accepting energy from an ROV, and being able to be controlled from the ROV. There are systems like this already. One that is mentioned is an acoustic system.

    I do not have any details, but I assume that the rams would be remotely activated via sonar signals, with energy stored at the well head.

    I would also have at least 2 sets of shear rams, spaced widely apart, to avoid the possibility of the tool joint being across the one set of shear rams.

    I would also have plans in place, that would assume failure of all the above.

  21. Larry Sheldon said

    I have no formal subject-matter expertise what so ever. But….

    It seems to me that the likelihood is very low that the next well-failure will develop in exactly the same way, so requiring the same standby preventative is unlikely to work.

    It seems to me that reading about Red Adair (to stay close to the topic) suggests that each failure is unique and has to be analyzed and solved as a single occurrence.

    Clearly this is demonstrated here. I’m pretty sure that all of the standard precautions were in place, adding more is likely to exacerbate the problem.

    I think the resources would be better used in determining exactly what failed and why–and making sure _that_ doesn’t happen again.

    As for the argument that this is proof positive that we should stop drilling for oil on our land and sea…..

    Seems like when people cooked over an open fire, or on a wood-burning range, accidents happened.

    should we go back to eating our food raw?

    I*t is interesting to note that before there was off-shore drilling in southern California, there was oil-fouling of significant proportions–which was stopped when they drilled wells into the natural leaks.

    And there are still natural leaks on the land–I don’t know if all the underwater ones were plugged or not.

  22. BarryW said

    I’m glad to hear that the consensus is that, bad as it is, this isn’t sabotage.

    One of the things that the Discovery Channel has shown me is how many jobs are out there that can take a limb or life in a split second. I remember seeing a show on the Piper Alpha disaster. Even more loss of life than this one. We tend to become spoiled until something like this comes along to wake us up. I only hope that whatever they are the lessons we learn are the right ones.

  23. sod said

    Sod: I am not contradicted. What is the sample size? Just using the GoM, according to the MMS, 40,341 wells have been drilled since 1970. At up to 10 cement jobs per well, that works out to less than 1 blow out per 100,000 jobs. That should be considered “extremely rare”, no?

    sorry, but what you said was simply false. you are making a serious error in your probability calculation. your claim was this:

    It is extrememly rare for a blow out to occur during cementing, as cement is a denser fluid, and should have controlled the pressure.

    numbers show the opposite.

    Cementing problems were associated with 18 of 39 blowouts between 1992 and 2006, and 18 of 70 from 1971 to 1991. There were 17 blowouts in the earlier period where contributing factors weren’t identified.

    in about half the cases of blowout, cementing was associated with the event.

    how often cementing happens without a blowout, is irrelevant to your original claim.

  24. Les Johnson said

    Sod: so you obviously don’t use statistics. How often you do an operation, and the mean failure rate, are extremely relevant. 1 in 100,000 can be considered “extremely rare”.

    Blowouts are rare events. Blowouts caused by cementing operations are a smaller subset of this, which makes it rarer still.

    Blowouts during cementing, with fluids to surface, are almost non-existent, for the reasons I gave.

  25. sod said

    Sod: so you obviously don’t use statistics. How often you do an operation, and the mean failure rate, are extremely relevant. 1 in 100,000 can be considered “extremely rare”.

    Blowouts are rare events. Blowouts caused by cementing operations are a smaller subset of this, which makes it rarer still.

    Blowouts during cementing, with fluids to surface, are almost non-existent, for the reasons I gave.

    i quoted what you said above. WHEN an blowout accident occurs, there OFTEN is a link to cementing. the numbers show this.

    i think the probability of non-cementing associated blowout so short after a cementing event is really, really tiny.

    you said:

    It is extrememly rare for a blow out to occur during cementing, as cement is a denser fluid, and should have controlled the pressure.

    the truth is, it is not rare. what is rare, are blowout accidents. but among the accidents, cementing is a important factor.

    what you say is similar to accessing, that drunken driving accidents are rare, simple because driving accidents are (sort of) rare. but among the accidents, drunk driving is a factor with a really high probability..

    —————-

    look you made a small error, no big deal. trying to wiggle out of it on the other hand, is leaving a pretty bad impression.

  26. Les Johnson said

    sod: it is a rare event. Less than 1 in 100,000 events in the gulf. Even less on land operations. Less again if you count only uncontrolled release to surface.

    look, you made a small error, no big deal. But trying to correct an industry recognized expert is leaving a pretty bad impression.

  27. sod said

    i am quoting you for the third time now:

    It is extrememly rare for a blow out to occur during cementing, as cement is a denser fluid, and should have controlled the pressure.

    you did not say “blowouts are a rare event. and it is even more rare for them, to occur during cementing”.

    look what your sentence structure does to my drunk driving example:

    It is extrememly rare for a CAR ACCIDENT to occur during DRUNK DRIVING, as BEING DRUNK MAKES YOU MORE ACTIVE…

  28. Larry Sheldon said

    “But trying to correct an industry recognized expert is leaving a pretty bad impression.”

    Lie Mann or Gore or …..

    DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORATAY!

  29. Les Johnson said

    sod: yes, I said “It is extrememly rare for a blow out to occur during cementing, as cement is a denser fluid, and should have controlled the pressure. ”

    I stand by it.

    Also note that I gave two examples where a blow out could occur during cementing. Its not an impossible event, but highly unlikely.

    Its also possible for a blow out to occur during cementing, for reasons unrelated to the cement proper. Some reasons are: drilling induced fractures; unknown weak zone; unknown high pressure zone; swabbing the well in with too large BHAs; insufficient wait-on-cement time; etc.

    your

    It is extrememly rare for a CAR ACCIDENT to occur during DRUNK DRIVING, as BEING DRUNK MAKES YOU MORE ACTIVE…

    I did not state anything like this. I said ‘during cementing’.

    I did not say “its rare in a blow out, for cementing to be occuring”.

    The reason I would not say this, is that often a well is cemented because there is an existing blow out condition, or a danger of it. That is one of the primary reasons to cement a well, to stop or prevent a blow out.

    Whether the measure is mean failure rate (1 in 100,000) or time (less than once a year), blow outs are rare during cementing. And, for the nth time, almost all cementing related blow outs do not have fluids released to surface.

  30. AMac said

    Excellent backgrounder in the Houston Chronicle.
    Oil rig survivors recall a hiss before the blast, 5/4/10.

    Minutes before the Deepwater Horizon exploded in fire, workers on the deck heard a thump, then a hissing sound. Gas alarms sounded and the rig shook.

    Seawater and mud containing gas from the well spewed up through the crown of the derrick and rained down on the drilling floor; fumes reportedly moved into the “safe zones” where the electric generators are located. The generators raced out of control as they sucked gas into the air intakes.

    When the electric power surged, light bulbs exploded, computers and other electric systems were destroyed, leaving the rig in darkness except for the light from fires and explosions…

    h/t Patterico.com

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