Following the weekend failure of the last best hope to collect oil spewing from a ruptured well a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), Monday brought talk of a “top hat” and “junk shots” — the latest ideas on how to collect leaking oil or seal the well — from BP plc CEO Tony Hayward.
The company’s overall approach entails multiple techniques to fight the leak and spreading oil being deployed at the subsea well site, on the sea surface and near the shore. There are plans and there are backup plans. And there are stiff upper lips all around.
“It’s clearly a serious situation for BP, and that is why we are so focused on resolving it. And we will. We will resolve it. It’s going to be a question of how long it takes, but we will resolve it,” Hayward told reporters at a press briefing in Houston Monday.
BP is the majority owner and operator of the lease on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 where the well has been hemorrhaging an estimated 5,000 b/d, or about 210,000 gal/day, of crude following an apparent well blowout and the sinking of the Transocean Ltd. rig that had been completing the well. BP shares closed at $60.48 on April 20 immediately prior to the explosion. On May 3 they had trended down to close at $50.19 before a modest rally. BP shares closed at $48.75 Monday, down 0.63% from Friday’s close. The stock has been as low as $44.62 in the last 52 weeks.
Last Saturday hopes that a 100-ton house-sized, box-shaped containment dome would allow for collection of up to 85% of the leaking oil were dashed when natural gas hydrates clogged the purpose-made device after it had been lowered atop the largest of two remaining leaks in the well riser. Executives had described the possibility of such a failure from the concept’s announcement (see Daily GPI, May 10).
Hayward described another idea, which is still a possibility, of tapping into the riser away from the wellhead with the idea of being able to funnel oil and gas directly into a pipe to the surface without exposure to seawater.
A scaled-down version of the dome is now in the works. At four feet wide and five feet tall, the new device is being called a top hat. It is hoped that capturing the flowing oil in a smaller area and injecting methanol will prevent gas hydrate clogging, allowing the oil to be pumped to the sea surface for processing while efforts to permanently seal the well continue.
Executives are hoping that they might stop the flow of oil and permanently seal the well using a technique called a junk shot in which they force a variety of materials — golf balls, tire pieces, knotted rope, etc. — into the well’s nonworking blowout preventer to jam it up.
The tactic was previously described by BP COO John Suttles as akin to clogging up a toilet, and some experts have warned the maneuver could make things worse. Kent Wells, BP senior executive vice president, said the technique had been used successfully elsewhere, Kuwait, for instance, but never at 5,000 feet below the sea surface. “Whatever we try, we want to make sure it’s not going to make matters worse,” he said.
Wells said multiple “shots” were being prepared and if one doesn’t work, a different “recipe” would be used for subsequent attempts. “There’s a little bit of a science [to it] even though it sounds odd,” he allowed. If the well is plugged in this manner, heavy mud and ultimately cement will be used to seal it permanently.
Meanwhile, oil dispersants are still being applied subsea and on the surface. Controlled burns have dispatched some of the leaked oil, and they are still being conducted. Hayward said one million feet of boom had been deployed to contain the spill with about 3 million feet more either available or in transit. Thousands of volunteers and fishing vessels have signed up to help with spill containment, he said. States have received grants to accelerate coastal protection plans, and BP is processing and paying claims to those whose livelihood has been impacted, Hayward said.
Drilling of the first of two relief wells was begun a week ago. That well had reached a depth of 9,000 feet as of Monday with as much as almost three months of drilling still necessary before it intercepts the renegade well. Drilling of a second relief well is to begin Friday.
“What we’re doing is drilling two relief wells to give ourselves — to use a British expression — a belt and braces on this effort, and we believe that is the right approach and will ensure ultimate success…” Hayward said. “The relief wells ultimately will be successful.”
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