The weekend brought news of some success in BP plc’s efforts to control the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) from a well blowout that occurred nearly a month ago.
On Monday BP COO Doug Suttles told reporters that at least 1,000 b/d was being collected by a tube that had been inserted over the weekend into the bent and leaking well riser a mile below the sea surface. He said, “we’d all be extraordinarily pleased” if the oil collection from the riser could be ramped up to 2,000 b/d or more. “We’ll be making this increase in rate, doing it very, very carefully,” he said. The well is thought to be leaking about 5,000 b/d, although some estimates, not accepted by BP or government responders, have said the flow is as much as 70,000 b/d.
The drillship to which the collected oil is being pumped is capable of holding 125,000 bbl. Suttles said it has not been determined whether any of the oil will be processed for eventual sale.
Meanwhile, plans for the previously discussed “top hat” containment and collection device (see Daily GPI, May 11) have been set aside (as the tube is working), as have plans for the “junk shot,” which would have entailed shooting a variety of materials into the well’s blowout preventer in the hope of stopping the oil flow.
The next attempt to stop the flow is to be a “top kill,” which entails the high-velocity pumping of liquids that are heavier than oil down the well’s choke and kill lines. It is believed the oil flow can be overcome in this manner so that the well can be sealed by cement and further secured once relief wells now being drilled are completed. The top kill could be attempted as early as late this week.
Suttles said measurements of pressure at the top and bottom of the blowout preventer are encouraging for the success of a top kill. He said the junk shot was put off as its unsuccessful use could have precluded the later attempt of a top kill; however, if the top kill does not work, a junk shot could still be attempted.
News of the successful siphoning of some of the leak’s flow came amid reports that numerous miles-long “plumes” of oil had been discovered by scientists well below the sea’s surface. On Monday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the reports were overblown and inaccurate in some cases as data collected by independent researchers had yet to be analyzed.
“No definitive conclusions have been reached by this research team about the composition of the undersea layers they discovered,” NOAA said. “The hypothesis that the layers consist of oil remains to be verified.”
Some have suggested that the subsea use of oil dispersants contributed to the plumes’ formation. However, this is unclear, NOAA said.
“Although [the scientists’] initial interest in searching for subsurface oil was motivated by consideration of subsurface use of dispersants, there is no information to connect use of dispersants to the subsurface layers they discovered,” NOAA said.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) charged BP with “burying its head in the sand” on the amount of oil that had been leaked into the GOM. “These huge plumes of oil are like hidden mushroom clouds that indicate a larger spill than originally thought and portend more dangerous long-term fallout for the Gulf of Mexico’s wildlife and economy,” Markey said.
Meanwhile, a segment by “60 Minutes” on the spill Sunday “skewered [BP] for questionable decision making as they rushed to finish the well,” according to analysts at Tudor, Pickering Holt & Co. Securities Inc. (TPH), who commented on the program in a Monday note.
The program also reported that a whistle blower had raised concerns about incomplete and inaccurate engineering documents found aboard BP’s majority-owned Atlantis platform 150 miles south of New Orleans in the GOM. “Documentation not available out on the platform (in car lingo — owners manual incomplete),” as TPH analysts described it.
BP said Monday it had thoroughly investigated the claims made in the “60 Minutes” segment when they were first made by a former contract worker in 2009 and found them to be without substance. “The investigation found that the operators on the platform had full access to the accurate, up-to-date drawings (topsides, hull and subsea) necessary to operate the platform safely,” the company said.
“As CEO Tony Hayward constantly makes clear, safe and reliable operations are his No. 1 priority for BP and the company has a very strong record of safe and reliable operations in the Gulf of Mexico,” a company spokesman said. “It is completely erroneous to suggest that the minor internal process issue we identified and immediately amended last year on the Atlantis platform suggests anything different.”
BHP Billiton Ltd. is BP’s partner in Atlantis, which went online at the end of 2007 (see Daily GPI, Dec. 19, 2007). Atlantis originally was scheduled to ramp up in 2006 (see Daily GPI, Sept. 3, 2003). However, after the discovery of problems with the moorings in its deepwater Thunder Horse platform, Atlantis’ start-up was delayed (see Daily GPI, Sept. 19, 2006).
The catastrophe — which began April 20 with the well blowout and subsequent sinking of Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, operating under contract to BP — has attracted the scrutiny of Congress (see related story; Daily GPI, May 12). More hearings are to be held this week.
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