19 July 2010

White House Panics Over Natural Oil Seep

Officials had worried that the seep — usually a flow of hydrocarbons from the seafloor — could have been evidence that oil, gas or both were escaping from the well up to the seafloor, forcing the government to order BP to remove the cap and resume oil collection.

But seeps also occur naturally, and in a briefing for reporters Monday afternoon, BP said that government and company scientists were coming to the conclusion that the seep was probably of natural origin and unrelated to the well. _NYT

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BP's Kent Wells reports that pressures at the well head continue to rise -- a good sign -- and are now above 6811 psi. But the discovery of a natural gas seep on the seafloor -- located roughly 2 miles from the Macondo well head -- almost caused the White House to order the re-start of a nearly 1 million gallons a day oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico. Just when Gulf residents had begun to hope their long nightmare was nearly over, the squirrelly Obama administration threatens to start it all up again.

Officials in the Obama administration have become so jumpy that the presence of tiny amounts of oil and gas leaking around the new sealing cap have them on the phone to BP nearly around the clock, seeking constant reassurance.
Some thoughts on all the oil spill handwringing this afternoon. The government says seeps have been spotted within two miles of the site of the blowout. So what? Does that mean it's time to be panic that oil from the Macondo well is finding a new path to the surface, and is set to burst open through the seafloor in a new, unstoppable gusher? Probably not....Natural seeps occur constantly in the Gulf of Mexico, and had been spotted around the blowout well by NOAA's science ship Thomas Jefferson long before this recent capping maneuver. The good news is that according to BP, pressure readings from the well continue to climb roughly 2 psi per hour, to 6,811 psi as of late afternoon. Climbing pressure is a good sign. If the oil were to pop a new hole in the seafloor, we would see pressure plunge. _Forbes
So it looks as if the sealing cap will remain -- despite the panic at the White House -- for at least another 24 hours.
Leaks in the valve stack atop BP Plc’s Macondo well and seepage at the base of the blowout preventer are “inconsequential,” so valves that prevent it from gushing oil will remain closed for now, National Incident Commander Thad Allen said.
Pressure inside the well is 6,811 pounds per square inch and rising, a “positive” sign that there’s no leakage that could accelerate into another gusher of oil and gas, Allen said today at a press conference in Washington.
The well will be shut “day to day,” starting with the next 24 hours, so long as BP continues monitoring the seeps of methane as directed by the government there’s no sign of significant leaks, he said.
The seeps consist of methane, or natural gas, he said. A seep found 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away was not from the BP well, he said. _BW
President Obama was quite eager to claim credit when it looked as if the sealing cap was successfully closing off the well. But all it took were a few bubbles to shake the White House to the foundation.
From the beginning, authorities said that if the pressure hit 7,500 psi it would indicate that the well was intact. If it went below 6,000 psi, it would indicate that cracks or other damage to the well was allowing oil to escape. So far, the pressure has remained in the indeterminate range between those two numbers. On Monday afternoon it was 6,811 psi, and gradually rising a pound or so every hour, Allen said.

The fact that it's increasing slightly over time -- rather than decreasing -- is a good sign that there's not a leak, says David Rensink, incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Engineers. _PBS
The possibility remains that the well will lose integrity before the first relief well -- now only 4 feet from the Macondo bore, horizontally -- is able to finally secure the well. If that happens, BP will be forced to resume containment efforts to surface ships such as the Q4000 and the Helix Producer. In that case, some additional oil would spill into the Gulf, during the changeover.

But can you imagine how Obama would be seen in the Gulf and the US as a whole, should he decide to re-open the oil spill into the Gulf based upon a few bubbles of methane from a natural seep? You may suppose that Obama could not appear any more inept than he already does, but he may surprise you over the next few months and years.

More: 5 Wild Technologies used to clean up Macondo spill The problem with "A Whale" may have been that the underwater dispersant used was too efficient. The surface slick was simply too skimpy for the huge supertanker--skimmer.
Causes of marine oil pollution: notice that "extraction" (such as the BP spill) represents a relatively small contributor to ocean oil contamination -- particularly compared to natural seeps and everyday rain runoff from land.

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