01 May 2010

Now That Plan A Has Failed, What is Your Plan B?


All of the fail safe mechanisms that were utilised in the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig either failed, or were unable to be implemented due to premature death of operators. At this point, all of the interested parties appear desperate to come up with a workable way of stopping the rapid leakage of high pressure oil and gas. How far would BP go to limit its damage?
Is it possible to seal such wells using unconventional means — specifically controlled explosions? While covering the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, I wrote about some pretty exotic uses of explosives to attack buried targets. The Pentagon has all manner of powerful, but precise, munitions at its disposal, not to mention some of the brightest minds on the planet for gauging challenges involving hydraulics, geology and metallurgy.

Given that President Obama has called on the Pentagon to help, I’m just wondering about ways to approach this deep-ocean leak by considering the basics, Feynman style.

There are hundreds of talented oil-industry experts and government overseers working around the clock on this problem. Still, if the solution is left up to the industry, presumably it’ll be hard to avoid a bias toward conventional efforts aimed at preserving the (sizable) investment in the well and away from any option that would seal it off but prevent its future use.

Obviously you’d want to be sure an explosive solution didn’t have the potential to exacerbate the leak. But with months of unabated oil flows coming, it seems worth asking the question, however naive.

...Robert L. Hengel, an oil-industry engineer working at the interface of geology and engineering, sent this reaction:

It’s all about regaining control of the well, not preserving it. As you may have already discovered in your research, control means harnessing high pressure oil and gas to flow at a regulated rate or to be shut off completely. All wells must be controlled from their conception and through their productive life until they are plugged and abandoned (P&A).

Control is maintained at the wellhead, a sophisticated valve assembly, which in the case of the Deepwater Horizon is stuck open and inoperable (loss of control). Regaining control can be accomplished either by restoring functionality to the existing wellhead or by drilling a relief well to penetrate the existing well, then plugging the well.

With that said, an explosion would have to be of sufficient depth and magnitude to cause the well to cave in sufficiently to plug itself and stay plugged, or stay plugged long enough to drill the relief well. It will be interesting to see if the Department of Defense thinks they can do that.

As the crisis deepens, I have to believe that BP is open to all suggestions which will stop their growing economic loss. _NYTblog
BP clearly tapped into one hell of a high pressure oil and gas deposit. Optimally, they would like to preserve the well for long-term future pumping -- once the current damage is dealt with.

But if worse comes to worse, I suspect that there are ways to cause the well to collapse in on itself forcefully enough to shut off the flow. The tragedy is also an opportunity to learn how to prevent the same disaster from happening another time.


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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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