06 May 2010

An Unfolding Drama on the Dark Cold Sea Floor


Winds are forecast to be light (5-10 kts) and variable (although predominantly onshore in Chandeleur and Mississippi sound) continuing through Thursday. S/SE winds at 10 kts are expected to resume again Thursday afternoon/evening and continue through Friday. The MS Delta, Breton Sound, and Chandeleur Sound continue to be threatened by shoreline contacts throughout the forecast period. Although our trajectories indicate beached oil over the SE portion of the Delta, observations to date suggest surface oil is not crossing the MS river convergence zone. _NOAA PDF w/ Map

Latest news, photos, and videos of Deep Horizon oil spill

The containment vessel is at the spill site, and will be lowered to the seafloor today by a special crane vessel, of Norwegian registry.
The dome-like top of the structure is designed to act like a funnel and siphon the oil up through 5,000 feet of pipe and onto a tanker at the surface. Oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of at least 200,000 gallons a day since an offshore drilling rig exploded and sank last month, killing 11 people.
"We're a little anxious. They're gonna try everything they can. If it don't work, they'll try something else," Capt. Demi Shaffer told The Associated Press aboard his boat just after it set off. The AP is the only news organization with access to the containment effort.

A 12-man crew aboard a supply boat was carrying the precious cargo. The 280-foot Joe Griffin, owned by Edison Chouest Offshore, also was involved in helping fight the fire that resulted from the oil rig explosion. The vessel is named for a boat captain who worked with company founder Edison Chouest, when Chouest was still in the shrimping business.

The operator of the oil rig, BP PLC, has tried several high-tech undersea tactics to cap the leak. The containment dome endeavor is unprecedented and engineers are fully aware of the risks.
First, crews need to properly position the four-story structure above the well as it sinks deep into the mud at the bottom of the Gulf with the help of a remote-controlled robotic submarine. A steel pipe will be attached to a tanker at the surface and connected to the top of the dome to move the oil.

"It's very dark down there ... and we will have lights on the (submersibles), and we know exactly where to put this and guide it into place," said David Clarkson, BP's vice president for project execution.

That process presents several challenges because of the frigid water temperature -- about 42 degrees Fahrenheit -- and exceptionally high pressure at those depths. Those conditions could cause the pipe to clog with what are known in the drilling industry as "ice plugs." To combat that problem, crews plan to continuously pump warm water and methanol down the pipe to dissolve the clogging.
They are also worried about volatile cocktail of oil, gas and water when it arrives on the ship above. Engineers believe the liquids can be safely separated without an explosion.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry tried to moderate expectations that the containment box would be a silver bullet.
"I know we are all hoping that this containment system will work, but I want to remind everybody that this containment system is a first of its kind deployed in 5,000 feet of water," Landry said. _NOLA

If the containment vessels can be successfully lowered over the two remaining leaks, the next step at the leak site could be to install a new blowout preventer to the main well pipe.


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