10 June 2010

Relief Well Reaches 14,000 Feet Depth, More Spill News

"It takes time to dig a relief well safely and efficiently, which is what we're trying to do," Capt. Lee Crowe says. "Our goal is to stem the flow of oil -- the long-term solution, not the short-term solution."
As of Thursday, BP says the drill for this relief well has reached a depth of 13,978 feet. _CNN
Once the relief well intersects the Macondo bore, BP will be able to secure the well, and stop the spill permanently.
The operation is enormous, the equipment and technicalities overwhelming. In meeting rooms, screens monitor progress and maps dot walls. The diagrams the Coast Guard admiral draws to help explain matters leave a journalist's head spinning. But he tries to explain in simple terms.
"The intention is to intercept the wellbore, well down below the surface near the reservoir, then pump heavy mud in to counteract the pressure of the oil coming up," Allen says. "That will allow them to basically plug or kill the well. Once that's done, you could do things like remove the blowout preventer, bring it to the surface and try to find out what happened." _CNN
Meanwhile, BP is extending its oil recovery efforts at the well head. The current LRMP cap will be slowly ramped up from a current 15,000 bpd recovery rate to about 18,000 bpd -- the limit of the surface ship that receives the oil/gas/methanol flow. By adding a second surface ship capable of handling a further 10,000 bpd (received through the BOP's choke and kill lines via the "top kill manifold"), the total possible oil recovery via the combined system will approach 28,000 bpd.
"If we can get this thing up to 28,000 barrels a day, that's where we want to be," Allen said.

Using the same tubes and pipes put in place to try the failed "top kill" method of stopping the oil by pumping mud into the blown-out Maconda well, engineers will instead suck oil out of the well and to a ship, called the Q4000, on the water's surface. The Q4000 was also used in the top kill process.

Since that method failed, the Q4000 has been retrofitted with a flaring system that is capable of burning oil. Allen said the goal is to keep oil out of the water by either collecting and processing it or burning it. To date, oil has not been burned as part of the containment process.

The 28,000 barrels-per-day figure is derived by combining the up to 10,000 barrel-per-day capacity expected of the Q4000 containment system with the 18,000 barrel-per-day capacity of the Discoverer Enterprise, the vessel now collecting oil via the Lower Marine Riser Package containment system, or containment cap, put in place June 3. _NOLA

In the meantime, more people are becoming aware that there is more to the calculation of an ecological catastrophe than the mere volume of oil spilled:
"Very large spills have had minimal impact and small spills have had a devastating impact," says Judy McDowell of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, one of the authors of a 2003 National Research Council report that reviewed lessons from previous incidents.

Consider three vastly different spills (see timeline, right). In 1979, the Ixtoc I well off Mexico's Gulf coast spewed 530 million litres of oil into shallow waters - three times the worst current estimates for Deepwater Horizon. Five years later, "we had to look hard to see any lasting effects", says Arne Jarnelöv of the Institute for Futures Studies in Stockholm, Sweden, who led a UN team sent to monitor the area.

The Exxon Valdez spilled far less, 40 million litres, yet Alaska's Prince William Sound is still recovering. And 700,000 litres spilled by the oil barge Florida at West Falmouth on Cape Cod is still affecting species 40 years on. Why such variation? It all comes down to the type of oil and the habitats involved. _NS
Light crude in the warm waters of the Gulf is quickly evaporated, dissipated, emulsified, weathered, and eaten up by prolific bacteria that have adapted to the oil-rich waters of the ever-seeping Gulf of Mexico.

More on the relief wells from SciAm

Update 13June2010: The hysterical bleating of journalists, academics, activists, attorneys, politicians, and celebrities of all sorts, has been completely lacking in meaningful content or perspective. A look back at the Ixtoc oil spill -- the largest spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- would be instructive for those still in possession of their critical faculties.


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Blogger Tom Craver said...

Can they really drill so precisely as to intersect the original well after drilling so deeply? Pretty amazing, if so.

Friday, 11 June, 2010  

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