Will BP Skip the Relief Well, Declare Mission Accomplished, and Abandon Ship Without Permanently Killing the Oil Leak? → Washingtons Blog
Will BP Skip the Relief Well, Declare Mission Accomplished, and Abandon Ship Without Permanently Killing the Oil Leak? - Washingtons Blog

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Will BP Skip the Relief Well, Declare Mission Accomplished, and Abandon Ship Without Permanently Killing the Oil Leak?

Yesterday, I pointed out that - while everyone is claiming that the oil well has been capped - it hasn't really been capped.

AP reported last night:

BP, U.S. mull whether to skip 'bottom kill'

The federal government and BP have recently raised the possibility that they won't need to perform the operation at all, since the well was plugged last month with mud and cement pumped in through the top.

(Bottom kill is, of course, just another phrase for relief wells.)

Similarly, Bloomberg writes today:

BP Plc may not finish drilling a relief well to its Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, National Incident Commander Thad Allen said during a conference call today.

The relief well, which for months has been touted by the U.S. government as the ultimate solution to stopping the flow from Macondo -- a process known as “killing” the well -- may not be needed after all, Allen said.
Oil industry expert Robert Cavnar has a must-read piece today on the situation:

For the last several days, I've been trying to figure out what BP is doing and what is the actual condition of BP's MC252 well after their "static kill" and cementing procedure last week apparently didn't work. You'll recall that when [BP's] Kent Wells announced this procedure, he actually used the words "killed" and "dead".


To add to the argument to go ahead with the kill, Adm. Allen said in his July 22nd briefing:

"We have a pressure head up there that would help us now fill the top part of the well with mud. That would actually ultimately enhance the relief well effort that would take place five to seven days later." (emphasis added)
On August 2nd and 3rd, BP ran the "static kill" pumping 2,300 barrels of mud. Early in the morning on the 4th, BP issued a press release saying the the well had reached a "static condition" with well pressure "controlled by the hydrostatic pressure of the drilling mud." In his McBriefing later that day, Wells actually said that when they pumped the mud, they could actually see it go into the reservoir by pressures, and that they pumped up to 15 barrels per minute. They studiously avoided the terms "dead" and "killed". During the briefing, Wells also said:

"And what we - what we're doing now is, every six hours, we just inject a little more mud into the well, just to continue to give ourselves confidence that we can do that, keep our equipment live, and we're seeing a very, very static set of conditions as we continue to monitor the pressure, which is all very encouraging." (empasis added)
With all the encouraging signs, [U.S. Secretary of Energy] Steve Chu approved pumping cement, which they did on the 5th. In a briefing on the 6th, Doug Suttles declared victory, say that the "...cement job is performing as expected". He also said that they pumped 500 barrels of cement, leaving about 200 inside the casing.

All was right with the world. Except, it wasn't. Day before yesterday, Adm. Allen announced they were going to start a "pressure test", babbling about the annulus and raising the ominous spectre that they are still actually communicated to the reservoir. Wells confirmed that fear in the afternoon, admitting that they indeed had 4,200 psi on the well when it's supposed to be dead. At the seafloor, the well should have no more than 2,200 psi on it, and conceivable less, if the hydrostatic of the mud in the closed well had overcome reservoir pressure. Then it got really confusing. Wells said that it wouldn't hold 4,200 psi because of "bubbles" leaking out of the wellhead, implying that they are pumping on it to keep it there, but that they're going to "test" it by relieving pressure. ?? Also, the more Adm. Allen explains what's going on, the more the press gets confused. Hell, I understand this business and I'm confused.

To add to the jumble, Adm Allen said this in his briefing yesterday:

"Sure, there's a very low probability that we might have actually sealed the annulus with the cement that came down the pipe casing and came back up around it. What we want to do is understand whether or not there's what we call free communication. In other words whether there, the hydrocarbons in the reservoir can actually come up through the annulus outside the casing, if that's the case when we go in and we drill in we put the mud and cement we're just going to drive that down and seal the well. OK? If there's cement there and there's no communication that means we have what we call stagnate oil trapped around that casing up to the well head. If you go in and you start pumping mud and cement in there the chances are you could raise the pressure and push that up into the blow out preventer. And that's a very low possibility, low probability event but we want to, we want to test the pressure in the blow out preventer and see if we actually have pressure coming up that would indicate that we have free communication with the reservoir. If not that would change our tactics and how we do the final kill."
Clear as drilling mud. What's going on here is that the "static kill" looks like it did the opposite of what BP and Allen had suggested at the beginning. It certainly hasn't accelerated the relief well. To the contrary, it has caused interminable delays. As a matter of fact, since July 13, the DDIII has only drilled 70 or 80 feet and set one string of casing. With all of the shut downs for the "well integrity test", then the "well injectivity test", then the "static kill" plus cementing, they haven't been able to get much work done for a month, especially with the 2 weather delays.

The mis-information and confusion is also taking its toll. I got asked in an interview yesterday that since the well is "dead" now, why are they bothering with the relief well? AP reported last night that BP and the government are contemplating skipping the bottom kill. Every time Wells, Suttles, or Allen get in front of a microphone, everyone gets even more confused, mis-informed, or both; everyone just wants this to go away, but it's not going away; not until the relief well kills from the bottom as we've been saying for over 3 months.

In actuality, this "static kill" did nothing that BP and Allen said it would do. Certainly the well is not dead or "static". It hasn't accelerated the relief well, but it has obscured the well's pressures, making it more difficult to kill. Hence, these new tests to figure out what's going on. BP and the government don't really have a clue where the 2,300 barrels of mud and 500 barrels of cement went. They originally claimed it all went down the casing and out to the reservoir. I would set the probability of that actually having happened at zero. Here's why: The positive test on the casing the night of the blowout was rock solid. The casing was good. It is possible that they may have collapsed the production casing during the blowout, but that would have been relatively high up in the wellbore, probably where they had displaced with seawater on the inside. If that happened, it would be communicated with the backside. In addition, at the bottom of the production casing is a float shoe, 134 feet of cement in the shoe track, then a float collar, then 2 cementing plugs with probably cement on top of those. Oh, and don't forget about the 3,000 feet of drill pipe hanging inside all of that. There is no way, unless that entire float assembly blew off, that they pumped down the casing and up the backside. On top of all that, there are HUGE lost circulation zones both below and above the reservoir. During drilling they lost 3,000 barrels of mud trying to drill that last section.

So, where did all the mud and cement go? It likely went down the backside of the production casing and either out through some damage that was caused during the aborted top kill, or out the lost circulation zone right below the 9 7/8" liner at 17,100. The fact that they're getting pressure now tells me that they are indeed communicated to the reservoir below, probably obscured by the fact that they now have mud strung through the annulus. If they are indeed communicated, pressure will build on the wellhead, which is exactly what's happening. Adm. Allen pledged to get BP to release the pressure data 3 days ago. The next day, when asked about it, he said it was released, but "nobody can find it." The data is still AWOL.

So, now, here we sit, waiting on weather again, and then we're going to pressure test a well that's supposed to be dead instead of getting the relief well finished. The press is confused; the public is bored.
BP has tried to cover up every aspect of the spill. See this, this and this.

The bottom kill - the procedure which all oil industry experts agree has the best chance of killing the leak - hasn't yet been performed. The underwater cameras still show methane and oil leaking into the Gulf.

And yet the country's attention is already drifting away from the Gulf and to celebrities, stocks, and other issues.

I'm beginning to wonder whether BP keeps on doing one confusing procedure after another, and keeps on saying that the well has been capped, hoping that everyone stops paying attention so that BP can just pack up its bags and slink away while people aren't paying attention.

Relief wells are the best hope for permanently capping the well. But it is possible that BP has messed up the well so badly that the relief wells will fail.

As Cavnar notes, BP has already taken down or blurred most of its underwater camera feeds. BP might just declare "mission accomplished" and skip the relief wells, leaving a ticking time bomb which will pollute the Gulf for years to come.

Note: I hope that BP and the government do complete the relief wells next week after the tropical storm passes. I am not predicting that BP will skip the bottom kill ... I am only warning that they are considering it, and am writing this so people can put pressure on BP and the government to complete both relief wells.

Update: BP will finish the relief well after all. That is good news. Does that mean that my essay was alarmist and counter-productive? No ... if the government announced that it was considering doing something really destructive like launching nuclear war, then it would be writers' duty to speak out against it. If the government subsequently announced that it had decided not to launch such a war, that wouldn't make the writers wrong. (Indeed, the outcry by the writers might be the reason that the government decided not to launch the nukes. )


  1. It is a disgrace that more engineers have not written in with comments and analysis. To you competent engineer bulder-machines out there. Your profession is being disgraced. These BP blokes have demonstrated what happens when the rules are not followed. This is your world too. These victims of this mess are your friends and countrymen. Study the testimonies and withholding of vital data and write in. The guys I worked with on jobsights did not take shit from anybody. WHY DO IT NOW? It will look good on your resume if you look at what these turkeys are doing and publicly call them on it. WE NEED HELP HERE! Matthew Simmons would attest to that. So would thousands of others who know what's up.

  2. The entire "killing" of the well is a charade, a distraction. We're not being shown on TV the well that exploded, killing 11 on Deepwater Horizon. What we are being shown is the "Well A" that Transocean Marianas drilled, capped and abandoned in 2009, which lies approximately 250 away from "Well B" which blew out on April 20.

    Download the Initial Exploration Plan from MMS, in which BP filed to drill not one but two wells, one in 2009 and one in 2010. Note the coordinates of the two wells, then compare them to the coordinates onscreen from the ROVs that are on television. They are only showing you Well A.

    I contacted BP's press office and asked why we are being shown Well A when they were only licensed to drill at site B in 2010. A press officer responded that BP never got permission to drill Well B and that no equipment was thus installed there.

    Except it was -- I have found extremely rare videos on Youtube of the ROVs in front of Well B, which does not exist according to BP. It does exist, it was caught on their own cameras leaking. I have the videos. No one noticed the deception because the two wells are identical in appearance. The only way to tell which you are looking at is to compare the coordinates on the TV screen to the coordinates in the drilling plan.

    99.999% of all the video shown on TV and those available on Youtube show Well A. I found several that clearly show that there is a second well at site B and that it was leaking too. Probably it still is but we don't know. BP forgot to cut the live public feeds a handful of times when they were supposed to be secretly surveying Well B. Finding the videos was literally like sifting through the haystack of Youtube to find needles, but did.

    Read the whole story if you care to on my dumb blog that no one ever reads. It's all there with the videos embedded, still captures from the screens right next to pictures of the Exploration Plan explaining where Wells A and B are, and the whole explanation of why this fraud is being perpetrated. It's a giant deception.



  3. Seems to me they've decided it's no use because it's obvious there are hugh leaks in the sea floor, have run out of options and know the relief wells won't work. Perhaps they have decided to use the relief wells to produce the reservoir to decrease the pressure and deplete the wells - but secretly - since our gov't over re-acted as usual and would look like fools to lift the moratorium after most of the rigs have left the GOM, and 100,000 jobs lost.

    Could be lots of reasons for contradictions.

    FWIW if anything - Someone posted this elsewhere - and have read similar things from other sources:

    I will not reveal who no matter what. Take it for what it is, I assure this information is accurate.

    If you feel the need to raise the BS Flag, so be it. I won't battle you shills and nay-sayers any more.

    First time I heard from them in a while since the last time I posted.

    Apparently there is a huge fissure running parallel with the well. This fissure was purposely created to gain access to the reserve below. The drilled passage is not 100% steel pipe tip-to-tip. The last several hundred feet utilizes the fissure as the source.

    The fissure running parallel to the well is spider webbing near the surface. Where the steel pipe meets the fissure deep into the formation is eroded open. When the well is left open most of the pressure is released through the steel pipe. When the well is capped the pressure is surging oil outside the steel pipe and into the rock formation.

    But it isn't so black and white. There is still oil being pushed through the formation when the well is open. This is why the BOP was opened up at the top, hoping to prevent the oil from spreading in the rock formation.

    The fissure that runs parallel to the well severely complicates any use of explosives to pinch the well shut, including nuclear explosions.

    At the present time there is no real solution to the issue.

    Any use of nuclear explosions could easily spread the fissure from the reserve to the sea floor and cause a blow out so massive it will dwarf any natural disaster known to man so far.

    Primarily they are mapping the formation below in greater details to aid in designing a solution.

    In short, they don't have a solid planned solution yet.

    And he/she still highly recommends NO TRAVELING this summer.

  4. Excellent work people! These articles hit on the major reasons for why the deception continues: the well is still leaking!
    Reading this I can save hours of time watching the corporate media and still not know what's really happening.
    Now we want to believe the best but like Gulf Coast inhabitants, we've reached a point where trust in BP/Fedgov's response has eroded. Lacking trust, we tend to disbelieve whatever we're told. In the way users of alternative media inoculate themselves from becoming indifferent "bored" sheople willing to wade into the myths and lies.
    The burden of proof must lie with BP and Fedgov! They're responsible for this mess. As I've said now for some time, they'll get away with everything they can. Baring transmission of the facts, BP/Fedgov feels they can do whatever they want, spinning the response into whatever they want. The Two Well story is ample evidence of the scale of the spin job.
    Now I do like ethel's comment because she supplies the facts about a fissure. The leaks continue but aren't constrained at the well head (which is supposedly capped if it's indeed the same well!) The idea of "spiderwebbing" is consistent with the force of the initial blowout and a fissure. Plus, variations in well head pressure that could be explained by variable quantities of oil seeping into/out of the rock formation.


→ Thank you for contributing to the conversation by commenting. We try to read all of the comments (but don't always have the time).

→ If you write a long comment, please use paragraph breaks. Otherwise, no one will read it. Many people still won't read it, so shorter is usually better (but it's your choice).

→ The following types of comments will be deleted if we happen to see them:

-- Comments that criticize any class of people as a whole, especially when based on an attribute they don't have control over

-- Comments that explicitly call for violence

→ Because we do not read all of the comments, I am not responsible for any unlawful or distasteful comments.