Aggressive efforts are continuing in the fight against the spread of oil that  has been accumulating in the Gulf of Mexico since April 20, 2010 when a BP/Transocean exploratory well encountered a bubble of methane gas that burst through the seals and drain pipe leaving 11 workers missing and resulted in a well that is spewing approximately 4 million gallons of oil to date,  off the coast of Louisiana. Multiple efforts have been put forth simulatenously in order to reduce the ecological impact of the excess oil.

The recent effort of lowering a 40 ft tall dome over the leak that contains approximately 85% of the flow of oil has failed due to the overabundance of gases and the temperature of the water at that depth. These factors contributed to gas hydrate crystals clogged up the 12 inch in diameter hole stemming from the containment dome prohibiting the oil to be encapsulated.

In a quick turn about, a 4 foot in diameter and 5 foot tall containment chamber, referred to as the “top hat” has been brought into consideration for possible relief efforts.  Unlike the bigger box, it will be connected to a drill ship on the surface by a pipe-within-a-pipe so that heated water and methanol can be pumped in tandem with the lowering and stabilization efforts to avoid any crystallized buildup in the containment dome.

This smaller replica of the containment chamber is scheduled to be deployed within 72 hours, resulting in the initiation of  collecting the dispersed oil no later than the end of this week.

Another option that sounds rather promising is the “Junk Shot” or “Top Kill” procedure – which basically, pumps “junk” (such as golf balls, pieces of tire, rope knots and other items) down the well and through the hydrostatic head in a 10 cycle burst in an attempt to push the oil back into the reserve.

To ensure the stability of the well in this situation, the riser is equipped with two high-pressure auxiliary safety pipes, which is referred to as the Choke & Kill lines. A third auxiliary pipe, called the Mud Boosting line, is used for injecting an additional flow of mud at the bottom of the riser to facilitate the return of the cuttings. Cement will then be added to “kill the well” and the well will be abandoned indefinitely.

Another option that was briefly discussed in today’s teleconference was that of the “Control Pot of the Blow Off Preventer” was brought up from the sea floor and had all of the electronics refurbished. This Control Pot will be hooked up to the C4000 and attached to the hydraulic valve on the choke and kill lines, in hopes, that it can automatically shut off the oil flow.

Like the large containment chamber, these solutions has not been tried at great depths. When asked about the potential for additional damage by use of this method, BP President of Operations, Doug Suttles stated that the risk percentage of additional impact is “very small”.

In addition, the in situ burning and skimming are continued efforts as well as a sub sea dispersant which was tested again today at the base of the well in an attempt to break up the oil before it reaches the surface.   Officials are still unsure of the long term effects of the dispersant, so they are using the dispersant on an “as needed basis”.

While the hope is apparent that these options are viable solutions– the fact still remains, that all of the subsea efforts have never been tried in such a depth.  So while optimism is essential, so is planning for a realistic scenario, in which, back up plans are required.

Copyright © 2010 ClearWater Perspective.  All rights reserved.