Deepwater Horizon oil spill: How bad can it get?

I am not an expert in oil field engineering. But I can smell bullshit. So I am sad to confess that at this moment I am putting more faith in an anonymous poster at the Oil Drum whom I have never heard of before than I am in any mainstream reporting I have come across.

His lengthy and compelling comment is here. What he says makes sense to my untrained ears and at the very least the "supplementary material" he links to is very informative.

The synopsis goes something like this (from memory):

  • the well is damaged below the sea floor
  • erosion from oil and gas flowing outside the well casing will cause the blow out preventer to fall over
  • this will further erode the silt and rock formation around the casing
  • damage to the borehole will migrate downwards to the reserve
  • if the happens, "bottom kill" will not work

Read the full comment for the how and why.

It seems that the worst case scenario is by no means unlikely, and it is something like 100,000 barrels of oil per day for some small number of years.

Does any one have any issues with what he is describing?

[Update: see comments and the offered link to an Oil Drum response to this comment.]

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The Oil Drum is fascinating/scary reading - and they have posts about other energy topics that are very interesting too. Thanks for mentioning them a while upstream.

Would it make sense to remove the blowout preventer then? and maybe drop a 200-foot liner right down the pipe to reinforce it?

It's amazing how that comment has gone viral... I would strongly recommend reading Heading Out's interpretation of the matter here: BP's Deepwater Oil Spill - Why the Flow Rates are Increasing (he is an expert in oil field engineering). Also bear in mind that the original commenter is known as a hard-core doomer, his comment includes at least one major factual error (there are subsurface rupture disks in the well-bore), and his interpretation is not compatible with the actual images of the leak. If he's right, you shouldn't even be able to see the LMRP for all the oil and gas gushing out of the area.

The post is indeed scary. However, it may be that he has misinterpreted what he is seeing. The same site has the following post:

BP's Deepwater Oil Spill - Response to DougR's Concerns - and Open Thread

which is at

A portion of the original article is that the soil under the blowout protector is eroding. When this happens, things go from worse to ... well, use your imagination. Regardless, the original article is sufficiently detailed to have credibility. However, it is still "it could happen--not it will happen."

As we all know, if you want to tell a "story" you need to include a grain of truth with the accompanying BS. You are right in that your BS meter is going off. As you have no doubt been able to find out with the follow-on discussion at TOD. The "truth" gain is that yes, the borehole has been damaged. That is part of the definition of a "blow-out". What he either doesn't know or is deliberately obscuring is that the damage is very deep and near the reservoir interval.

There are no indications of any leakage around the top of the well casing (as has been verified via the USGS) and via the ROV video feeds or any evidence of any sea-floor erosion around the BOP/sea floor interface. There is no indications of any imminent toppling of the BOP although the BO and subsequent sinking of the rig did create some BOP complex damage (reported by USCG that BOP is around 10 - to 12-degrees off plum) but is in no danger of collapse. I do believe that BP is limiting stress on the BOP complex to avoid any further damage which likely is driving some of their containment decisions (why temp fate?).

There is little likelihood that a scenario resulting in the relief well kill not working due to borehole erosion would be viable. Contrary to popular belief, the capping and reservoir formations in this well are actually rock - not unconsolidated or partially consolidated sediments.

Wholesale collapse of the borehole (which BYW is cased and cemented top-to-bottom), rendering the RW kill impossible is, frankly, just an apocalyptic/doomsday scenario.

Hi Mandobob,

I have read more than once on TOD that they do not know what the well formation consists of. Where did you learn that it is solid rock?

I did find TOD response post somewhat reassuring though I thought the author seemed to sure about the casing/cementing job being done well.

Do you have any information about how difficult/likey to suceed this bottom kill relief well operation is? IIRC, in the 1979 Ixtoc blow out it took almost a year and several attempts to do this.

yes and there are no indications of any leakage around the top of the well casing (as has been verified via the USGS) and via the ROV video feeds or any evidence of any sea-floor erosion around the BOP/sea floor interface. a comment from Surgical Blog

By Surgical Blog (not verified) on 13 Jan 2012 #permalink