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Is the New Oil Cap Succeeding or Failing?

Washington’s Blog
July 14, 2010

Don Van Nieuwenhuise – director of geosciences programs at the University of Houston – gives the best summary of what is happening with BP’s new effort to stop the oil gusher.

Van Nieuwenhuise points out:

  • There is probably damage to the well bore under the sea floor
  • BP is performing acoustic tests (bouncing sound waves down beneath the seafloor) to try to detect any leaks in the subsurface
  • BP will gradually close more and more vents to gradually increase the pressure within the well bore (like gradually covering more and more of your garden hose, so that more pressure builds up in the hose)

BP will perform a “well integrity test”, shutting off the oil flow out of the cap, and then seeing how much pressure builds up below.

The more pressure the better … because that would mean that there are no major leaks beneath the seafloor. By way of analogy, a good way to see if you have any leaks in your garden hose is to cover up the nozzle and see if water goes shooting out someplace else.

The government official in charge of the response to the oil spill – Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen – confirmed today that:

  • A 1.5 mile “seismic run” was conducted to detect “anything that might happen with the sea floor” from the well integrity test
  • You “could make the case that there’s some structural integrity issues with the casing of the wellbore”

Oil industry expert Rob Cavner – who previously explained that there is damage in the oil well beneath the seafloor, and that BP has to let the oil spill keep on gushing to avoid further damage to the well bore until the well can be killed with relief wells (subsequently confirmed by BP) – says that he is worried that the well integrity test could further damage the well bore and could blow out the entire well:

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So how are things going so far?

BP has delayed the well integrity test.

As the Wall Street Journal notes:

The start of BP PLC’s (BP) crucial integrity test of the leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well has been delayed until at least Wednesday, the U.S. official leading the disaster response said.

Adm. Thad Allen, the former U.S. Coast Guard chief, said he had taken the decision to delay the test after meetings with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and other top experts.

“As a result of these discussions, we decided that the process may benefit from additional analysis that will be performed tonight and tomorrow,” Allen said in as statement.

 

AP points out:

BP and federal officials did not say what prompted the decision or when the testing would begin on a new, tighter-fitting cap it had just installed on the blown-out well.

***

It was unclear whether there was something in the results of the mapping that prompted officials to delay.

 

AP also notes that engineers are mapping subsurface dangers like gas pockets.

Time will tell how big a setback this is. Hopefully, it is a brief, trivial 1-day delay.

Hopefully, today’s delay does not mean that substantial leaks have been found below the level of the seafloor, and hopefully Cavner’s fears that the tests will blow out the well bore are unfounded.

But because BP has consistently suppressed information as long as possible, we won’t know for some time. Remember, BP suspended the “top kill” operation for 16 hours – because, according to numerous experts, it was creating more damage to the well bore – without even telling the media, local officials or the public that it had even delayed the effort until long afterwards.

Hat tip: Florida Oil Spill Law

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