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Monday, July 19, 2010

Seep found near BP's blown out oil well

Dear Readers,

From the moment that BP decided to shut all the valves, there were only two possibilities:

1. The well is not damaged sufficiently to allow oil to leak out and find a new way to the surface.

2. The well is sufficiently damaged to allow oil to escape and find a new way to the surface -- meaning that there would no longer be a way to kill the well, meaning that all the billions of barrels of oil down there would find their way out and destroy the Gulf.

You know, there is really nothing in between -- just as there is no "just a little bit pregnant."

Pressure readings are coming back strange.  Now there is a report of a seep/leak at a distance from the well.

The only option is to open the well again.  How is this not absolutely clear to one and all?  How is it that our government has not ordered BP to open the well again?  

Is everyone in charge insane?

[I should note that "seeps" occur all over the Gulf of Mexico above oil fields -- no one is saying if this is a new "leak" or a natural "seep."]

From The Oil Drum (

Update: 9:00PM EDT Sunday, July 18, 2010: Admiral Allen has sent a letter to BP about seeps which have been detected "a distance from the well", and indicates that BP needs to develop a plan for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well, in the event that hydrocarbon seepage near the well head is confirmed. This is what the letter says:
Dear Mr. Dudley,
My letter to you on July 16, 2010, extended the Well Integrity Test period contingent upon the completion of seismic surveys, robust monitoring for indications of leakage, and acoustic testing by the NOAA vessel PISCES in the immediate vicinity of the well head. Given the current observations from the test, including the detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head, monitoring of the seabed is of paramount importance during the test period. As a continued condition of the test, you are required to provide as a top priority access and coordination for the monitoring systems, which include seismic and sonar surface ships and subsea ROV and acoustic systems. When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours. I direct you to provide me a written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed.
As the National Incident Commander, I must remain abreast of the status of your source control efforts. Now that source control has evolved into a period beyond the expected 48 hour interval of the Well Integrity Test, I am requiring that you provide me a written update within 24 hours of your intentions going forward. I remain concerned that all potential options to eliminate the discharge of oil be pursued with utmost speed until I can be assured that no additional oil will spill from the Macondo Well.
You may use your letter of 9 July as a basis for your update. Specifically, you must provide me your latest containment plan and schedule in the event that the Well Integrity Test is suspended, the status and completion timelines for all containment options currently under development, and details of any other viable source control options including hydraulic control that you are considering. You should highlight any points at which progress along one option will be impacted by resource trade-offs to achieve progress along another option. Include options for and impacts of continued twice-a day seismic testing versus once a day testing.
As you develop the plans above, note that the primary method of securing the source is the relief well and this effort takes precedence. Therefore, I direct you to provide a detailed plan for the final stages of the relief well that specifically addresses the interaction of this schedule and any other activity that may potentially delay relief well completion.
Have your representative provide results on the monitoring efforts and source control requirements described above during today’s BP and Government Science Team call at 8:00 PM CDT.
Previous Update AP has released this story (link here), entitled "(Anonymous) Official: Seep found near BP's blown out oil well."

The last open thread where this was being discussed (all throughout, but especially towards the bottom) was

Doug Suttles was the BP representative on this morning's (Sunday morning) technical update. Mr. Suttles said that pressure is now at 6,778 psi, and continues to build at one to two psi per hour, and this is encouraging. BP still does not see any problems.

BP now thinks that there is a possibility that the test can continue from now until the well is killed by the relief well, probably in August. But this is not a decision that can be made all at once. Instead, careful monitoring will be continued, and a decision made on a day by day basis. Admiral Allen and government representatives will no doubt be involved in decision making as well.

Mr. Suttles said that when the cap is left on, this is really continued testing, rather than shutting the well in.
BP is using a number of types of tests to make sure that no hydrocarbons are escaping from the well bore. The types of tests being used include
  • Seismic
  • Sonar
  • Monitoring by NOAA Pisces
  • ROV's looking for visual and sonar evidence
  • Monitoring temperature at the BOP
Regarding monitoring temperature at the blowout preventer (BOP), they would expect to see the temperature to rise, if any hydrocarbons were escaping. The temperature is at a steady 40 degrees, so this is not showing evidence of any escape.

Yesterday, Kent Wells mentioned that some bubbles had been seen. BP has not yet been able to gather samples of these bubbles, but is working on this effort. If these bubbles were methane, they would expect to see methane hydrates forming, but none have been seen so far. So this would seem to be evidence that the bubbles that have been seen are something else.

Mr. Suttles indicated that really would like to keep the cap on if conditions permit. If it is necessary to take the cap off, oil can be expected to flow into the gulf for up to three days.

Relief Well 1 is now at 17,864 feet. The next step is casing the well, and that will take about a week. After that, they can start drilling--very slowly--the remaining distance. The well intercept is expected to take place about the end of July, but the kill procedure will take until perhaps mid-August.

From the AP:

Official: Seep found near BP's blown out oil well

NEW ORLEANS — A federal official says scientists are concerned about a seep and possible methane near BP's busted oil well in the Gulf of Mexico

Both could be signs there are leaks in the well that's been capped off for three days.

The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Sunday because an announcement about the next steps had not been made yet.

The official is familiar with the spill oversight but would not clarify what is seeping near the well. The official says BP is not complying with the government's demand for more monitoring.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The custom-built cap that finally cut off the oil flowing from BP's broken well held steady Sunday, and the company hopes to leave it that way until crews can permanently kill the leak.

That differs from the plan the federal government laid out a day earlier, in which millions more gallons of oil could be released before the cap is connected to tankers at the surface and oil is sent to be collected through a mile of pipes.

Federal officials wary of making the well unstable have said that plan would relieve pressure on the cap and may be the safer option, but it would mean three days of oil flowing into the Gulf before the collection begins.

Both sides downplayed the apparent contradiction in plans. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who will make the final decision, said the containment plan he described Saturday hadn't changed, and that he and BP executives were on the same page.

"No one associated with this whole activity ... wants to see any more oil flow into the Gulf of Mexico," said Doug Suttles, BP PLC's chief operating officer. "Right now we don't have a target to return the well to flow."

Allen said more work is needed to better understand why pressure readings from the well cap are lower than expected. There could be two reasons, he said: either there's less oil in the reservoir because so much has flowed out, or oil is leaking out underground.

"While we are pleased that no oil is currently being released into the Gulf of Mexico and want to take all appropriate action to keep it that way, it is important that all decisions are driven by the science," Allen said.
Both Allen and BP have said they don't know how long the trial run will continue. It was set to end Sunday afternoon, but the deadline — an extension from the original Saturday cutoff — came and went with no word on what's next.

After little activity Sunday, robots near the well cap came to life around the time of the cutoff. It wasn't clear what they were doing, but bubbles started swirling around as their robotic arms poked at the mechanical cap.

Work continued on the permanent fix: two relief wells, one being drilled as a backup. The company said work on the first one was far enough along that officials expect to reach the broken well's casing, or pipes, deep underground by late this month. Then the job of jamming the busted well with mud and cement could take "a number of days through a few weeks."

Some boat captains were surprised and angry to learn that their work helping with the cleanup will mean less money they're eligible to claim from the $20 billion compensation fund set up by BP.

The fund's administrator, Kenneth Feinberg, told The Associated Press on Sunday that if BP pays fishermen wages to help skim oil and perform other cleanup work, those wages will be subtracted from the amount they get from the fund.

Longtime charter boat captain Mike Salley said he didn't realize BP planned to deduct those earnings, and he doubted many other captains knew, either.

"I'll keep running my boat," he said Sunday on a dock in Orange Beach, Ala., before heading back into the Gulf to resupply other boats with boom to corral the oil. "What else can I do?"

It will take months, or possibly years for the Gulf to recover. But there were signs that people were trying to get life — or at least a small part of it — back to normal.

The public beach at Gulf Shores, Ala., had its busiest day in weeks on Saturday despite oil-stained sand and a dark line of tar balls left by high tide.

Darryl Allen of Fairhope, Ala., and Pat Carrasco of Baton Rouge, La., came to the beach to throw a Frisbee just like they've been doing for the past 30 years. With oil on people's minds more than the weather, Allen asked what's become a common question since the well integrity test began: "How's the pressure? I hope it's going up," he said. "You don't want to be too optimistic after all that's happened."

People also were fishing again, off piers and in boats, after most of the recreational waters in Louisiana were reopened late this week. More than a third of federal waters are still closed and off-limits to commercial fishermen.

"I love to fish," said Brittany Lawson, hanging her line off a pier beside the Grand Isle Bridge. "I love to come out here."

And even though it has been only days since the oil was turned off, the naked eye could spot improvements on the water. The crude appeared to be dissipating quickly on the surface of the Gulf around the Deepwater Horizon site.

Members of a Coast Guard crew that flew over the wellhead Saturday said far less oil was visible than a day earlier. Only a colorful sheen and a few long streams of rust-colored, weathered oil were apparent in an area covered weeks earlier by huge patches of black crude. Somewhere between 94 million and 184 million gallons have spilled into the Gulf, according to government estimates.

Weber reported from Houston. Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans and Jay Reeves in Orange Beach, Ala., also contributed to this report.

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