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The BP Oil Spill - Worst Case Scenario


Wondering what the worst case scenario is in the Gulf of Mexico?

One person, SHR (aka dougr at The Oil Drum), posts a very detail analysis that seems to be getting more acurate as time passes - witness the details provided today about the containment operation.

Several knowledgable oil folks from the region have privately indicated that this guy has it right, or is on the right track..

You should read the two posts linked at the end of the except from his second post to really understand what he's saying, but if you don't here's the skinny.

Contrary to what most of us would think as logical to stop the oil mess, actually opening up the gushing well and making it gush more became direction BP took after confirming that there was a leak. In fact if you note their actions, that should become clear. They have shifted from stopping or restricting the gusher to opening it up and catching it. This only makes sense if they want to relieve pressure at the leak hidden down below the seabed.....and that sort of leak is one of the most dangerous and potentially damaging kind of leak there could be. It is also inaccessible which compounds our problems. There is no way to stop that leak from above, all they can do is relieve the pressure on it and the only way to do that right now is to open up the nozzle above and gush more oil into the gulf and hopefully catch it, which they have done, they just neglected to tell us why, gee thanks.

A down hole leak is dangerous and damaging for several reasons.
There will be erosion throughout the entire beat up, beat on and beat down remainder of the "system" including that inaccessible leak. The same erosion I spoke about in the first post is still present and has never stopped, cannot be stopped, is impossible to stop and will always be present in and acting on anything that is left which has crude oil "Product" rushing through it. There are abrasives still present, swirling flow will create hot spots of wear and this erosion is relentless and will always be present until eventually it wears away enough material to break it's way out. It will slowly eat the bop away especially at the now pinched off riser head and it will flow more and more. Perhaps BP can outrun or keep up with that out flow with various suckage methods for a period of time, but eventually the well will win that race, just how long that race will be?...no one really knows....However now?...there are other problems that a down hole leak will and must produce that will compound this already bad situation.

This down hole leak will undermine the foundation of the seabed in and around the well area. It also weakens the only thing holding up the massive Blow Out Preventer's immense bulk of 450 tons. In fact?...we are beginning to the results of the well's total integrity beginning to fail due to the undermining being caused by the leaking well bore.


It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.

We are not even 2 months into it, barely half way by even optimistic estimates. The damage done by the leaked oil now is virtually immeasurable already and it will not get better, it can only get worse. No matter how much they can collect, there will still be thousands and thousands of gallons leaking out every minute, every hour of every day. We have 2 months left before the relief wells are even near in position and set up to take a kill shot and that is being optimistic as I said.

Over the next 2 months the mechanical situation also cannot improve, it can only get worse, getting better is an impossibility. While they may make some gains on collecting the leaked oil, the structural situation cannot heal itself. It will continue to erode and flow out more oil and eventually the inevitable collapse which cannot be stopped will happen. It is only a simple matter of who can "get there first"...us or the well.

We can only hope the race against that eventuality is one we can win, but my assessment I am sad to say is that we will not.

The system will collapse or fail substantially before we reach the finish line ahead of the well and the worst is yet to come.

Sorry to bring you that news, I know it is grim, but that is the way I see it....I sincerely hope I am wrong.

We need to prepare for the possibility of this blow out sending more oil into the gulf per week then what we already have now, because that is what a collapse of the system will cause. All the collection efforts that have captured oil will be erased in short order. The magnitude of this disaster will increase exponentially by the time we can do anything to halt it and our odds of actually even being able to halt it will go down.

Let's hope he's wrong...

That should keep everyone busy reading and commenting for the weekend.

[W]hat we are facing in the Gulf - [GodlikeProductions]

[W]hat we are facing in the Gulf Part II - [GodlikeProductions]


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Comments (26)

This is why the Russians us... (Below threshold)

This is why the Russians used a nuclear bomb to stop a spill that they had. But I am sure our Most Smartest President Ever already knows this, right?

Someone raised the possibil... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

Someone raised the possibility of a small nuke shortly after the failure of the first capping attempt.

But the WORST case scenario is the entire floor of the seabed collapses and we are all sucked into it.

First, if the seabed is alr... (Below threshold)
Captain Ned Author Profile Page:

First, if the seabed is already subsiding and the drill string is compromised, a nuke just makes things worse.

Second, per The Oil Drum post, it's a 2.5 billion BBL reservoir. At current rates it's estimated to be leaking around 150,000 BBL/day. That's 45.6 YEARS of leakage, needing a supertanker every day to skim it off the Gulf.

Well, that's the one of the... (Below threshold)

Well, that's the one of the most distressing articles I've read in a long time. What happens if the Gulf of Mexico just dies? What if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and kills the Northern Atlantic?

Good thing I'm a drinking man.

A technique used in tunneli... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

A technique used in tunneling and other construction projects is to freeze the ground. Liquid nitrogen could be injected into the seabed to cryogenically freeze it around the borehole. As the temperature drops the crude oil in the well pipe will freeze to the pipe wall restricting the flow and eventually shutting off the flow entirely.

With little or no flow a tapered lead lined steal cone can be lowered over the sawed off pipe and sealed against the flange that can be seen in photos. Clamps can be used to hold it in place. The lead acts like a gasket as rubber won't work due to the pressures at the 5000 foot depth. With no oil flow there can be no erosion.

It's unlikely the static pressure of the oil is so high that it can break through the frozen sea floor. Once the relief well is working they can let the sea floor thaw and see if it holds. If not they are no worse than now and they can freeze it again.

Where were you Barry?... (Below threshold)

Where were you Barry?

Told ya 2 months ago! Get yo ass into the game ! I got your back if You take charge! ?

Worst case scenario!<... (Below threshold)

Worst case scenario!

Barrry gets elected again.

I have a feeling I am going... (Below threshold)
retired military:

I have a feeling I am going to be using this statement a lot

"Enough with the statements already. It's time for action, Barack. Don't talk about the problem, fix it."
Posted by Lee Ward
Published: Mar 19, 08 01:45 PM

He is fixin it? Hes pluggin... (Below threshold)

He is fixin it? Hes pluggin da hole and doing multi lateral minimal collaterall damage at the same time.

BARRY SUCKS!! And so does t... (Below threshold)

BARRY SUCKS!! And so does thy Wookass!!

Mac @ #5 -From wha... (Below threshold)

Mac @ #5 -

From what I understand, the pressure at the wellhead is about 3000 psi. Down-hole, they're looking at 11,000 to 12,000 psi. IF the area around the borehole is compromised, it's going to be hard to freeze that area wide enough and deep enough to keep that much pressure from percolating through. Not impossible, I think, but difficult to the point where what's going on NOW is like a kid playing around putting a straw in a soda bottle.

Others may blame Obama. Or BP. I blame the environmentalists who've made it damn near impossible to drill in the US, or in shallow water.

Thanks, guys - you really 'saved the beaches' with your fucking legislative maneuvers, didn't ya!

There is an old military s... (Below threshold)

There is an old military saying plan for the worst hope for the best. In order to do that a leader most be willing to hear the worst case scenario. Three days into this issue we were told a relief well was the best answer. It should have been started as other options were explored. Instead it was dismissed as an option because it would take too long.
We know learned that the government rejected offers of equipment and help in containing the spill. (know your limits, exploit all resources available) He appoints everyone to commission except people with oil and drilling expertise. Ignoring appointing the right person for the job.

The administration showed not "intellectual curiosity" in the problem instead they relied on BP in the early days. At the same time they were attacking them.

We have only seen a community organizer in action someone who only knows how to extorts corporations for money without directly addressing or fixing an issue.

Deploy lawyers, get money, stand on rhetoric , ignore core issues.
That why where community organizers are plentiful people suffer the most. Now we are seeing that applied to federal disaster.

In the opening days of any critical situation judgment and leadership must be made to avoid worst case. Sadly we maybe reaching the point of no return.
I guess with entire areas of the USA devastated for decades we will now only consume the 2% of the worlds resources we are entitled to.

JLawson,The reason... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:


The reason the top kill didn't work is that heavy mud (yes, the oil industry has mud of different weights) couldn't be pumped down the well because it was escaping too fast from the top of the blowout preventer. They tried to plug the mud's escape route by injecting gulf balls and bits of tires, but another method that might work would be to cryogenically freeze the top of the blowout preventer. Once mud can be pumped down the well its column weight in the well is enough to offset the static pressure of the oil and gas, and thus, stop the flow. Concrete is then pumped in behind the mud and once it sets up the well is dead even if there's a breach in the well casing below the seabed, assuming concrete reaches past that point.

Which is a rather large ass... (Below threshold)

Which is a rather large assumption, Mac, since we don't really know the condition of the bore. It may be able to handle the pressures at this point because the flow is essentially unrestricted - but once it IS restricted and pressure rises down-hole the well casing might split in spots like a rotten hose.

Which would be a REAL problem...

I've been watching the ROV feeds, ever since they maneuvered the cap on. There's a lot less gushing out now than then, so the collection effort is working somewhat... not perfect by a long shot, but a lot better than just letting it roar into the ocean.

I dunno... looks to me like so far they've tried stuff in order of chance of success, from most likely to less. Freezing the BOP looks like a desperation ploy, when they've got nothing left. I'd worry about the steel used - get that stuff down to cryogenic temperatures (say with liquid nitrogen) and you add another potential set of big problems with cold embrittlement, and at the pressures they're working at more trouble is just what the engineers don't need.

It may be able to ... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
It may be able to handle the pressures at this point because the flow is essentially unrestricted - but once it IS restricted and pressure rises down-hole the well casing might split in spots like a rotten hose.

The drill pipe is designed for these pressures and whatever erosion might occur from oil flow. It's the same equipment used in thousands of other wells in deep water. The only thing unusual about this well is that BP took shortcuts and rushed the process, and as a result, suffered a blowout.

Besides that the drill casing is exposed to extreme outside pressure that offsets much of the static pressure of the oil. The mud on the sea bottom is lots heavier than oil and while it flows slowly by comparison it has by now flowed around the outside of the drill casing and is exerting pressure on that casing equal to the column weight of the mud and water above it. Having pressure on the inside from oil or mud from a top kill actually reduces stress on the drill casing.

While most steels become brittle at cryogenic temperatures they don't lose their tensile or compression strength. Just don't drop something on the BOP while it's frozen. The frozen state only needs to last long enough for heavy mud and then cement to be injected down the well. The column weight of the mud and cement will easily overcome the static pressure of the oil.

That said, I agree that if most of the escaping oil can be captured at the well or at the surface near the well, then it's best to wait until the relief well can be drilled. The problem with that plan is that it's hurricane season. If a hurricane threatens to enter the gulf a cryogenic top kill might be worth the risk, but such a technique needs lots of preparation and special equipment, and that means whoever is in charge needs to plan ahead. From what I have seen so far, that's not something BP or Obama are capable of.

the seabed collapsing or we... (Below threshold)

the seabed collapsing or weakening would only occur a short distance from the wellhead ... so a nuke would still work ...

the nuke option may very well turn out to be the best of many bad choices ...

I see no reason that a correct tophat solution should be able to capture all of the flowing oil ... the original attempt "froze" up ... a heated tophat should be able to "cap" the wellhead area and allow all the oil to be siphoned to the surface ... no, its not as simple as I'm describing but its not a whole lot more complicated either ...

Others may blame Obama. ... (Below threshold)
Laura Lenhard:

Others may blame Obama. Or BP. I blame the environmentalists who've made it damn near impossible to drill in the US, or in shallow water.

Thanks, guys - you really 'saved the beaches' with your fucking legislative maneuvers, didn't ya!

Yes, you're right JLAWSON - we should obviously drill more more more!!! Woo Hoo! Asshole.

Mac Lorry if you're still r... (Below threshold)

Mac Lorry if you're still reading... the problem is that -no- the casing can't handle the pressure because it is compromised... or at least that's the conclusion of MANY people outside BP. (and suspect BP is not saying)

They don't need to stop the flow to cap it. Ya just bolt a pipe with a big open valve to the flange and slowly close the valve. No liquid nitrogen required.

So why don't they just do it? That's the 20 billion dollar question.

The conclusion drawn by many many people is that they know the hole is compromised and if they closed the valve the whole thing would blow, allowing unrestricted flow from the reservoir to the Gulf.

As far as your mud weight theory, sorry man you're just wrong on that one. Read the guy's long detailed explanation on that.

If you look at BP's actions (and inactions) it makes a compelling case they know (or strongly fear) the well is compromised and that's why they moved from capping it to containing it.

Question for Laura Lenhard ... (Below threshold)

Question for Laura Lenhard | June 20, 2010...

Laura... Do you own an automobile? Do you have electricity in your home from non-renewable resources?

If so,you're invited to join the "Shut the fuck up, you fucking hypocrite club."

A supertanker every day for... (Below threshold)

A supertanker every day for forty-five YEARS? So much for the "Peak Oil" nutjobs.

Of course...all that oil would be lost in the catastrophic-collapse scenario. So maybe we'd cause Peak Oil ourselves!

Mac Lorry if you'r... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
Mac Lorry if you're still reading... the problem is that -no- the casing can't handle the pressure because it is compromised... or at least that's the conclusion of MANY people outside BP. (and suspect BP is not saying)

As far as your mud weight theory, sorry man you're just wrong on that one. Read the guy's long detailed explanation on that.

I read the detailed explanation and nothing that was said precludes the cryogenic top kill from working. That's because once the major leak at the top of the BOP is frozen the pumps can achieve far more pressure and volume. That added pressure and volume may be sufficient to push heavy mud down the well even if there is a down hole leak. A mile or two long column of mud below the leak will overcome the well pressure and at that point cement is pumped down the well behind it. The well, leak and all, are then entombed in cement and the well is dead.

Like I say, a cryogenic top kill should be considered at this point only if (when) a hurricane forces BP to abandon the current capture and burn plan.

I can understand why it may... (Below threshold)

I can understand why it may not be possible to shut off the well with a nuke or a cap, but why not create some sort of large, flexible tube weighted at one end, drop it over the well, and collect the oil it would funnel up to the surface?

<a href="http://www.jasonco... (Below threshold)

The Navy is the key to solving this puzzle.

I'll just toss this idea out there though as a "worst case scenario" work around.

Ok, we can't stop it. Let's take a billion out of the unused stimulus pile o' borrowed cash and have a 5000 foot tube made of some 200 mill polymer that will remain flexible at the extremely low temps at the bottom. Figure make the tube with diameter of 100 yards.

Sink said tube over the well and let er flow, at the surface skim, centrifuge, or tank it up for processing on-shore. With the 3/4 billion remaining put in an order to have 4 keels laid for purpose built short haul gulf tankers and retrofit the nearest pipeline head to receive the oil/water mix and send it to shore.

If any's left over make a second tube to act as a second line of defense.

You'll probably have to design some new vessels to manage the project long term, but there's one simple fact.

With proper leadership and using all our available talent and technology, we can find a solution. The Politicians are NEVER going to find a solution, our best option is to turn it over to the Navy and then Obama can give the "Plug the damn hole" order and they'll go out and do it. Without nukes, until we have new geological surveys, that's not an option. Which begs the question, why aren't we getting new geological surveys to see what we are up against.

The quoted article is self ... (Below threshold)

The quoted article is self contradictory. If the abrasives "swirling" in the flow are going to cause damage, then the tactic of increasing the flow would be counter-productive.

Hence, I don't believe that the writer knows what he is writing about.

There may well be a leak own below, although nobody has explained what would have caused it. If there is, then why is BP reducing the flow now?

Again, contradiction.

As I understand it, the "relief" wells will try reach the bottom of the drill string, and pump concrete or whatever into it to stop the well at the source. This is the primary goal.

John @24:I don't t... (Below threshold)

John @24:

I don't there is a contradiction. The author did not say BP was increasing the flow at the top. It says BP had stopped trying to inhibit the flow at the top, in order to relieve the pressure on the down hole leaks. Recall the author's garden hose analogy.

I love how the government m... (Below threshold)

I love how the government moves from trying to come up with an intellegent solution, to bombing the hell out of everything....Come to think of it, this sounds familiar....In short i feel this is a bad idea on so many levels...Not like it mattered what i thought though...






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