June 21, 2010

I'll Take Your Worse-Case Scenario, and Raise It To Eleventy

So if this is correct, the pressure from the Deepwater Horizon gusher will defeat all conventional attempts to plug the well, because the walls of the well have been fatally compromised. If we manage to cap the well at or below the seafloor, the pressure will simply blow out the sides of the well below it, finding fissures (or creating them) in the seafloor, before creating countless seeps and blowouts for miles around.

If these experts are right the well cannot be capped. The best we can hope for is to capture as much of the oil as possible and keep the environmental damage minimized while a deep kill is attempted with the relief well underway. If the relief well fails...

Why you should be pissed off:
If the folks at The Oil Drum are correct with their hypothesis, the failed blowout preventer (BOP) and casing pipes are collapsing, BP knows they are collapsing, the government knows about it as well, and they are all conspiring to keep us in the dark.

So what is it that the Obama Administration is trying to hide?

When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? won't be too long after that the entire system fails. BP must be aware of this, they are mapping the sea floor sonically and that is not a mere exercise. Our Gov't must be well aware too, they just are not telling us.

All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of" The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying I said...all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now? the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

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.

No wonder the President spends his time playing golf, partying with celebrities and generally living it up while he can. Once the public finds out how deeply his government conspired with BP to cover up the extent of the disaster, the American people are going to call for his resignation, if not for his head on a pike.

But as horrific as the scenario painted for us by this group of experts may be, there is one possible scenario even more cataclysmic, a methane eruption wilder than any nightmare Roland Emmerich could dream up.

Quite frankly the magnitude of what Terrence Aym suggests is possible isn't believable. It isn't because he's necessarily wrong, but because what he suggests could occur is so horrific that we can't allow ourselves to consider the possibility.

According to Aym, geologists report that there is a massive lake of methane gas trapped deep under the well at an incredible pressure of 100,000 psi. As the oil rushes out and weakens the seafloor, a collapse could cause a blowout of super-pressurized methane.

If the huge methane bubble breaches the seabed, it will erupt with an explosive fury similar to that experienced during the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens in the Pacific Northwest. A gas gusher will surge upwards through miles of ancient sedimentary rock—layer after layer—past the oil reservoir. It will explode upwards propelled by 50 tons psi, burst through the cracks and fissures of the compromised sea floor, and rupture miles of ocean bottom with one titanic explosion.

The burgeoning methane gas cloud will surface, killing everything it touches, and set off a supersonic tsunami with the wave traveling somewhere between 400 to 600 miles per hour...


...A supersonic tsunami would literally sweep away everything from Miami to the panhandle in a matter of minutes. Loss of human life would be virtually instantaneous and measured in the millions. Of course the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and southern region of Georgia—a state with no Gulf coastline—would also experience tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of casualties.

I hope this scenario is far-fetched, but neither is desirable.

All that we can say for certain now is that the well failed, and that it likely failed because corners were cut, warnings were ignored, and rules were ignored or discarded. This applies to the companies involved and the government to which they must answer.

Barack Obama infamously boasted several weeks ago that he met with experts so that he'd know "who's ass to kick" for this disaster. The Obama Administration signed off on the drilling of this well.

The buck stops with the man sitting behind the Resolute Desk.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 21, 2010 08:43 PM


Here's an update on the condition of the well bore. Kinda. It's pretty well acknowledged that the condition of the system down there is a variable rather than a constant. Also, we probably won't ever know what condition it's in unless everything goes to hell. If the relief well works, the whole thing is sealed forever and ever. If it doesn't, and the down hole systems collapses, we're in for a long, long summer down here on the Gulf Coast.

It's also clear that Transocean and BP committed the cardinal sin of drilling. They cut corners down hole.

Posted by: Dave at June 21, 2010 09:09 PM


Typical "engineering disaster" - no engineers involved.

BP demonstrated the ability to put a smaller pipe into the BOP, with the goal of stopping the flow...

"There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf."

Why stop the flow? I thought the whole point was to capture it.

"Oil Drum" environmentalists aside - it can be stopped - but we have environmental controls of freon...

... what was that about that shuttle?

Posted by: Druid at June 21, 2010 09:13 PM

CY & You All,

Heard a very interesting interview today of retired Shell President. He said he has been speaking to BP and US Government. Seemed very well informed, and an expert on the subject of off shore drilling. He outlined a number of things being done and could be done. He made a very interesting comment of the LAST RESORT thing to do - Blow up the well!! Remeber, a couple of weeks ago CY blogged on this subject and most everyone scoffed at the idea, myself included on the nuclear option.

It seems that was a very prescient blog. He said it WILL work, but it is the last resort.

OH where oh where is Red Adair when you need him???

Posted by: mixitup at June 21, 2010 09:41 PM

Using a small nuclear device is something which only the Russians/Soviets would come up with. Brute force engineering at the most extreme. However, as they showed, it usually does work. Essentially you compress the sea floor, reducing all the pipes to little more than crushed bits of embedded metal, resetting it to the condition before drilling. Then the roughly two miles of seabed above the oil strata becomes a plug.

Interestingly there was an American experiment done where the device was detonated in a gas well. The idea was to shatter the surrounding rock and increase the flow of oil and gas. It worked fine, except that the output was significantly radioactive.

Posted by: Tregonsee at June 22, 2010 06:12 AM

What Terrence Aym suggests is horrific indeed, and it seems to me that he is in the bis of incendiary articles. In the posted link he suggests that the oil rig was destroyed by a supersonic methane explosion. In this link he suggests that the rig was destroyed by a North Korean mini subs torpedoes.
Thus bringing World War 3. It seems he need to decide which doomsday scenario he favors most.

Posted by: Web at June 22, 2010 08:23 AM

I saw a guy in the office a few weeks ago that was headed to the Gulf. His job was to take an existing 12,000 feet of drill stem that was already laid out on the floor and to the surface ship and drill into the well head itself. He seemed fairly confident that it would bappen in hte next few weeks.

Posted by: David at June 22, 2010 09:29 AM

Something else to keep in mind is that (at least according to Wikipedia), a pure internal-pressure-driven 'gusher' well typically recovers less than 15% of the oil in the tapped deposit. The deposit that Deepwater Horizon tapped into is estimated at about 50 million barrels. If it behaves like a typical well, then we should see the flow peter out somewhere around 7.5 million barrels. If it really blows out to a 150,000bbl/day flow, it will last only weeks or less before the flow rate starts to drop again, as the internal pressure is reduced.

It will be decades or centuries before the Gulf of Mexico recovers from this disaster. But that particular guy's "worst case scenario" doesn't seem realistic.

OTOH, I am not a petro engineer, and he apparently is. He may know something I don't.

Posted by: wolfwalker at June 22, 2010 10:22 AM

I'm still missing something...

Confirm if everything I mention here is right:

1. The oil is coming up from a fairly localized spot.
2. The oil is, obviously, coming out at a higher pressure than the surrounding water.
3. A large bore, flexible pipe, when filled with water or whatever at or above the pressure of the surrounding water, will not collapse.

So... why haven't they retried the original cap-the-whole-thing method with a larger bore pipe - perhaps with a steam line/anti-freeze line running down it so that it won't freeze shut? While it wouldn't shut down the well, it would take what was escaping and guide it to the surface at a fixed point where it could then be piped into some waiting supertankers... who could haul it off to a facility that could actually do something useful with it?

Posted by: Jeff Shultz at June 22, 2010 12:03 PM

As I understand it, Jeff, the seabed around the well is collapsing, not just the well materials themselves. Once the wellhead and the surrounding strata collapse (which seems preordained, as the gusher is eroding the well with every pressured gallon that erupts) it will not seal the well, but encourage the oil to seek fissures and faults in the surrounding seafloor from deep inside the well shaft.

The big question is whether the fissures that the oil exploits will be shallow or deep.

If shallow, there would seem to be an opportunity to still capture some or much of the oil, as it would be fairly localized.

If it finds an outlet deeper down, it could erupt from almost anywhere in dozens or hundreds of places, none of which would be predictable or stable.

If the seafloor becomes extremely fractured and unstable, it then opens the door to the nightmare scenario of the methane blowout/tsunami.

The only real plausible hope we have is that the team drilling the relief well hit their target on time. If they don't it is going to get very, very bad.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at June 22, 2010 12:24 PM
It will be decades or centuries before the Gulf of Mexico recovers from this disaster.

A worse leak in 1979 in Mexico took about 2 years for recovery. So I don;t think that it will take centuries to recover.

Posted by: iconoclast at June 22, 2010 07:27 PM

Lot's of folks are pushing lot's of worst case scenarios. There is no evidence at this point of the seabed or BOP collapsing. A logical interpretation of the course of events suggests that they may have a loss of casing integrity downhole (probably in the top 1000') but people are vastly misinterpreting the implications. Erosion of the casing is a concern but you should keep in mind that as you lose casing and drillpipe (which is NOT going to blow out the top of a collapsed BOP!) the wellbore quality DEGRADES. The methane blowout/tsunami is utterly bogus. People are taking things they don't understand far beyond physical limits. The "methane" bubble they are touting is in the form of hydrates - if we could figure out how to make that flow our energy problems would be over FOREVER.............

Posted by: gasmiinder at June 23, 2010 06:15 AM

"It will be decades or centuries before the Gulf of Mexico recovers from this disaster. But that particular guy's "worst case scenario" doesn't seem realistic."

Few people understand that over a million barrels a year of petroleum seep naturally into the Gulf. This spill has a much bigger impact because it is concentrated but natural systems will deal with the hydrocarbons much faster than "decades or centuries".

I'm a huge fan of CY - but folks should keep in mind that the MSM is even more ignorant regarding the technical issues of subsurface dynamics than they are of firearms (yes that is possible). They should also keep in mind that we are starting to see on many sites that I follow some of the weaknesses of the blogosphere - 1) eyeballs come to "the world is ending" posts and 2) cross-fertilization is almost instantaneous even in areas where folks don't have expertise thus driving what appears to be a 'concensus' which in fact may be utterly bogus.

I am in the industry (lots of offshore GOM experience) and have followed the Oil Drum postings. I'd tell you that there are some very good technical people posting there and also some very dubious folks posting the "worst case" imaginable as "the likely".

This is not a half-hour sitcom where the solution magically appears. Time is necessary - the relief wells were always the answer and they are making good progress. If you want to worry - the worry is hurricanes, that will make a bad situation much worse.

Posted by: gasminder at June 23, 2010 06:30 AM

Oh, my gosh! The Derb predicts an utter cataclysm. Dog bites man. July is hot in the Midwest.

Details at eleven. (rolls eyes)

Posted by: Casey at June 24, 2010 01:31 AM

Nuke the oil well? The Nuclear Option
Given that BP is still sitting on both the detailed situational and geological data, it is difficult to tell from a distance what will or will not work to stop the Deepwater Gulf oil spill, therefore everything should be on the table. Here is an interview with a leading U.S. expert on Peaceful Nuclear Explosives, Dr. Milo D. Nordyke, who suggests that it should be carefully considered under the circumstances.

Posted by: Chuck Stevens at June 24, 2010 04:14 PM