Oil and Water and Leaky Hydraulics Don’t Mix?

I wanted to call your attention to this excellent story from the Houston Chronicle describing some of the potential causes of the Deepwater Horizon spill. The short version appears to be that they were switching the drill chamber over from mud to water, which exposed what may be a potentially faulty concrete job, which brought gas to the surface. When that happened, and the blowout preventer was activated, the BOP failed, potentially because of leaky hydraulics.

As the Chron story explains, BP should not have been replacing the mud with water unless they were very sure of the cement job done the day before.

Experts say well-capping poses special hazards. One arose that day as crews were replacing the mud with seawater in pipes going from the ocean floor to the rig.

Deep gases exert astounding upward pressure on a well. “Drilling mud,” a heavy fluid used to lubricate the drill and bring up bits and pieces of rock, is used as the main line of defense against the upward pressure, or a disastrous eruption of gas.

The mud was being displaced so the riser could be detached from the rig and the wellhead, and the well could be capped with a final cement plug. But seawater is much lighter than mud. The pressure the riser was applying to the well would have lessened by as much as 38 percent, experts said.

That could prove significant.

Investigators likely will be considering whether the drill hole and the casing pipe were secured properly with cement a day earlier.

“The big question is how confident were they in the casing cementing job,” said Elmer “Bud” Danenberger, who recently retired as chief of offshore regulatory programs for the Minerals Management Service. “They shouldn’t have begun this (riser) operation until they were confident in that.”

Now, as the MMS recently found, problems with the cementing process have been one (but not necessarily the only) cause in a plurality of blowouts in recent years. Though most of those cementing-related blowouts occurred in far shallower waters than this well.

Cementing problems increased significantly during the current period as these problems were associated with 18 of the 39 blowouts, compared with 18 of the 70 blowouts with identified contributing factors during the previous study. During the current period, all but one of the blowouts associated with cementing problems occurred in wells with water depths less than 400 ft.

The Chron notes that HAL claimed it had tested its cement job in its “we worked to spec” statement from last week, but had not released the results of that test. A number of comments on oil boards suggest this is where a fight over liability between BP and HAL might break out–whether the tests showed the concrete was sufficient or not, and if there were doubts, whether the BP guy in charge should have called a halt to efforts to remove the rig.

In any case, for whatever reason, at the moment they were replacing the mud with seawater, gas and oil surged out of the hole, which is when the BOP should have–but failed to–prevent the blowout.

When the alarms go off “you shut it down,” said Daniel Becnel, an attorney from Reserve, La., who has filed lawsuits on behalf of fishermen, oystermen and other Louisiana residents claiming damages from the spill. “They’ve got panic switches all over the place.”

Those switches are supposed to activate a blowout preventer on the ocean floor, a huge and complex tower of valves and pipe crimpers designed to shut down a well in an emergency. It didn’t work.

Although it had been tested beforehand, BP now says robot submarines have discovered at least one problem with the blowout preventer, though it is unclear whether it caused the malfunction.

“We have found that there are some leaks on the hydraulic controls,” said Bob Fryar, senior vice president of BP’s exploration and production operations in Angola, in southwestern Africa.

Is anyone besides me wondering why BP’s Vice President in charge of exploration in Angola is the one discussing this malfunctioning blowout preventer off the coast of Louisiana? Because I am.

In any case, we’re back into an issue of testing again. A survivor from the rig describes how these tests would play into the decision to replace the mud with water (starting at about 0:30):

At that point, the BOP stack–the blowout preventer that [a previous caller] was talking about–was tested. Don’t know the results of that test. However, it must have passed because at that point, they elected to displace the riser–the marine riser–from the vessel to the sea floor. They displaced all the mud out of the riser preparing to unlatch from the well two days later. So they displaced it with seawater.


The test should have been [sufficient] or they would never have opened it back up.

And we’re also back to the question of whether former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force fostered a climate in which a backup system–an acoustic regulator–was deemed too expensive to require.

The absence of an acoustical regulator — a remotely triggered dead man’s switch that might have closed off BP’s gushing pipe at its sea floor wellhead when the manual switch failed (the fire and explosion on the drilling platform may have prevented the dying workers from pushing the button) — was directly attributable to industry pandering by the Bush team. Acoustic switches are required by law for all offshore rigs off Brazil and in Norway’s North Sea operations. BP uses the devise voluntarily in Britain’s North Sea and elsewhere in the world as do other big players like Holland’s Shell and France’s Total. In 2000, the Minerals Management Service while weighing a comprehensive rulemaking for drilling safety, deemed the acoustic mechanism “essential” and proposed to mandate the mechanism on all gulf rigs.

Then, between January and March of 2001, incoming Vice President Dick Cheney conducted secret meetings with over 100 oil industry officials allowing them to draft a wish list of industry demands to be implemented by the oil friendly administration. Cheney also used that time to re-staff the Minerals Management Service with oil industry toadies including a cabal of his Wyoming carbon cronies. In 2003, newly reconstituted Minerals Management Service genuflected to the oil cartel by recommending the removal of the proposed requirement for acoustic switches. The Minerals Management Service’s 2003 study concluded that “acoustic systems are not recommended because they tend to be very costly.”

Finally, there’s one more question about this–why they switched from mud to seawater in the first place. Apparently, that’s done because it makes it easier to come back and reopen the well in the future–it’s a cost saving measure. Though it appears that not switching over from mud to water might just have postponed the ultimate failure a few days.

All of which is an elaborate way of saying we don’t know. It’s possible outright negligence played into this spill. It’s possible that the standard requirements for such drilling have been (ahem) watered down because of laughable concerns about cost, or that the parties involved cut corners on this well in particular because of time pressures (which are ultimately money pressures too). And it’s possible that none of these safeguards would have made drilling at these depths safe.

But I sure am curious whether we’ll ever see those test results.

125 replies
  1. alinaustex says:

    There may be published reports about the HAL cement failure last year in the Coral Sea . Mike Pappataino (sp) shoulde be a very good source for the HAL record -as well as BP’s -He used to be on AIR America and is one of the first attorneys to file a class action suit citing BP and HAL negilgence, I believe he is based in Florida . Also was on KO either last night or the night before…

  2. Jkat says:

    i’ve spent considerable time reading a deep-water drilling engineers’ blog left in the links to other posts here .. and the problems are complex and demonstrate clearly that deep-water completion difficulties are not only specific with each new well location but well control issues for each of them in terms of hydrate formation and up-hole down-hole control dynamics are an evolving science..

    since you [EW] have some awl-field savvy from your mud mixing days .. i’m certain you’re one of the few people herein who could appreciate the complexities of having a thimbleful of compressed liquefied gas in the mud turn into a decompressive behemoth bubble that can evacuate the 5000 foot of riser [from the sub-sea BOP to the drilling deck] in just mere seconds… with all the concomitant mud over-the-crown and sudden gas envelopment of the rig decks in the blink of an eye .. it could and probably brought about ..

    the consensus among the deep-water boys seems to be that the “new and best” way to keep control integrity is to have not only a sub-sea BOP in place .. but also a surface BOP on the drill platform itself just below the drilling deck .. which is an evolving capability only a very few of the very newest drilling platforms has .. and which the Horizon rig did not have ..

    there is also the issue of why the ram shears in the SSBOP failed to function .. with the speculation that the reason they didn’t function being that that a large tool joint or even heavy wall drill stem pipe or a drill collar is what is now locked in the jaws of the SSBOP .. or even a packer .. or a plug itself ..

    i’ve got 20 previous years of awl-field experience ..a good professional grasp of the down-hole and formation dynamics .. plus a work-lifetime of technical mechanical-engineering background and i’ve struggled for ten hours to wade through the technical aspects of what i’d term the “new deep-well-completion-and-upset-variables” …

    it’s all speculation at this point but it’s obvious to me current regulation requirements are well behind the discovery and completion complexity curve ..

    and thank you for the work you do here … btw ..

    • Scarecrow says:

      Very helpful comments, and thanks for coming here.

      You note that each well seems to be different, particularly at these greater depths. That suggests to me that the risks and potential consequences of unexpected outcome would also be different with each well, or within groups of wells at similar depths. If that is true, then the practice MMS was apparently using, of a more or less standardized environmental assessment would have made no sense, even if MMS was not already compromised in other ways.

      In other words, it would have made sense to have well-specific safety and environmental assessments for each well, and the use of a generic assessment for these purposes, when the circumstances would easily be different each time, would have been irresponsible.

      Do you have any comment/reaction to that?

    • klynn says:

      it’s all speculation at this point but it’s obvious to me current regulation requirements are well behind the discovery and completion complexity curve ..

      Thank you. Great comment.

    • BoxTurtle says:

      I wonder if Rush is going to blame rabid environmentalists for this one as well.


      Boxturtle (My conspiracy theory is Satanists enraged by the Xfiles being cancelled)

      • PJEvans says:

        (My conspiracy theory is Satanists enraged by the Xfiles being cancelled)

        Read Charlie Stross’s Laundry books. It’s really due to us breaking a secret treaty with the Deep Old Ones. *g*

      • Badwater says:

        I wonder if Rush is going to blame rabid environmentalists for this one as well

        Don’t you mean ‘when’ not ‘if’? Blame is Limpy’s whole act.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Good heavens!

      There is only ONE thing to do. Well, two, actually.

      Raise prices at the pump, and limit all liabilities resulting from “Acts of Gob(-smacked Greed)”.

      Oil prophets, anyone?

      Jeez, let’s hope things turn out oil right, in the end (or at the Rapture, which ever comes first).


      • Agent420 says:

        I’m hoping for the “rapture” because I want to live in one of those big houses on the hill they will leave behind. Swimming pools, tennis courts, big yachts, custom built jet planes. Yup, hurry up, the good times are coming!

        • librty says:

          I shouldn’t say this. But I will anyway. Rumor has it that if you join the Mormons, and live righteously enough, You Are Given The Responsibility Of Your Own Planet, (with servants)

    • scribe says:

      Act of God!

      Act of God!

      Act of God!

      Drill Baby, Drill!

      Drill Baby, Drill!

      Drill Baby, Drill!

    • Margaret says:

      Hey, guess what?!?! Yep there is now a huge oil refinery fire underway in San Antonio!

      That’s not a “refinery” though the news is reporting it as such. It’s the gasoline and diesel rack. Partly owned by Mr Koch I think. I used to work for the gasoline hauling company that started the fire. Maybe they shouldn’t have fired me…

  3. BoxTurtle says:

    We’ll see those test results in court someday fairly soon. They are sure to be demanded as part of discovery, along with the testing methodology and depositions from the actual engineers doing the test.

    Boxturtle (and that’s just for starters)

  4. orionATL says:

    box turtle @5

    unless obama and the oil companies embargo those records

    “for the benefit of national security and

    to maintain public confidence in our vital oil services industry and our regularory apparatus.”

  5. Jkat says:

    geeze ..as much as i like you guys .. a continuing problem with this site keeps breaking my browser down …

    good luck and keep typing ..eh ??

  6. orionATL says:


    nows the time to get cheney,

    the time to show the public just what kind of irresponsible leader he actually was.

    one could work on the torture aspect of his incompetence for the next five years and not make a dent,

    but a well-watched (so to speak) environmental disaster to which cheney is connected presents less contention.

  7. WilliamOckham says:

    One thing this story should put to rest is the “Act of God” theory. One way or another, this blowout was caused by human action. It looks to me like it was negligent human action, but it is a little early to say for sure. I’ve got to run off to a meeting, but I hope to get back and discuss a little background on this one. The key issue is whether or not BP should have been displacing the mud at all.

    • Scarecrow says:

      I agree, but what we’re dealing with is a mindset that says to itself, this really was an act of god — if you listen to the radio interview that EW links to, the guy readily agrees with the host’s comment that this was just Mother Nature throwing us an unusual curve ball. The crew did everything they were supposed to do, ran all the tests they were supposed to run, but Mother Nature came up with something unexpected, and you just have to accept that, he seems to be saying.

      I suspect that view is very widespread, so when the Gov. of Texas says what he said, it rings true and is a way to avoid thinking about the problem from any more threatening perspective.

      • emptywheel says:

        True, but the interview is interesting for how early it was, given that the lawyers had gotten everyone else involved to be silent, and how vague it is on precisely the issues that matter.

        Make sure you listen to the second part of the interview as well, he sort of changes in his Act of God take.

      • GulfCoastPirate says:

        ‘I agree, but what we’re dealing with is a mindset that says to itself, this really was an act of god — if you listen to the radio interview that EW links to, the guy readily agrees with the host’s comment that this was just Mother Nature throwing us an unusual curve ball. The crew did everything they were supposed to do, ran all the tests they were supposed to run, but Mother Nature came up with something unexpected, and you just have to accept that, he seems to be saying’

        People who believe this are full of crap. Eventually, when we find out what happened, there will be an answer that follows the laws of physics and thermodynamics. It’s not god’s job to teach the subject to the oil industry.

        Did anyone see the report that some lawyer in Florida is charging that BP had far exceeded the depth at which they were approved to drill?

        • librty says:

          Eventually, when we find out what happened, there will be an answer that follows the laws of physics and thermodynamics. It’s not god’s job to teach the subject to the oil industry.

          But if you refuse to learn from others, this is the level of the lesson on thermodynamics you can expect from him.

    • GulfCoastPirate says:

      The key issue is whether or not BP should have been displacing the mud at all

      Exactly – and who made the decision to do so. Did that decision come from someone on the rig or someone elsewhere?

      • emptywheel says:

        Apparently, there were a bunch of BP bigwigs on the rig, celebrating 7 years accident free on the rig.

        No really. I kid you not.

        • librty says:

          Apparently, there were a bunch of BP bigwigs on the rig, celebrating 7 years accident free on the rig.

          No really. I kid you not.

          On the wiki, under both Murphy’s Law And Irony, they’ll have to footnote and cross reference another page and event now …

        • GulfCoastPirate says:

          Yea, I heard that also. That’s one of the reasons we should all be suspicious as to who was making decisions out there.

        • oldoilfieldhand says:

          The POB (personnel on board) list would confirm who from BP was onboard art the time of the incident.

  8. rkilowatt says:

    Apparent typo…

    “Finally, there’s one more question about this–why they switched from mud to seawater in the first place. Apparently, that’s done because it makes it easier to come back and reopen the well in the future–it’s a cost saving measure. Though it appears that not switching over from oil mud to water might just have postponed the ultimate failure a few days.”

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This letter by Congressmen Waxman and Stupak (the link is from the Guardian here), may raise the ante on BP’s “rehabilitation” and the White House’s efforts to do nothing to ruffle the feathers of its corporate clientele. The letter,

    dated Jan. 14, 2010, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., noted that the company’s efforts to cut costs could imperil safety at BP facilities.

    documents their concerns about methods BP used on Alaska’s North Slope. It begs the question about the reliability of safety standards elsewhere, whether in Angola or on deep water rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

  10. rkilowatt says:

    It is unclear how much real-time vital data, e.g. mudlogging,was completely lost by the sudden event…and how much was simultaneously being telemetered to nearby workships and on-shore facilities.

    The detailed mudlogging data are probably most critical, as any excessive flow of mud [that was being off-loaded to storage ship as it was being displaced by seawater]would be instant alarm signal to activate BOP…if anyone was watching…whicc is SOP unless the observers/mudlogging crew were already sent packing , perhaps to save $].

    • Jkat says:

      for those of you who want to wade through the drilling engineers’ sleuthing and what-happened ..there is a very good site here some of it is a bit technical and jargon and acronym loaded for the initiated .. but for those of you with some basic oil patch knowledge it’s one of the better discussions of “what may have happened” .. they evaluate the reliability of the guy who called into mark levin as being a probable actual survivor btw .. not simply a bullshit artist ..

      i’m still having trouble keeping a link to this site .. but .. i’m hanging in there ..

      and FYI .. i’d like to stress that toa large degree i’m interpreting what i’m gather elsewhere .. and tryingto compress it for the laypersons usage .. please keep in mind this is all speculation at this point ..and contains all the inherent dangers involved in “assuming” anything ..

      other than that .. ah thanks y’all for the venue .. and of course .. it’s such a damn shame that hindsight engineering is always the best we can seem to come up with in response to this kind of disaster ..

    • sojourner says:

      As I am understanding things, it sounds as if BP had reached total depth on the well, had set the production casing, and was preparing to move on after the wellbore was closed off. Mud logging, for the most part, is performed during actual drilling operations. Since the well had reached total depth, there would have been no need for the mud loggers to remain unless things have changed since I was in the business.

      However, the mud pumps and flow pits have sensors to indicate an increase in volume and pressure, and those should have provided a warning. It may well be that they did, but if the BOPs did not work properly…

      • WilliamOckham says:

        Things haven’t changed, but there were two mudloggers among the dead and they were said to be on the drilling floor when the blowout occurred. Why were they there? I suspect the answer to that question will explain much.

        • sojourner says:

          I am just thinking out loud here… Were they actually mud loggers or mud “engineers”? The mud engineers would have been on the drilling floor as they began displacing mud with salt water. Maybe I am wrapped up in semantics, but mud “logging” indicates drilling operations because they are monitoring penetration speed, background gas, etc. by depth to send back to the geological team.

          Perhaps they are one and the same now… it is just confusing, though. Once drilling stopped (at least in my day), the loggers were sent back to shore. The mud engineers were still around to keep the hydrostatic head and mud weight where it needed to be.

        • sojourner says:

          Also, please don’t think I am questioning what you say… I guess I am mostly just trying to get it straight in my own head. ;-)

            • sojourner says:

              Mostly just been lurking… ;-) Trying to survive the mess our illustrious former president left. At age 57, it is awfully hard to find a new job! I’ve been following right along here, though…

              • klynn says:

                Hey, thinking about you sojourner. I hope that the job market starts to improve more very soon.

                You are in our thoughts and prayers.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Comparing the AP’s coverage, here, reprinted by the new owners of the UK’s Independent and the Guardian’s own coverage, here, reveals subtle differences in message management.

    The Guardian gives readers emotionless factual background and quotes interviews with at least semi-independent players, such as the US Coast Guard. It also gives voice in a neutral way to BP, such as when its engineers caution that the 100-ton concrete dome it intends to use to help cap this leak has not been tried at anything like these depths, but that it has done extensive computer modelling in hopes of predicting its usefulness.

    It talks about the uncertainty in the lives of people living along the Gulf Coast, as they wait for the damage the oil will cause to reach shore. And it notes that a few workers have already filed lawsuits, as the company commends itself for the fact that 115 of them were ultimately rescued from the rig or the sea alive.

    The Guardian does end on a personal note, quoting residents along the Florida Gulf Coast wondering what will happen to their lives:

    “It’s very sad because I grew up out here,” she said. “I remember growing up seeing the white beaches my whole life. Every day I’ve been going to the beach … a lot of people are out watching and crying.”

    The AP’s article includes many of the same descriptions used by other sources, but has added a subtle, upbeat, pro-company slant (emphases added). It starts in its first words:

    The best short-term solution to bottling up a disastrous oil spill threatening sealife and livelihoods along the Gulf Coast should be arriving today in the form of a specially built giant concrete-and-steel box designed to siphon the oil away….BP spokesman John Curry said it would be deployed on the seabed by tomorrow.

    That last point regarding “deployed” implies the cap will be in place tomorrow, whereas other reports make clearer that BP intends to drop the cap onto the seabed tomorrow, but position it over the well only after it caps the two principal remaining leaks, which continue to spew oil as fast as did the original three.

    BP is in charge of the cleanup and President Barack Obama and many others say the company also is responsible for the costs.

    The first item AP considers a fact, the second opinion. That BP is one of possibly several players responsible for the clean-up would seem incontestable. Likewise, the AP’s description of the oil about to ruin millions of lives and cost billions in damages seems almost friendly,

    A rainbow sheen of oil has reached land in parts of Louisiana, but the gooey rafts of coagulated crude have yet to come ashore in most places….

    Across the accident zone, oil floated in the ocean in different hues, shapes and textures. In places, it was a rich paisley patterned reds and oranges. In others, it took on varying gray and blue striated shapes, almost like a Vincent Van Gogh’s thick brush strokes.

    The artistry of AP’s wordsmiths escapes me.

    • x174 says:

      thanks for the textual analysis. the contrast is remarkable. i’ll start paying more attention to the tone and diction of news-lite pieces.

  12. klynn says:

    In others, it took on varying gray and blue striated shapes, almost like a Vincent Van Gogh’s thick brush strokes.

    What kind of response are they shooting for there? An, “Ooooo, oil pollution preeetteee.”

    Cannot believe an editor allowed such crap in print.

  13. Jim White says:

    Heh. From the Twitter. @JasonFebery says:

    Since Palin loves playing the guilt-by-association card, isnt it time some1 mentions Todd worked 4 #bp 4 18 yrs?

  14. Hmmm says:

    Tangentially related — Could an earthquake trigger gas bubble formation in the soils inside the depleted well? Can’t figure out how to navigate the USGS databases to check for earthquake events there and then.

    • librty says:

      Was this a depleted well? My understanding is that it’s a new well. The Deepwater Horizon was an Exploratory Semi-submersible Drilling Rig, not a production rig.

      What I’ve read is that the Horizon was ‘pulling off’ and heading to a new exploratory site. Then a production platform would come in at a later time to this well and hook up.

      • Hmmm says:

        Thanks much for that, I didn’t get that info elsewhere — only that they were closing it off. Didn’t even know there was a distinction between exploration and production rigs.

        Still curious whether earthquakes can trigger bubble formation. (And thanks PJEvans, I saw the same stuff at USGS’ site.)

    • PJEvans says:

      That area is pretty stable geologically speaking, and the USGS Earthquakes page doesn’t show anything for that area in the last week (which is as far back as they usually go).

    • MrWhy says:

      I checked the database, no earthquake within 200Km within previous 5 days.

      The Wikipedia page on the rig disaster mentions that the well was deeper than specs conveyed to Halliburton, resulting in pouring a cement cap too small.

      Personally, I don’t find this credible, but I also didn’t find credible the story that Sarah Palin would fly home to Alaska to give birth after her water had broken, so my judgment can’t be trusted.

  15. scribe says:

    As to the “Why is the guy from Angola speaking for BP?” my speculation is that it might be either a similar rig in that area, a similar BOP, or perhaps just similar depths in the ocean. Thinking back on my geography, my recollection is that the Congo River cuts a mile-plus-deep canyon on its way across the continental shelf near the Angolan fields, not dissimilar to the way the Mississippi does in the Gulf.

    But that’s just my spec.

    OTOH, that BP guy could either be talking out his ass, or have been sent out by BP to talk out his ass to throw more dust in the public’s eyes.

  16. sojourner says:

    It has been a long time since I have actually been on a rig, much less one in the Gulf or in such deep water. My father was an independent oilman; I worked for a number of years as a mud logger offshore. It has been my experience that cementing is often fraught with issues. Quite often, remedial work is required to ensure that things are not going to come unglued.

    Someone above mentioned that the rams on the BOP worked, but that possibly a plug prevented the BOP from closing. On one well I worked offshore, the cementing engineer miscalculated the amount of pumping required to properly set the plug — and the BOPs wound up full of cement. Fortunately, the drilling contractor refused to drill further until repairs could be made.

    • Jkat says:

      ah .. another oilboy .. let’s cut loose .. eh .. [chuckle] there’s all kinds of speculation on the drilling engineer’s various sites concerning why the BOP’s not functioning .. one theory is what you picked up .. a plugging tool is lodged .. another is the cementing packer got blown up into the crimp/shear zone.. yet another is that a large bore casing hub or seal segment jumped up from the wellhead pack off set and is projecting up into the lower shear rams .. another is that the rig had a down-hole asssembly tool sub-set put together on a whole drill stem rig and drill stem sub [pup] and either a section of the stems or an actual drill stem collar [or both] is lodged into all the seating areas of the BOP preventing it’s sealing off .. whatever it is .. it’s really perplexing that all of the various zones of the upper stage single and the lower stage double sea floor BOP package have failed to choke off and shut in ..eh ??

      and librty ..concerning the idea of pulling off the top plate of the existing BOP package and installing a new BOP on top .. i’m wondering how they’re going to accomplish that with a 75 ton containment dome atop the package .. and also such a fix would require removing the existing riser segment from the top of the current failed BOP package ..

      the latest thing i’ve seen is an idea to connect to the end of the existing riser and pump back down the riser .. using either heavy mud .. or possibly cement to close off and shut this runaway down .. however ..some reports i’ve seen mention that the wellhead integrity is compromised too.. that one of the leakage areas is from outside the casing .. in which case even sealing off the wellhead would still leave the formation a venting source to the surface .. unless they plan on catching that with this cementing job ..

      bear in mind a lot of this is still speculative in nature .. even the best info we have is possibly not correct ..

      • librty says:

        concerning the idea of pulling off the top plate of the existing BOP package and installing a new BOP on top .. i’m wondering how they’re going to accomplish that with a 75 ton containment dome atop the package .. and also such a fix would require removing the existing riser segment from the top of the current failed BOP package ..

        My understanding is that the containment dome that is on the way down now, is for a piece of the riser that’s broke and leaking, 600 ft from the wellhead.

        As far as a new, additional BOP to be set on top of the malfunctioning one, It’s from a news report here

  17. orionATL says:

    ew @44

    so these guys got first dibs on boat or helicopter seats?

    or did they bring their own helo?

    (that’s so unkind of me; no doubt the bigs were the last

    • librty says:

      no doubt the bigs were the last

      maybe they were on the drill floor at the time …

      • timbo says:

        “There’s an emergency!? I’ll take charge! What does this button do I wonder…?”?! There might be some liability in that, ya think!?

  18. MadDog says:

    OT – It now seems that folks don’t need to be on one of those secret “lists” to get targeted by US drones:

    CIA drones have broader list of targets
    The agency since 2008 has been secretly allowed to kill unnamed suspects in Pakistan.

    The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, included suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, according to current and former counter-terrorism officials.

    The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as “pattern of life” analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras on the unmanned aircraft and from other sources about individuals and locations.

    The information then is used to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known, the officials said. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list…

    • timbo says:

      Previous to that, the CIA was a civilian organization subject to the legal ramifications of breaking the law and killing people willy-nilly. Like when the Geneva Convention was actually a legal document instead of a quaint paper-maché piñata.

  19. orionATL says:

    librty @53

    that’s an unhappy thought.

    has anyone seen a published death roll yet with both name and position?

    it’s about time.

    if not, why not?

    • PJEvans says:

      Last I heard there were people listed as missing – they’re presumed dead, but no bodies found. Yet.

  20. MadDog says:

    And more OT – From the Moonie Times (caveat emptor!):

    Former CIA lawyer: Gitmo IDs graver than Plame leak

    Covertly taken photos of CIA interrogators that were shown by defense attorneys to al Qaeda inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison represent a more serious security breach than the 2003 outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the agency’s former general counsel said Wednesday.

    John Rizzo, who was the agency’s top attorney until December, said in an interview that he initially requested the Justice Department and CIA investigation into the compromise of CIA interrogators’ identities after photographs of the officers were found in the cell of one al Qaeda terrorist in Cuba.

    “Well I think this is far more serious than Valerie Plame,” Mr. Rizzo said after a breakfast speech. “That was clearly illegal, outing a covert officer. I am not downplaying that. But this is far more serious.”


    Mr. Rizzo in the past has been criticized by civil liberties groups for being the top agency lawyer when 92 videotapes alleged to have shown the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were destroyed.

    Mr. Rizzo in the interview said he had no knowledge that those tapes were going to be destroyed in 2004. He said he did not, however, believe the destruction of the tapes constituted a crime.

    “It would have been a crime if it was being done to obstruct an investigation,” he said. “There are court cases ongoing, but there was no ongoing congressional investigations at that time. There were court cases, but as best as we can tell, those tapes were never part of a protective order“…

    (My Bold)

    Mr. Rizzo would look dashing in an orange jumpsuit, doncha think?

    • bmaz says:

      How is showing pictures without names to a handful of people locked up (apparently permanently) more dangerous than publicly announcing a woman to the entire world in the press? Strikes me as a petty, partisan, twisted and completely asshloey thing for a small man to say. What a needledick jackass Rizzo is.

    • JohnJ says:

      From your link:

      Although they were only permitted to drill down 18,000 ft., Kennedy said they now have evidence that they were drilling as deeply as 25,000 ft.

      I read somewhere that this is getting into depths that no one has much experience in.

      Some thing clicked when EW said that big wigs were around. Could some operation have been done based on the “legal” drill numbers and not the real ones? Wouldn’t you have the bogus numbers out just so the big guys could deny knowledge….

      (damn the dog just chewed up my tin hat)

      What a needledick jackass Rizzo is.

      bmaz, are you tryin’ to put freep out of business?

  21. Oilfieldguy says:

    Marcy, to add to your question about the cost of drilling mud. I don’t think it can be reused or recycled. In all my years in the oilfield, I’ve never seen it done. Oil-based mud may be different, I’ve (thankfully) never worked around it.

  22. Jkat says:

    and now we find out via the WSJ that MMS has known since receiving a report in 2004 .. that the various drillers in the OCS ad GOM were using drill pipe of such a strength that in most cases it exceeded the rated capacity of the BOP’s shear rams …

    that’s a pretty major thing .. the use of drill piping that exceeds the strength of the shear rams on the BOP€ effectively eliminates the tool of last resort .. [the BOP] from being capable of shutting in a runaway well ..

    and the issue was never addressed by MMS .. hence .. here were are .. with a runaway no one can isolate aspirating crude oil into the waters of the gulf .. because the BOP didn’t do the single most important job is is designed and emplaced to do.. it’s like cutting the wires going to the “emergency stop” button .. [sigh]

    • bmaz says:

      Wot you say?? Plastic scissors won’t cut metal pipe? Who knew?

      Jeebus, you hear stuff like that and think “naw, they ain’t that fucking stupid and reckless”. But time and again you learn the malefactors are exactly that stupid and reckless.

  23. alinaustex says:

    So is there anyway that in the end BP will not be held reesponsible for this catastrophe ? What can be done now to make sure BP is held to account for this ?

  24. klynn says:

    The last comment in the Spec post has a great link IRT the content of this post.

    Highly recommend reading it in terms of adding info on the cement problems.

  25. Jkat says:

    Although they were only permitted to drill down 18,000 ft., Kennedy said they now have evidence that they were drilling as deeply as 25,000 ft

    i keep hearing that and i keep wondering if the drillers might not measure hole depth from the seabed ..and the other guys are measuring from the sea surface ..

  26. orionATL says:

    just to change units for perspective:

    the difference between 18,000 and 25,000 ft is 7,000 ft.

    there are 5300 ft in a mile,


    the drillers may have drilled 1 1/4 miles deeper than permitted.

    the original permit was for ~3 miles.

    bp may have had their drillers go to 4 1/4 miles.

    for comparison, mount everest is ~29,000 ft. or ~5 1/2 mi high.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      I posted thislast night over at the Seminal. It is in alignment with your post:

      Greg Palast has a new piece up at Truthout. Lots of info that will be of interest. Here’s an excerpt:

      Slick Operator: The BP I’ve Known Too Well
      Wednesday 05 May 2010

      by: Greg Palast, t r u t h o u t |

      I’ve seen this movie before. In 1989, I was a fraud investigator hired to dig into the cause of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Despite Exxon’s name on that boat, I found the party most to blame for the destruction was … British Petroleum (BP).That’s important to know, because the way BP caused devastation in Alaska is exactly the way BP is now sliming the entire Gulf Coast.
      Both in Alaska, when the Exxon Valdez grounded, and in the Gulf last week, when the Deepwater Horizon platform blew, it was British Petroleum that was charged with carrying out the Oil Spill Response Plans (OSRP), which the company itself drafted and filed with the government.Last year, CEO Hayward boasted that, despite increased oil production in exotic deep waters, he had cut BP’s costs by an extra one billion dollars a year. Now we know how he did it.

      As chance would have it, I was meeting last week with Louisiana lawyer Daniel Becnel Jr. when word came in of the platform explosion. Daniel represents oil workers on those platforms; now, he’ll represent their bereaved families. The Coast Guard called him. They had found the emergency evacuation capsule floating in the sea and were afraid to open it and disturb the cooked bodies.

      This just in: Becnel tells me that one of the platform workers has informed him that the BP well was apparently deeper than the 18,000 feet depth reported. BP failed to communicate that additional depth to Halliburton crews, who, therefore, poured in too small a cement cap for the additional pressure caused by the extra depth. So, it blew.

      Why didn’t Halliburton check? “Gross negligence on everyone’s part,” said Becnel. Negligence driven by penny-pinching, bottom-line squeezing. BP says its worker is lying. Someone’s lying here, man on the platform or the company that has practiced prevarication from Alaska to Louisiana.

      Slick Operator: The BP I’ve Known Too Well‎ – 6 hours ago

      This just in: Becnel tells me that one of the platform workers has informed him that the BP well was apparently deeper than the 18000 feet depth reported. …
      truthout – 12404 related articles »

      t r u t h o u t | Slick Operator: The BP I’ve Known Too WellMay 5, 2010 … Slick Operator: The BP I’ve Known Too Well. Wednesday 05 May 2010. by: Greg Palast, t r u t h o u t |
      I’ve seen this …
      http://www.truthout.org/slick-operator-the-bp-ive-known-too-well59178 – 7 hours ago

      NOTE: There is a great deal of back story in this piece that is worth a look,imho.I heavily edited my comment for purposes of brevity.

  27. alank says:

    Leaky hydraulics is the main cause of BOP failures. Chances are they were rendered leaky when the platform sank to the sea floor. But the blowout was apparently the cause of the platform fire (the chain of events documented on the well-known interview with a survivor). So, the BOP had already failed. The pressure test data is the most important data in determining the state of the well at that time.

    I would like the experts here to explain why the platform sank. I’ve seen accounts of burning platforms listing. How does a semi-submersible end up sinking?

    P.S., the firefighters sprayed huge amounts of water on the rig. Would this cause the rig to sink. (It seemed so pointless to just spray water on such a hot fire.)

    • Jkat says:

      i wouldn’t call myself an expert alank .. but what i have seen the real experts surmise is that the extreme heat from the fire conflagration caused possible buckling of the legs leading down to the pontoons .. maybe compromising the integrity of or deforming one or both pontoons…. and that potential along with probable falling parts of the bracing structure and maybe other equipment dislodging and falling away probably hit some the piping and valves ..etc .. associated with the ballast system to the pontoons which keep the semi-submersible afloat ..creating leaks or an imbalance which led to a list ..which led to to the rig collapse and sinking .. these babys are notorious for being top-heavy even when in the best of condition..

      that’s my surmise of the opinions i’ve read .and of those i personally know who are still in the awl business .. and based on some personal experience with the pontoon systems many moons ago ..

      and .. as i have said elsewhere throughout this string .. all of this is speculation .. until BP comes off some facts .. it’s all we’ve got ..and that just another very good reason for BP to come clean to stop all the wild speculation about what went wrong .. etc ..etc ..etc …

      and what librty said .. too ..fits right in ..

      • librty says:

        After the explosion and initial fire, I waited for our MSM to send a boat and/or plane to film it. Again our MSM sucks. It’s not like this happened in the frickin Congo. It was 50 miles out.

        They never did. So there is no public record of the calamity. I assert that’s in BP’s interest.

        USCG and BP have video, but they’re not openly sharing it, yet.

        • Gitcheegumee says:

          Thanks for the list of the deceased.

          I read this in my local rag this AM :

          “The Associated Press is the only news organization with access to the containment effort in the Gulf”.

          • librty says:

            al.com/mobile has been pretty good

            here’s an example

            Petrochemical giant BP didn’t file a plan to specifically handle a major oil spill from an uncontrolled blowout at its Deepwater Horizon project because the federal agency that regulates offshore rigs changed its rules two years ago

  28. librty says:

    to mention another incompetent act

    British Petroleum and government disaster-relief agencies are using a toxic chemical to disperse oil in the Gulf of Mexico, even though a better alternative appears to be available.

    … BP and the U.S. Coast Guard have conducted tests with Corexit 9500, a chemical designed to break oil slicks into globules that are more quickly consumed by bacteria or sink into the water column before hitting shore.

    The decision has been a controversial one. A few scientists think dispersants are mostly useful as public relations strategy, as they make the oil slick invisible, even though oil particles continue to do damage. Others consider Corexit the lesser of two evils: It’s known to be highly toxic, adding to the harm caused by oil, but at least it will concentrate damage at sea, sparing sensitive and highly productive coastal areas. Better to sacrifice the deep sea than the shorelines.

    … a superior alternative could be left on the shelf.

    Called Dispersit, it’s manufactured by the U.S. Polychemical Corporation and has been approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency. Both Corexit and Dispersit were tested by the EPA, and according to those results, Corexit was 54.7 percent effective at breaking down crude oil from the Gulf, and Dispersit was 100 percent effective.

    Not only did Corexit do a worse job of dispersing oil, but it was three times as lethal to silverfish – used as a benchmark organism in toxicity testing — and more than twice as lethal to shrimp, another benchmark organism and an important part of Gulf fisheries.

    As for why Corexit is being used instead of Dispersit, authorities haven’t yet said. According to the Protect the Ocean blog, U.S. Polychemical executive Bruce Gebhardt said the government had used Corexit before, and was sticking with what it already knows. Corexit makes up most dispersant stockpiles in the United States for this reason, though dispersant manufacture can be easily ramped up.

    In a 1999 letter, the U.S. Coast Guard told U.S. Polychemical that “product information from planning mode evaluations remain on file to facilitate rapid review in the context of a spill.” In that same year, the EPA added Dispersit to the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, which determines what will be considered for use in an oil spill

    COREXIT, the dispersant being used by BP, is produced by Falco Holdings (and had been mentioned as possibly being owned by EXXON – either Falco or the patent rights to COREXIT) use this as rumor and innuendo at this point

  29. ShotoJamf says:

    Hey Congressional Hacks: Can we please find some criminal liability this time? Is that too much to ask? And while we’re on the subject, do you think you might wanna throw Don Blankenship in the mix? Get sort of a two-fer out of the deal? I mean…I don’t want to burden you, what with all that round-the-clock sucking up to lobbyists that you need to do, but if you can manage to carve a few spare minutes out of your busy day…

    Just sayin’…

  30. Jkat says:

    okay .. it’s time to let this out .. here’s what i’m wondering .. there were 11 men killed in this accident .. nearly all believed to have been somewhere on deck .. involved in attempting to control the upset conditions which led to the well getting loose and exploding up through the rig itself ..

    now .. during perilous operational times .. where quick action and damn near instantaneous critical decisions vital to the life and safety of the rig and the integrity of the well itself are at hand .. the most senior members of the team would be expected to be “hands on” .. i.e present on deck and making those critical calls as would be expected of the parties most responsible and directly charged with protecting their separate companies vested interests ..

    those parties are .. for BP .. the “company man” .. the designated bosses of the operation which BP is paying Transocean to perform . and for Transocean the “toolpusher” .. the big boos over all things to do with the rig proper contracted out to BP ..

    yet .. both of these two parties survived the disastrous events which killed everybody else on deck .. so .. imo .. it speaks to the fact those two men weren’t “on deck” at the time of the mishap ..

    so where were they ??

    we know there was a safety award party going on aboard the rig at the time of the accident ..and that 9 BP bigwigs were present at that function ..

    what i’m wondering is whether the two most senior guys .. the company man and the toolpusher were below decks attending the party instead of up topside helping to fight the wild thing that took the rig down and killed the other 11 would-be dragon slayers in the process ??

    now i could be completely off out in left field here .. here but intuition tells me something’s there .. and i’m basing my suspicions on the fact that BP has yet to come clean and let out any information as to what took place on that rig .. it’s important .. industry wide .. that they get the word out about “what” happened .. other drillers on other rigs in different locations could well come up against the same kind of upset and any information about how control of the DWH well was lost .. the precursor conditions.. could well be useful from costing another rig .. or more lives .. or another blow out .. if those precursors were put “out there” …

    what happened .. how it happened .. and what was tried and failed .. what to be on the look out for .. which procedures to double check. what pressures and behaviors to be keenly aware when reaching a given depth zone .. etc .. are very important things to know in the drill deck community .. and imo it’s odd they have yet to say a single word …

    there.. now it’s ‘out there’ …

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      I have been wondering the VERY same thing for some time now.

      Additionally, has ANYONE seen a list of the names of the 11 missing employees?

      • librty says:

        The full list of names that are gone~
        Jason Anderson,
        Aaron Dale Burkeen,
        Donald Clark,
        Stephen Curtis,
        Roy Wyatt Kemp,
        Karl Kleppinger,
        Gordon Jones (M-I SWACO),
        Blair Manuel (M-I SWACO),
        Dewey Revette,
        Shane Roshto,
        Adam Weise

        • onitgoes says:

          Thanks for that. Too bad I only see it here. I don’t watch a lot of tv, but I read newspapers and listen to the radio some. Never heard this list until now. For shame (but sadly unsurprised).

      • onitgoes says:

        I’ve been wondering about that, too – the list of the 11 dead, plus why the top dogs are not dead (not that I wish death on anyone). And where is the national mourning for the 11 dead oil rig workers, as we actually had (sort of) for the miners?

        Or are we serfs now being trained to ignore dead people and carry on as if it’s no big deal? As I said with the mining deaths: the oligarchs could care less; plenty more miners where those came from. We’re all just fungible assests and collateral damage.

        As for the Haliburton cementing operations, which apparently has been involved in quite a few other oil rig disasters (surprise, surprise)… thanks for the info. As each day passes, the evil that is Haliburton just gets worse, if possible.

  31. bigbrother says:

    Barack Obama has had a change of heart about commercial whaling. As a candidate, whaling was “unacceptable.” But now as President, well, that’s all changed. (Greenpeace today)

  32. Margaret says:

    Bentonite, (drilling mud) is expensive to buy and mix. Sounds like BP was trying to save a few pennies by sacrificing safety. What a surprise!

  33. Margaret says:

    P.S., the firefighters sprayed huge amounts of water on the rig. Would this cause the rig to sink. (It seemed so pointless to just spray water on such a hot fire.)

    The object wasn’t to put out the fire but to save the rig by reducing the heat impacting it.

      • librty says:

        The engines on board shut down due to the gas, then the fire. Therefore the pumps that were used to maintain buoyancy also shut down.

        I also suspect that the ballast chambers on one side of the rig filled with water.

        I’ve seen a large sequence of images of the rig as it settled into the water on one side, then slowly lifted 90 degrees up, so that it was sideways, the decks were nearly vertical, then it slid into the sea.

        It sort of ‘tipped over’.

        • alank says:

          This is for Margaret too. So, can we safely assume the fire was being continually fueled by the well gasses or was it all to do with the fuel that runs the rig? Are there measures that can be taken to balance a rig of this type while there is a fire?

  34. Gitcheegumee says:

    Yep, that’s a great site.

    I recommended it a few weeks back here,when discussing the Alabama video gambling issues.

    Also, here’s a newspaper (The Courier)out of Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana-from a town called Houma which has a LOT of offshore activity.There’s some coverage there.

    IIRC, it is/was owned by NYT,however.

    HoumaToday.com | The Courier | Houma, LAGet the latest Frontpage articles, photos, multimedia and more from HoumaToday.com and the The Courier.
    http://www.houmatoday.com/ – 39 minutes ago – Cached – Similar
    Jobs Sports
    More results from houmatoday.com »

  35. Hmmm says:

    So at accident time they were in the process of wrapping up the exploratory phase at this site and working towards moving the rig to its next site. Has anyone asked where the rig was going to next, and whether there was any unusual hurry/priority/pressure inside BP or Transoceanic about getting it there?

    • librty says:

      Thanks fatster. Certainly informs the uneducated where this Chief of Staff’s priorities lie. And it doesn’t appear to be with the Fisheries that he’s responsible for.

      • fatster says:

        Thanks you, librty. We were looking for various links to scandals involving that office on this thread. Today, talkingpointsmemo had a short article pulling the more recent ones (the ones we were seeking and pretty much had rounded-up) together. Here’s the link if you want to copy it for your files. LINK.

        I just want to see the people involved in this mess (including our rafter) being questioned officially. And no Environmental Impact Plan required? Jeebus.

  36. Oilfieldguy says:

    I have spent most of my life protecting people and equipment from the decisions of my betters. No roughneck ever calculates cement density or volume for capping a well. But they are the hands on deck when those decisions go awry and are tasked with corrective measures. Reports are the Derrickhand sounded the alarm that drilling mud was going everywhere. Something was pushing the mud out of the hole and flooding everything. At that point of “oh shit” two things happen immediately. Activate the BOP’s and kill the engines. The natural gas coming out of the hole is like shooting starter fluid straight into the breather. The intake valve must be shut, and this obviously did not happen. The engines screamed to destruction and exploded, literally blowing themselves clean off the platform.

    BOP’s have a separate power source and shutting the engines down would not have affected them. The exploding engines were probably the ignition source of the rig fire. I have shut down engines during a major kick and it is terrifying to approach such a massive engine screaming louder than anything you ever heard in an effort to kill it before it kills you. I promised myself next time, I would kill the motors a little sooner.

    • Jkat says:

      OilfieldGuy .. reading the various drilling guyz forums .. there seems to be some question about the accuracy the account in which the engines were said to blow themselves off the deck .. something about the exaust stacks being visible in the sinking photos somewhere .. intact .. which they would harldy be if the the engines blew themselves off the deck .. not that i’m questioning your word here .. but that account .. nor any of the others has really been confirmed so far as i know .. you ??

      there is also another account which has surfacedwhich calls the sequence as .. first thump ,, then a loud his .. then all the gas alarms going off .. people hit the BOP switches .. shut down the rig engines .. but the gas got into the closed in areas and the generator sets went overspeed .. the current surge blew the bulbs .. and the gas ignited .. which is just another scenario that hasn’t been conformed as yet either ..

      and you’re perfectly right about the men on deck paying for the mistakes of others .. especially in these days of instantaneously telemetered data ..where the final decisions often come from a carpeted office somewhwere ashore ..

      i haven’t worked the awl patch since the 90’s .. btw .. and other than being raised up as the “tool pushers boy” and being around the rigs all my life .. only five years of my oil patch days was on the rigs … [i think i could still throw a chain just with a little practice time *g* ] the other 18 years i spent out there was spent on the engineering side in start-up and commissioning of refineries and chemical and power plants .. plus a bit of hired gun contract work on the ballast systems of a couple of semi-submersibles .. long worn out and rusted by now..

      what do you make of the fact the toolpusher and the BP company man weren’t among the rolls of lost or injured ?? the rig apparently was in big trouble .. there was an upset ongoing .. but they apparently weren’t on the drilling floor or they wouldn’t be here [not that i wish them any harm] i’m just wondering where they might have been to have escaped ..

      especially when it looks like everybody else on the drilling deck and even two of the mud men a got blown away in the wreck ..

      • Hmmm says:

        i’m just wondering where they might have been to have escaped ..

        Well… was the rumored Seven Years of Safety party going on at the exact moment of the upset?

  37. librty says:

    The engines screamed to destruction and exploded, literally blowing themselves clean off the platform.

    Shit – Basically Bend Over Time

    I have shut down engines during a major kick and it is terrifying to approach such a massive engine screaming louder than anything you ever heard

    Do they not have remote Emergency Shutoff Switches? (or ‘E’ switches as we call them in safety critical machinery)

  38. Hmmm says:

    I’m guessing there must be some unavoidable design reason why the engine air intakes are located where up-welled combustible gasses can enter and cause this failure mode, rather than have the air intakes ducted elsewhere where those gasses can’t do that.

  39. sweetal009 says:

    Guess more people should have donated their hair! Crazy as it sounds, hair cleans up oil spills. Just heard an interview on SeaChangeRadio.com with the founder of this non-profit that takes donated hair and uses it for oil cleanup. Sounds environmentally safe at the very least! http://j.mp/bsgawT

  40. Jkat says:

    yes it was Hmmmm but .. i stand corrected .. the tool pusher was one of the people killed ..and the driller and the asst. driller as well {RIP}

Comments are closed.