Trouble Brewing

Jim Brown
 
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The first storm of the Atlantic hurricane season is forming south of Cuba. NOAA said conditions are favorable for the system to intensify over the next two days as it heads into the western Caribbean. There is a 20% chance it will turn into a tropical storm over the next 48 hours.

This is BP's worst nightmare. A storm heading into the gulf through hurricane alley would likely head right towards the leaking well. This would force the 60+ ships currently parked over the well to head for safer waters and force a shutdown of the collection efforts and the drilling on the relief wells.

A storm heading towards the well could shutdown oil-capture and relief well drilling for as much as 10 days. That means the well would be open to the ocean at 100% flow once the Enterprise picked up pipe and left the area. With the unrestricted well flowing as much as 60,000 bpd this would add 600,000 bpd of leaked oil into the gulf.

If the storm turns into a hurricane with a decent storm surge we could see oil lifted over the booms and pushed well onto land and several miles into marshes, streams and rivers. It would complicate the cleanup effort many times over and cause BP's cleanup costs to rocket higher. Oil in the gulf is actually relatively easy to clean up. Oil on land and coating everything in the marshes, streams, rivers, marinas, parks and possibly homes and towns would be very hard to clean up. In addition the dispersant is toxic and that would be spread inland along with the oil.

NOAA is predicting 14 to 23 storms this summer, which is above normal. There have only been five seasons with 18 storms in the last 160 years.

Tropical Storm Forming

BP is not prepared for a storm. They are working feverishly towards adding a floating mooring system that will allow the drillships to disconnect from the riser at the surface rather than be forced to pull the mile of pipe out of the water before they leave. The floating riser will float 300ft under the surface where it is not impacted by the storms. They are weeks away from having this capability.

Secondly they are considering laying a temporary pipeline to a production platform so they would not have to have a drillship constantly overhead. That seems a little far-fetched to me. If they could attach a pipeline to the damaged BOP why have they not done it already? It took them more than an hour just to reattach the top hat tonight and all they had to do was set it on the BOP. There was no bolts or welding. I think the pipeline idea is a "pipe dream" and will never come to pass.

If there is a storm they will hope for it to pass to the east of the well. That will push the oil farther out into the gulf. A storm passing on the west of the well will push the oil towards the coast and cause the trouble I spelled out above.

The wind and wave action well offshore will oxidize any oil on the water and help to break it up and dissipate it.

In the can't get any worse department the Coast Guard spokesman said today that the 40-ton blow out preventer is leaning to one side. Allen said there could be problems in the well bore that are still undiscovered. Robot subs have taken pictures of gas seeps around the well where it appears gas is seeping out of the ground. Scientists are worried that the geology of the well was damaged by the blowout and gas and oil could be seeping out through new fractures starting in the well bore.

Research ships have found other underwater plumes of oil in the vicinity but have been unable to locate the source. Allen says this makes it even more imperative that the relief wells be completed quickly and seal the well at the bottom to prevent any additional problems further up the bore.

Allen said BP halted the top kill operation with the high pressure mud pumping not because the well was spewing some of the mud out the top but because they feared the high pressure heavy mud could damage the casing and open new channels for gas and oil to leak out.

Even if BP does not have to contend with a hurricane they definitely have their hands full.

Jim Brown

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