Eighteen Days and Counting

Jim Brown
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BP says it is making good progress on the first relief well and it could be completed in only 18 days. Unfortunately tropical storm Alex is causing havoc around the drilling site despite being hundreds of miles away.

BP, Shell, Exxon and Anadarko are evacuating non-essential workers ahead of the storm just to be safe if the storm does not continue northwest as expected. Alex has been stationary most of the day with only a minor move north and it is expected to go west when it begins to move again.

The storm is producing waves as high as 12 feet at the spill site and this has halted all but the essential collection efforts and the drilling of the relief wells.

BP was going to increase their capture capability by adding another oil processing ship brought up from South America but they can't perform all the attachment duties in 12 foot waves. BP said it could be a week before the ship can be attached to the well and begin collecting oil.

Shell shutdown subsea production at the Auger and Brutus platforms as a precaution against Alex gaining strength and size.

BP said the first relief well was within 200 feet horizontally from the Macondo well bore. They have located the steel bore with the electromagnetic ranging instruments and the well is progressing. Unfortunately this stage of the process goes very slowly. They have to pull all the drill pipe, over three miles worth, attach the ranging instrument and reinsert the 18,000 feet of pipe to push the instrument to the bottom of the hole. After the instrument gets a fix on the Manoco well the 18,000 feet of pipe must be removed and the ranging instrument is replaced by a drill bit and sent back down the hole to drill another 50-100 feet before the process is repeated again.

For the roughnecks on the pitching drillship this is their worst nightmare. Wrestling 90 ft long, 5,000 pound pieces of pipe over and over again, 200 times for every removal and 200 times for every insertion, is dangerous work even when the water is calm. It is time consuming and mind numbing repetition but at least on these high dollar drillships most of the process is automated.

Once the well bore is contacted they will attempt to cut through the pipe and then pump large quantities of drilling mud under very high pressure into the Macondo well to cut off the flow of oil to the surface. They are going to need a lot of mud and some very high pressure pumps. They also risk a similar blowout if the pressure in the Macondo well is significantly higher than they expect. Hopefully they have double checked their blow out preventer for function before they cut into the pipe.

Once the well flow stops they will add cement to the well to seal it permanently.

When the well is killed in this manner it will not make any difference if the original casing was broken or ruptured higher up in the Macondo well. Any fractures in the ocean floor as a result of ruptures in the Macondo casing will cease leaking since the oil will be cut off at the source.

BP is probably going as fast as possible on the relief wells now that hurricane season has started. Tropical Storm Alex has put the fear of an even greater disaster into management. Their task now is to go as fast as "safely" possible to finally end the Macondo story.

Jim Brown

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