Monday, May 10, 2010

BP Listens To The Green Machine

BP will attempt to use methanol to prevent the methane hydrates from forming. The Clinton News Network (CNN) reports as follows"

Venice, Louisiana (CNN) -- BP is working "parallel paths" to fix an oil well blowout that is dumping 210,000 gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico a day, the energy company's chief operating officer said Monday.
The failure over the weekend of a four-story dome to cap the leak has led BP to move on to other options, including using a smaller chamber over the leak and shooting garbage into the gaping hole to try to plug the gusher, said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration and production.
The company also is considering placing a valve or a new blowout preventer on top of the existing one, which is not functioning, Suttles told CNN's "American Morning" program. As the name suggests, a blowout preventer is a device that is supposed to clamp shut over a leaking wellhead.
In addition, Suttles said, BP is drilling a relief well to try to divert the flow into another pipe.
"What we're going to do is keep developing options until we get this flow stopped," Suttles said.
The oil spill started April 20, after an explosion happened on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Eleven oil rig workers remain missing and are presumed dead.
The rig sank April 22 about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the southeast coast of Louisiana, and the untapped wellhead is gushing about 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.
On Friday, BP lowered the massive containment vessel over the well to cap the larger of two leak points. But that plan was thwarted Saturday after ice-like hydrate crystals formed when gas combined with water blocked the top of the dome and made the dome buoyant.
BP has already built the smaller dome and it is already available, Suttles said Monday. That device would keep most of the water out at the beginning of the capping process and would allow engineers to pump in methanol to keep the hydrates from forming, Suttles said.
Methanol is a simple alcohol that can be used as an antifreeze.
The process of stopping the gusher with garbage is called a "junk shot" or a "top kill." In that procedure, debris such as shredded up tires, golf balls and similar objects would be shot under extremely high pressure into the blowout preventer in an attempt to clog it and stop the leak.
Work also has begun on the relief well, Suttles said Monday.
"That started about a week ago," Suttles said. "That work continues. The well is at about 9,000 feet. About 5,000 feet of that is the water depth. Then the rest is drilling below the sea floor. We're slightly ahead of plan here. These are complex tasks, but we're making very good progress."
President Barack Obama plans to meet with Cabinet members Monday afternoon to review response efforts by BP and others to the oil slick, the White House said Sunday.
Hundreds of thousands of feet of boom and large volumes of dispersants continued to be used in an effort to capture or break up the spilled oil moving toward the Gulf coastline. Thousands of workers and volunteers also have been skimming the water's surface to retrieve surface oil, which is pumped to a container vessel.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters warned that the Mississippi Delta, Breton Sound, Chandeleur Islands and areas directly north could see oil hit the coast by Tuesday. And scientists are analyzing tar balls found on a beach on Dauphin Island, Alabama, to determine whether they were caused by the oil spill, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Erik Swanson said.
The tar balls are "pieces of emulsified oil" shaped like pancakes, ranging in size from dimes to golf balls, but can sometimes occur naturally, Swanson said.
The Coast Guard had tallied six oiled birds that died since the slick formed last month, Swanson said Sunday. The cause of death is still being determined. Four additional oiled birds have been cleaned, Swanson said.
The stakes are high for residents of coastal Louisiana who make their living from fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil washed ashore Thursday on Louisiana's barrier islands and drifted west past the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The government has closed parts of the Gulf to fishing.
"It's killing everybody down here. Everybody is more or less getting ulcers worrying about this, and it's something we experienced five years ago with (Hurricane) Katrina," charter boat owner Tom Becker said Saturday.
Federal investigators are still trying determining what caused the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon, which was owned by BP contractor Transocean Ltd.
BP is legally required to cover economic damages from the spill up to $75 million. But Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has introduced legislation that would raise the liability cap to $10 billion.
"If this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf Coast, and it's going to get down into the loop current, and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida. And you are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, to our fisheries, very possibly disruption of our military testing and training," Nelson said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
BP already has started to pay some fishermen for lost wages, Suttles said Monday.
"We're getting them checks," he said. "People go and make their claim and leave with a check. What we're trying to do is minimize the immediate impact. Longer term, I'm sure we'll have to work that out.
"We're moving swiftly to get these people who are predominantly displaced from working. Get them money so they can buy their groceries and we can offset the impact until we get this thing resolved."


  1. Lindsay,
    How about some thoughts about what methane hydrates are, and what conditions cause their formation; and what would happen to them as P drops and T rises near the surface?

    Last time I heard about methane ice crystals was in a description of Titan, the largest moon in the Solar System. Who'd ever thunk that oil companies are gaining the most real world experience in building, mining, and now messing up the outer planets' moons.


  2. I will blog about methane hydrates. Thanks for your interest in this

  3. updated estimates say about 70,000 barrels per day not 5,000. Would this methanol technique work for a larger gusher?

  4. Hi Mark I am nut sure of the flow out of the well. I think there is a good fraction of natural gas together with the oil that makes the escape velocity higher but does not mean that something like 70,000 barrels a day are leaking. There are not many single well in the world that produce 70,000 barrels a day. Also as the oil is leaking into the sea water at a depth of 5,000 feet the oil has to overcome significant back pressure. The methanol trick may actually not work if there is too much natural gas. This gusher seems to have a bunch of natural gas. This also makes the alternate solution of threading the straw into the header more difficult. While it may seem as though I scoff at BP, they are really trying to end the leak and it is no simple task