BP Oil Blunders

We received a very interesting “hack” today from our good friend [Jonny Dryer] that really got us thinking, but first a little background.

For those that live only inside of a box on top of a mountain (we know who you are), there was an explosion of a British Petroleum oil rig about 40 miles southeast of Venice, LA. Being proclaimed by Carol Browner as “probably the biggest environmental disaster” – stated a month after the accident.

And the oil is still spewing. Now, we’re not ones for criticizing how this event is being handled; no, we left it to the experts.

Back to our point, [Jonny Dryer’s] sent us his plan for slowing the oil spill, by using liquid nitrogen, pretty genius if you ask us. And we were wondering what possible solutions other readers had come up with? Share your thoughts on this situation in the comments.

255 thoughts on “BP Oil Blunders

  1. Solution: Something like balloon angioplasty

    Use some sort of kevlar/rubber balloon (or something like the forms used for foam houses like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanadu_Houses).

    Insert it into the leaking pipe as far down into the well as possible. Fill with some very thick form of slow setting concrete until sufficient pressure/volume is being used. The balloon will expand to fill the pipe. The rubber outer coating will make a decent seal. Then the concrete sets the flow should be severely restricted.

    Perhaps something other than concrete could be used initially. If the balloon was successful, then concrete could be poured in behind the balloon.

    P.S. I’m thinking of this as a single pipe. If it’s something more like a pipe within a pipe, this may not work.

  2. I have an idea. Lets take our best and brightest astronauts, put them on a solid titanium oil rig, and launch them into the golf of mexico with a hand operated nuke. Can’t fail!

  3. So the original dome that had worked in the past didn’t work this time because the cold created (ice?/methane hydrite?) crystals due to the depth, correct? Later I read that BP has already spent about a billion on containing this thing. With that kind of budget, I was a bit surprised the dome couldn’t just be heated, no matter how wasteful that would be, at least until other solutions are found.

    I was also wondering how this new funnel is different than the original failed dome attempt.

  4. What about making more holes???? If you make small holes on the pipe before the rupture, is gonna slow the pressure down at the end; the more holes you make, the slower te pressure, the slower the prussure at the rupture, makes it easier to cap…. Ad then put an arduino, every hack on this site HAS TO HAVE ONE!!!

  5. I’ve heard the Russians have had success with the small fission device idea, but then, their standards of nuclear safety included the actions that precipitated Tsjernobyl.

    As for those proposing to lower rocks or cement down, like the palm islands of Dubai… that was about 10-20 meters that needed to be filled up. The leak in question is happening around 1300 meters down. That’s difficult.

    Unless you’re Jeff Goldblum, just let the experts try to handle this.

  6. @nebulous no need to ‘fill’ anything, you just need to cover it and direct the oil flow.

    If they were even able to attempt to weld a cap on, why not just add pipe? there would be no issues trying to overcome the oil pressure until you built a pipeline up to the surface where things would be manageable.

  7. I just wonder why everyone I talk to is using this as an excuse to hate on Americans. Just sickening really, just because I’m american doesn’t make me an evil, lazy, blind, money-grubbing moron…I mean other countries have had really crazy ecological disasters too, we’re not the only ones. Not trying to start anything, just add perspective.

  8. Ok, lets go over why nukes are a bad idea. First of all the seafloor is the consistency of custard; so trying to pinch well shut near the seafloor with a nuke is like trying to stop the oil well by pouring yogurt over it; not gonna work.

    So the next option is to put the nuke down in the rock, to pinch the rock closed around the well. Now, what does a nuke do in rock? it cracks it! How about cracking the top of that oil dome wide open, so rather than oil flowing up the well + the annulus around the well, you now have oil flowing out of a million fissures in the rock. Good luck stopping that one.

    Regarding trying to stop up the BOP – there’s a reason nobody is trying this anymore; its because everyone is concerned that if the pressure builds up behind the BOP, it’ll just tear right out of the ground [essentially, the inside of the well has been getting sandblasted for the last 2 months].

    Also – for those that say they don’t want to stop up the well; that’s ridiculous. At 1mil/day rig costs, it’ll cost somewhere near 100million to drill a new well. The cost of containment is much much greater than that; and more than that has already been spent.. Also, this well is completely out of control; with the well bore in an unknown state. Normally before a well goes into production, a gravel pack is forced into the reservoir to prevent sand from coming up the well. This has not been done in the case of the well that blew out, meaning sand is going to be coming up the well [bad for production, and bad for the integrity of the well].

  9. The problem is that PB wants to plug the hole in a way that they can extract oil from it at a later date. if that was not the case an under water explosion would be ideal for a situation like this.

  10. So they stated they cut the riser and that removed kinks in the pipe that were slowing the flow so it coming out faster? Why not just crimp the well head pipe and bend the top over and crimp it again? You know seal it shut with the pipe itself? Most likely over looking something obvious but sounds potentially doable.

  11. @vespine: That wasn’t just any patent einstein..that’s used in manufacturing of that substancecoming out of the ground..learn before you retort. I’m not even in this field and I bet I know more about chemistry and physics than most of these experts in the comments..all the way down to the electron counts.


  12. I dont see why a hydraulic clamp wont fix anything. If they use Hydraulics to squeeze the pipe shut, then the oil will stop dead in its tracks. The only problem will be getting a mile of tubing down that far, but still. Get a large hydraulic pump on the surface with a large, long and durable tube and you can crimp the pipe shut. No more leaking oil.

  13. @Xorpunk 1) Troll in the dungeon!!

    2) That’s patent is for removing dirt, chemicals and radioactive substances from USED industrial oil. It isn’t some magical substance of death naturally!

    3) Yes people are bad and sometimes do bad things, and yes America has a lot of power and therefore can do more things so there’s a higher chance of those things being bad, doesn’t mean you get to stereotype an entire nation as being some sort of devil-spawn, that way lies racism and we can all agree that was pretty bad.

    4) How’s about trying to collect the oil as it spills out? Cant be that hard to put some pipes down there, suck up as much of the water/oil mix as they can and seperate it. It’s a temporary solution until the flow rate drops.

  14. @Aleks Clark –

    This drill site had well over 700 violations in the past 6 months. BP has more safety violations worldwide than any other oil company. They are in fact the worst of the worst and this disaster could have easily been prevented.

    The don’t care about safety, the environment, or us. It’s all about money. Profit motive = Greed motive.

  15. They already have a remote controlled robot platform that has gigantic hydraulic shears. They used this to cut the pipe in order to place the cap. Why can’t they retrofit the shears with a shaped blunt edge, so they can crimp it shut? Seriously, it’s a great idea!

  16. This well’s formation is roughly 6000 psi.

    STM 127 – good idea. Except that by flowing the well uncontrolled, the formation the oil is in collapses, ruining the future well production. So you’re wrong.

    Chris Stofgf – yes, explosives are used all the time in the oil industry. They are used to perforate well casing – IN THE WELL – to allow oil to flow into the bore; oil is not suctioned from the bottom of the casing. They are also used to put out well fires by scavenging oxygen. Your thoughts are not based on fact.

    Nearly all wells have gas and water as byproducts, it’s almost never JUST oil. Methane hydrates from deepwater locations have been postulated as future fuel sources, but are so far not well proven.

    Drilling a relief well still allows you to go back into that formation at a later time. So whether the first well is cemented completely or not doesn’t matter, as the relief well can still go back and be utilized (under some circumstances, if ideal, which is a case by case basis; it’s not likely in most cases, requiring a new well be drilled).

    unseen – the formation pressure is not greatly affected by the BOP. The BOP is open in any case, so flow is flow, the pressure in the formation doesn’t change with the BOP. Dont forget, the BOP was manufactured by Cameron, and Transocean took a financial hit last year replacing a ton of faulty BOPs…..all made by Cameron……

    William – some truth some not. Can’t pump lead shot down a well pushing back up at 6000 psi. Also, downhole devices called Packers could be used….if the well wasn’t shot to begin with. You can run an inflatable packer down the chiksan….if the chiksan weren’t already gone from the BOP being wrecked. You can’t put anything reliably on the BOP anyway since it’s already mangled, so topping it with a christmas tree isn’t going to work, that flange is history. The lower marine riser pack is already under way, and is unlikely to hold all the oil in due to damage within the BOP, but it’s a decent step. nice idea. but wrong.

    Bill Siever – great idea, but exceptionally difficult to thread the packer down into the wellbore due to pressure. Without a chiksan it’s nearly impossible under these circumstances. Also consider that, unluckily, the rig fell almost on top of the well. While unusual, it presents a gigantic logistics issue to get the ROVs into place – they have to be piloted through the wreck. The fact that the LMRP has made it to the well is impressive.

    NatureTM – I tend to agree. I’m curious why they haven’t tried pumping water through surface supplied pipe in a loop through the top hat, or provide subsurface heaters in the top hat itself to combat hydrate formation (requires surface supplied electricity, but so do the ROVs). It’s done by cold weather firefighters all the time – leave the hose trickling so you dont freeze the hose. There may be a reason why not, but I haven’t heard why yet.

    Aleks Clark – ever see pipelines on the surface of the ocean? No? Because all the well production goes back to the mainland via pipelines on the ocean floor. Precisely why after every hurricane seismic boats go out and re-survey the ocean floor to confirm location of the pipelines. Running pipe up to the ocean surface, for a short time, might be viable. Except hurricane season just started.

    There are a lot of smart people working on this issue. Problem is that once a Unified Command structure is set up, the responsible party (BP) can’t just do what they want to get it done. It all has to go through Coast Guard (technically the authority), and EPA. So if you have an inexperienced person from EPA in that role, they can stymie the whole process – this is not unusual. [Boots and Coots put out a well in the Gulf in the 90s – while burning it to limit pollution – but were radically slowed down by Coast Guard personnel interfering with the job]. Another issue is that liability here is a big problem – while “the company” is liable surely, it’s people few and far between who will make sweeping aggressive decisions under these conditions – they dont want to be fingered later as responsible, possibly criminally. I agree that this is taking an agonizingly long time, and I agree that there are options that could work that are being set aside. The Russians suggested nuking the well 5 weeks ago – ecological damage from that, 5 weeks ago, is likely negligible compared to our current situation, but the President must authorize it, and that’s unlikely.

    There are a lot of physics/engineering issues with a job like this, let alone the logistical ones (the flotilla out there is pretty amazing, and you can’t drop a “suitcase nuke” down a 6″ drill pipe). The investigations will take years, as will the lawsuits. This event is going to change the deepwater drilling game – and folks, whether we like it or not, that’s where the oil is these days; we need that while we transition to other energy sources (let’s not focus on hydrogen someday, let’s use all options now). More regulation will not make us safer, the safety comes from processes and if they are ignored the consequences come regardless of law. More regulation will likely come from this – and it may very well be good…. but for now, we’re stuck figuring things out. Thinking outside the box may save the day, but that’s unlikely with the way incidents like this are managed, not just by BP but by the NIMS/Unified Command structure.

  17. i know it is ejaculating forth with much fury, but i think with a big enough pipe, once you line it up with the jet stream, you wont have much resistance backing it up to the hole and sealing it off as an alternative, controlled route for the oil to escape. cut a U in a big pipe, back it up to make a T, weld it on, and extend your new pipe miles and miles yep thats the problem. good luck doing all this a mile down.
    heres a better idea: find the source, the intake not where it comes out, and fill it with tampons. giant tampons. works for toilets and sinks anyway..
    if you had some chemical/enzyme that could act on oil as the other half of JB weld, make a petrol-based epoxy. needs to be seriously fast acting for this spill though. put a little pipe down the pipe and inject your hardener enzyme, sealitup.
    ok im fulla shi2 but if i were down there im sure it wouldnt have been leaking so damn long.
    yeah my T-pipe idea is like campgareth’s #4

  18. @ everybody

    We can sit here and talk about our own ideas, but the fact of the matter is that they have some of the most intelligent people in the world working on it. This is the bottom of the ocean folks! Things are different down there. And this is no water well either…

  19. To all the geniuses whose solutions involve “simply” inserting something in the pipe (and inflating it, exploding, whatever), I want you to imagine something. Imagine trying to shove a broomstick into the end of a firehose that’s been turned on. You know, the same kind of firehose that can knock a fireman backwards if he isn’t prepared.

    According to a cursory search, the pressure of said firehose, on average, is between 100 and 300 psi. The oil coming out of the busted pipe? About 3,500 psi.

  20. Wes – standard firefighting nozzles require 100psi at the tip, though flow volumes may vary (80-200gpm are standards), unless they are straight stream/CAFS which require 50psi. While the pump may provide higher pressures, it’s to overcome friction loss. Some are designed for low pressure use at 80psi, but are uncommon. higher pressures are rare, and used for specific appliances or applications. the Las Vegas Fire Department has a high rise unit that pumps 600psi through a 3-stage pump. It was designed to provide water to the top of the Stratosphere hotel.

    Your analogy is very accurate.

  21. Guys, I’m sorry, but even if you’re engineers, BP’s engineers are guys who actually have experience in deep sea drilling operations. I know it’s hearbreaking to see so much oil spill into the gulf, as it is for me, but as we all know, as engineers, we’re going to have to take our emotions out of this if we want to fix anything. I doubt anyone other than petro engineers know anything about fixing this kind of thing–James Cameron honestly has to stop feeding his own damn ego and realize that his measly deep sea experience with ROVs probably had to do with carrying a bunch of, what, 10 lb camcorders? These guys are working with pipes and tools orders of magnitude larger with manipulators orders of magnitude more complex than what he’s ever touched, even if he considers himself an expert at these depths.

    The truth is, as much as we think there’s something wrong with the government making BP help, there’s nothing that can be done about it. The technology involved in today’s oil drilling (because of how much money goes into it) is quite frankly on par with US military technology, except in a different field. Indeed, the defense department stated that they themselves did not have the expertise to help in the spill at all. Unless you want the government to spend a couple of billion dollars in r&d and equipment to keep stockpiles of equipment for dealing with such very low probability oil spills.

    BP is definitely trying their best, and is the only company (other than other petro companies and petro supply companies) who’s really capable of cleaning up the spill. As much as we don’t like that fact, it’s the truth. People are coming up with thousands of suggestions, but again, truth is, most people aren’t engineers and most of those who are engineers don’t necessarily know what they don’t understand–it’s a lot like the whole Pons and Fleischman ordeal, two electrochemists who thought they created fusion (a bit OT reference, but i just happened to write a paper on this).

    Pumping liquid nitrogen is almost certainly NOT going to work. For one, if you have any experience at all with liquid nitrogen or refrigeration systems, it turns out that water has a lot of thermal mass and liquid nitrogen does not. It’ll take thousands (sorta out of my ass–forgot the numbers, but i’ll tell you it’s a lot) of liters of LN2 to cool a single gallon of water. Even if you did something smarter, like pump refrigerant, you’ve got problems with a) it’ll warm up by the time it gets one mile underwater and b) water around the whole thing acts as a REALLY good heatsink (or coldsink, if it’s not intuitive to you. . .), especially if there’s convection c) HOLY SHIT do you not understand what volume of oil is pumping through that pipe? There’s enough that there’s just NO WAY you can pump enough refrigerant through the system and expect any reasonable decrease in flow rate.

    I think the basic misunderstanding by the public is the true magnitude of everything down there. The only people still screaming and saying that there’s not enough being done either can’t control themselves or don’t realize that we basically have a near impossible engineering solution on our hands, and that the only people who are even close to having the experience to fix this are petroleum companies.

    I’m reading over this guy’s proposal, and quite frankly it looks like the only thing he’s looked at is transporting LN2 and viscosity decrease of oil. His pitfalls are hardly the first things i’d think up of. Clearly you’re missing the whole Big Picture part of engineering–first of all, we need to “insulate the pipes” for LN2, which he mentions. DO YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LONG THE PIPE HAS TO BE? OR HOW MUCH INSULATION YOU NEED TO KEEP LN2 COLD ACROSS THAT DISTANCE? jeez. you’re shitting me. Again, my whole thing on thermal mass–there isn’t enough in LN2. Then, your first question should be how much heat flow you can achieve through the pipes and through the oil in the pipe (cooling would not be uniform–it’d go outisde to inside), and how much cooling you’d need to reliably slow down the oil flow by any amount given the fact that the oil will likely flow past the cooling area too quickly to drop in temperature any significant amount.

    alright, i have to stop ranting. but i hope i made my point–if you don’t understand the magnitude of all this, i’d recommend you to just do some calculations of things at this depth. Heck, you’re all EEs of some sort, I hope–you don’t even need to calculate this, but they’re transmitting very low latency live video, commands, and sensor data a mile down to the sea floor for their ROVs. That’s enough to need fiber optics for communications. Everything else down there is as ridiculous or more ridiculous.

    It’s an environmental disasaster, and it sucks. But the truth is, there aren’t many options to do anything about it at this point.

  22. Hey xorpunk, since you hate oil so much, how about stop using it? Let’s start with getting rid of that computer you’re posting on now, since oil is used in the plastic used in the case, and a whole slew of other things, including the energy used to power it.

    Then, let’s get you out of your house. After all, petroleum was used to shuttle the workers back and forth to build it.

    Your shoes can go as well, as well as the rest of your clothes.

    Leave the town you live in, and go out into the wilderness. See how life is without oil.

    Now on to the problem. BP screwed up, as did everyone involved. This is a huge disaster, and all our government can do is scream about how they are going to “punish” BP, instead of coming up with solutions…oh wait, that’s right, let’s send James fucking Cameron to fix it.

    I’m not a mech or petrol engineer (going to school for EE right now) so I don’t really have a lot of ideas on this. Getting some sort of a pipe installed, and transporting the oil away until the pressure runs out of the well seems like the best bet, as anything else could possibly fail in the future, and we’d be back at square one again.

    One other note, this disaster wouldn’t have happened if they weren’t trying to collect the methane. See, the environmental types got all butthurt because they were burning it, and forced them to collect it instead. Just something to think about…

  23. oh, i forgot the mention–the one thing that i think BP or their suppliers (hallibruton, BOP supplier, Transocean, who owned and operated the rig) is still culpable at the point of the BOP or operating procedures. I’d imagine their contingency plans mostly relied on the BOP (and not screwing up and causing a blowout), as any attempt to stop a blowout otherwise this deep down is quite frankly close to impossible, and there is no reasonble way to test it (oh, what, we’re just going to you know, do a test oil leak at the bottom of the ocean and see if any of our ideas can stop it?). Unfortunately, until we’re done with all this, an investigation into the BOP can’t really start. From what I understand, it was partially triggered but was stopped because of some leak in the hydraulics system. That’s where the criminal activity may be. There is little to blame in their current response or their lack of a plan, because there really was no way to be sure or no way to develop a plan.

  24. threepointone – from a legal perspective, the owner of the well (in this case, BP) is responsible for the environmental impact. That doesn’t mean suits and countersuits among BP, Cameron, and others wont happen. I suspect they will last for years. While Cameron is the manufacturer of the BOP, proving CRIMINAL liability is likely impossible, as I can guarantee they had no intent to cause damage. Civil liability is different, and at this point a near guarantee.

    BOPs can be tested. I know of several sites that are under development now where BOP testing takes place weekly. There are also a variety of ways that a BOP can be triggered.

    The BOP is the last line of defense for a well control issue. Well control plans are quite in depth before you get to the BOP. On surface rigs there are options after a BOP failure, but some are truly last ditch. In some sense, yes, BOPs are relied upon for a well control problem, but there are several mechanisms in place that will be used before the BOP even becomes an issue.

  25. Now that they have a clean cut they should just add another blow-out valve on top after first putting a small funnel shape on the bottom to fir it over the leftover pipe easily, then lock it down then close it.
    Alternatively they could try to repair the hydraulics of the present one, I mean basically the slides to close it are there they just have to be pushed close, you’d think that having that set up like that would make them try something, and it doesn’t have to be clean and reusable, just a way to apply pressure and get it close, anything you can rig in place of the hydraulic oiltubes that have failed.

  26. Oh and incidentally since the first top-hat failed due to the cold and they didn’t see that coming I bet you that the whole original blow-out valve is actually failing because of the same damn thing, the uncaring idiots.

  27. i blame capitalism, and american car culture.
    get rid of those two things and the situation might get a bit better

    @Aleks Clark
    LOL you are the most transparent BP shill
    how much are you being paid for your PR efforts?

  28. Whatnot – the cut that was made removing the drill pipe from the top of the BOP was not clean. Multiple news reports show that a diamond cable-type saw got stuck, and they had to use a reciprocating-type saw to complete the cut – which is not precisely smooth edged. Adding another BOP on top of the prior one, or a marine riser pack, or ANYTHING ELSE will not fix the leak completely because the pipe is ragged edged. One of the earliest attempts to close this well was done via multiple ROV missions right to the BOP and they tried to close it manually. No dice. Your bet is wrong, and your idea of a “small funnel shape over the leftover pipe” is fallacy.

    Everybody wants to Monday Morning quarterback this event. And 99% of them of them have no idea what goes into drilling a well, completing it, or doing any sort of workover means. While a degree in petroleum or mechanical engineering is not required to understand drilling (I have yet to meet a rig hand, company man or toolpusher who has a degree in either), years of experience is. If it was simple, it would have been done.

  29. When the facts are against you and you are unable to construct a logical argument, resort to questioning your opponent’s motives or character.

    Arguing for Scoundrels 101

  30. Despite what people are thinking about using a nuclear device, it still seems like a good idea.
    1. It’s about a mile down, so that is quite a bit of water pressure on that blast. Hell, it is not going to be a megaton blast or anything, just a few kilotons. The devices set off at Bikini Atoll and other places in the Pacific back in the heyday of US nuclear testing were conducted at several hundred feet of water. Water serves as good shielding for any radiation and contamination. There are several nuclear reactors from wrecked nuclear submarines and a few undetonated thermonuclear devices at the bottom of the ocean at this time, and from current studies, the water and pressure serves as excellent shielding for them. I work with nuclear design and engineering on a daily basis.
    2. When bombs go off, they fuse the sand and stone into a glass, effectively sealing the area off. The possible fallout of this blast would be nowhere near the Sedan blast, since all that pressure and water would dampen anything. If anyone is expecting a huge mushroom cloud, they will be certainly disappointed. Maybe a dull thud and some bubbles but any risk, again would be mitigated by the volume of water. This fear of the power of the atom seems to be mostly brought on by those uneducated with the real truth of it. This sensationalization of radioactivity is unnecessary, and is part of what is keeping us dependent on oil and not building GENIV reactors, capable of producing hydrogen and electricity safely.

  31. Right, Octel, let’s just replace everything with communism, because that works so well. I’ll just ask those 20 million Russians…oh wait…

    Have you ever been to the states? Do you understand how big the place is here? That public transportation doesn’t work in it’s current form? Didn’t think so…

    See my post to the other guy, if you hate oil and energy so much, get off the damned computer! Seriously, if you’re so serious about it, quit supporting it! Oh wait, you just want the REST of us to suffer, right?

    That’s the problem with asshats like Al Gore and the rest of his little club. They fly around burning hundreds of gallons of fuel an hour in their private jets, and overload airports flying into global warming conferences, but they want ME to stop using AC and walk everywhere?

    You environmentalists are retarded. You want all of the benefits on what the energy industry provides, but you don’t want them to make any money, and you don’t want them to make any energy.

    What the hell do you want? Alternitive energy? Right, because you are the first in line bitching about it. Nuke power…the sky is falling, what if something goes wrong! Hydroelectric dams…you’re killing the fish! Solar panels…they are ugly, and use toxic chemicals in their production! Wind power…wait, we can’t use that, it kills birds!

    So how do you expect us to maintain our current standard of living? Let’s hear it! I’m all about getting away from using oil if something else better and cheaper comes along! I’m sure the energy companies are too. Think about it, would you rather spend millions and millions drilling wells, paying the people to work them, paying the people to install pumping units and maintain them, or would you rather have 50 people working in a nuke plant that powers an entire city, and provides power for said city’s cars, all at a fraction of the current price?

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