Posts Tagged ‘oil spill’

Per the latest update from the Unified Command, a total of only 75 barrels of oil have been recovered (up from 29 bbls reported on Sunday). The 75 bbls no doubt includes some water. It’s unclear as to why so little oil has been recovered (unfavorable offshore conditions? response focused on the shoreline?). Perhaps the volume of oil spilled was less than the 3000 barrel estimate. A few hundred barrels of oil can generate a very large slick.

As BOE and others have suggested, the most likely cause of the spill was a ship’s anchor. SkyTruth’s review of satellite data points to that possibility.

SkyTruth image

The Orange County District attorney seems unhappy with the possibility that (1) the pipeline was struck by an anchor and (2) the leak was in Federal waters:

The Orange County district attorney, Todd Spitzer, said he has investigators looking into whether he can bring state charges for the spill. Spitzer said his jurisdiction ends 3 miles offshore.

Spitzer also said Amplify’s divers should not be allowed near the pipeline without an independent authority alongside them.

AP article

The DA’s insistence that independent divers accompany the company’s divers may be a first in the history of the US offshore program. Isn’t video documentation sufficient? Diving is not risk free.

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No photo description available.
Platforms Ellen and Elly
  • Pipeline carries oil from Platform Elly in Federal (OCS) waters to onshore processing facility in Long Beach
  • Operator: Beta Operating Co.
  • Platform complex is 8.6 miles from shore
  • Estimated spill volume: 3,000 bbls
  • Slick first evident on Saturday (10/2) about 3 miles from shore
  • Oil has reached shoreline at Huntington Beach
  • Production has been shut-in; unclear as to whether the leak has been sealed
  • No information on the cause of the leak

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oil-eating bacteria

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientists have published important new findings on the rapid bacterial degradation of the Macondo spill.

They found that bacterial microbes inside the slick degraded the oil at a rate five times faster than microbes outside the slick—accounting in large part for the disappearance of the slick some three weeks after Deepwater Horizon’s Macondo well was shut off.


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Dauphin Island tarballs, May 2011

Cheryl’s update after reviewing the latest reports:

  • There is a USCG unified command specific to BP spill residue after storms.
  • The tarballs are not considered toxic, just an unattractive nuisance.
  • Tarball cleanup on Dauphin Island was halted on May 1 to protect nesting birds.
  • BP estimates a total Macondo spill volume of about 4 million bbl as opposed to the government estimate of 4.9 million bbl.
  • BP estimates that 850,000 barrels were captured, burned or skimmed off the water.
  • 1,260 people remain employed in spill cleanup as of [July 14, 2011], down from a peak of 48,200 a year ago

Articles of interest:


WALA New Orleans

Bloomberg Business Week 

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Very interesting findings for those interested in the fate of spilled oil:

The deep sea entrainment of water-soluble hydrocarbons has far-reaching implications for deep water oil spills. Our results demonstrate that most of the C1-C3 hydrocarbons and a significant fraction of water-soluble aromatic compounds were retained in the deep water column, whereas relatively insoluble petroleum components were predominantly transported to the sea surface or deposited on the seafloor, although the relative proportions are not known.

The resulting apportionments of hydrocarbon transfers to the water column and atmosphere are therefore very different for a deep water oil spill versus a sea-surface oil spill. During seasurface oil spills, highly water-soluble components such as BTEX, C3-benzenes, and naphthalene quickly volatilize and are rapidly lost to the atmosphere within hours to days, thereby limiting the extent of aqueous dissolution into the water column. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, however, gas and oil experienced a significant residence time in the water column with no opportunity for the release of volatile species to the atmosphere. Hence, water-soluble petroleum compounds dissolved into the water column to a much greater extent than is typically observed for surface spills.

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from Platts Oilgram News:

Representatives Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rush Holt of New Jersey introduced the so-called No Free Inspections for Oil Companies Act (H.R. 2566) July 15, in reaction to House Republicans’ proposal for funding the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. About $35 million short of the Obama administration’s request, the GOP’s $154 million budget rejected new and more expensive fees on offshore operators. The administration wanted to ratchet up industry fees to $65 million a year, from $10 million, to pay for a tougher inspections regime.

The annual inspection fees debate, a budget season ritual for 20+ years, has picked up intensity and financial significance in the post-Macondo spotlight. However, discussions about regulatory philosophy and the fundamental program decisions that dictate inspection strategy are still absent. Safety and pollution prevention are the goals, not inspections. While inspections are an essential part of any safety regime, they are just one component of a comprehensive regulatory program. More inspections would not have prevented Macondo. Better standards, training, technology, and attention to prior incidents (most notably Montara) may have.

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The oil is most likely from natural seeps, but the Coast Guard is investigating.  Link provided by Cheryl Anderson:

An MH-65 helicopter flew over the area Wednesday evening just before sunset but did not spot any spill or sheen, or any other oiled birds. Coast Guard officials tell KEY News they have contacted the owners of the oil platforms in the channel but none of them have reported a spill or had transferred any fuel or oil in the past day.

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Animation of Transocean’s BOP analysis

Transocean’s BOP Defense:

Forensic evidence from independent post-incident testing by Det Norske Veritas (DNV) and evaluation by the Transocean investigation team confirm that the Deepwater Horizon BOP was properly maintained and did operate as designed. However, it was overcome by conditions created by the extreme dynamic flow, the force of which pushed the drill pipe upward, washed or eroded the drill pipe and other rubber and metal elements, and forced the drill pipe to bow within the BOP. This prevented the BOP from completely shearing the drill pipe and sealing the well.

In other words, Transocean contends that properly maintained BOPE was not up to the task of shutting-in and securing a high-rate well. If true, this finding has significant implications for the offshore industry.  I’m looking forward to reading the government’s findings on the BOP failure when the Joint Investigation Team report is issued next month.


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Hundreds of witnesses expected.

The trial won’t proceed quickly, if the parties call all the witnesses on their lists.

Transocean’s roster of 304 included 82 of its own employees, 87 from oil company BP, and 18 from cement contractor Halliburton.

BP listed 71 witnesses from Halliburton, 110 others, plus anyone else who has been or will be deposed.

The United States listed 56 from BP, 32 from Halliburton, and 76 others.

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Today, the International Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) released the Global Industry Response Group (GIRG) reports.  GIRG was formed last July with the goal of better managing offshore safety risks. The organizational structure is illustrated below.

Deepwater Wells: Lessons and Recommendations focuses on the critical prevention programs, and is perhaps the most important of the GIRG reports. Since Macondo, the GIRG team and other industry committees have worked diligently on well planning and integrity issues, and are commended for their outstanding efforts. However, the recommendations presented in the GIRG report are surprisingly modest, and do not reflect the technological and management innovation that industry has demonstrated in pioneering offshore development.  The recommendations fail to break new ground, lack specifics, and, in some cases, appear to be a step backward. In short, the oil and gas industry is capable of much more.  Initial comments follow:

  • Incident data (problem): The absence of comprehensive and verified incident data is one of the “systemic” industry weaknesses identified by the National Commission. OGP has tried to address this problem for years, but has not had the industry-wide support needed to develop a credible program. GIRG has wisely recommended a Wells Expert Committee (WEC) to review selected incident data. However, the recommended program suffers from the same weaknesses that constrain existing OGP reporting programs. OGP must rely on “encouraging” its members to participate voluntarily, and non-members are not included. This type of voluntary program was not good enough before Macondo/Montara, and is certainly not good enough now.
  • Incident data (solution): Industry and regulators need an ironclad commitment that all operating companies will submit incident data in accordance with defined protocols. Contractor data must be included. Companies should execute binding agreements with OGP, or some other entity, to provide this information. The data must be managed by a completely independent entity that cannot, in any way, be directed by an industry advocacy group. Regulators and other independent representatives should be included on the management committee. Regulators should prohibit companies that don’t agree to submit these data from from operating within their jurisdictions. A comprehensive incident reporting and data management system is long overdue, and continued delays are not acceptable.
  • Montara: While GIRG is supposedly in response to both Macondo and Montara, the latter seems to have been largely ignored. The deepwater theme does not apply to the Montara platform, which was in only 80m of water. Despite the post-Macondo focus on water depth, shallow water was arguably a more significant contributing factor to the Montara blowout (batched completions using a cantilevered jackup, mudline suspensions, and two-stage platform installation) than deep water was at Macondo. Also, well capping, which was feasible and ultimately successful at Macondo, could not even be attempted at Macondo because of the manner in which these platform wells were suspended. Finally, GIRG  ignores the special gas migration and kick detection issues associated with horizontal completions like Montara, and the relief well rig availability and release issues that were never fully addressed during the Montara inquiry.
  • Emergency worldwide notification system: In conjunction with the incident reporting system, industry needs an emergency notification procedure that goes beyond safety alerts and requires the immediate attention of every operator and wells contractor. During the Montara inquiry, worldwide attention should have been drawn to the inability of the Montara operator to identify a hydrocarbons influx through the shoe track and into the production casing. Could an effective notification system have prevented Macondo? No one can say for sure, but the probability of a blowout at Macondo would have been greatly reduced if key BP and Transocean personnel had participated in discussions about Montara and the importance of proper negative pressure tests.
  • Dependence on regulator: On page 21 of the report, GIRG recommends that a company “carry out a more extensive programme of self-audit” when there is a lack of competent regulatory oversight. An operator should never depend on the regulator to verify its well or management programs, and should never relax its programs regardless of the level of regulation. Detailed regulatory reviews of specific drilling or management programs are never a substitute for operator diligence. Did the operators at Montara and Macondo rely on the regulator to protect them from themselves? Read the official investigation reports and make your own judgement.
  • Best practices: GIRG recommends “refraining from using the term ‘best industry practice’ until this definition is clarified; we prefer ‘good oilfield practice’ for the time being.”  Isn’t the clarification of best practices the role of groups such as this and industry standards committees? This attitude explains some of the technical recommendations in this report which may be “good oilfield practices,” but fail to raise the bar for safety achievement. Would you be satisfied with “good” if  family members were working on rigs or if operations were conducted off your coast? While “best practices” vary depending on the conditions and circumstances, it’s industry’s responsibility to identify those practices, and industry and regulators must set the bar high and keep raising it.
  • GIRG recommends established practices: Some of the GIRG recommendations, such as the “two-barrier” policy have been standard practice for most operators for years.
  • API RP 75: There are numerous endorsements of RP 75 as an important reference for management systems covering the design of wells and other activities.  RP 75 was a reaction to an MMS regulatory initiative 20-years ago to impose safety management requirements on offshore operators. BP, Transocean, and PTTEP had management systems that were generally consistent with the guidance in RP 75. GIRG needs to go beyond RP 75 and focus on improvements that will make safety management systems more effective.
  • API Bulletin 97, Well Construction Interface Document (WCID): Despite the complete absence of public attention, this is perhaps the most important post-Macondo initiative. It’s thus particularly disappointing that this document is now five months late. How does GIRG recommend the use of a document that is not complete and has not yet (to the best of my knowledge) even entered the balloting process? Another recommended and highly important document, updated RP 96 – Deepwater Well Design, has also yet to be finalized.
  • BOP recommendations: Nothing new or innovative is offered by GIRG. The report calls for 2 shear rams, but only one need have sealing capability, which means that the Deepwater Horizon stack met the GIRG specification. While many BOP advances require additional study, some (such as real-time function and pressure monitoring systems) already exist. Other GIRG technology recommendations are rather timid and generally in the form of suggestions for future study (e.g. study cement bond log technology).
  • Training: This section of the report is good, but doesn’t address deficiencies identified in the Montara inquiry and reviews of historical blowout data. Montara and other accidents have demonstrated that senior rig personnel may have limited understanding about well planning and construction practices. These topics are not covered in well control training programs. How does industry plan to address this major deficiency? While well planning is the responsibility of the operator (often a separate group than is represented on the rig), well control decisionmaking requires a fundamental understanding of well construction practices.  Also evident in the Montara testimony was the total absence of understanding on the part of operator, drilling contractor, and cementing personnel about the historical causes of blowouts. The cementers at Montara were unaware that gas migration/influxes during cementing operations were a leading cause of blowouts. Training programs need to be expanded to provide for the discussion of past accidents and how they could have been prevented.


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