After 100 days, Deepwater Horizon oil spill still threatens Gulf coast

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Several workers wash a pelican caught in the spill
Image: International Bird Rescue Research Center.

Development Driller II digs a relief well in order to permanently close the leaking well.
Image: Barry Bena/US Coast Guard.

Wednesday marked the 100th day since the beginning of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and although the leaking well was recently capped, the estimated three million or more barrels of oil already in the Gulf of Mexico are still causing trouble for many residents of the Gulf coast.

There are still many unanswered questions about the long-term impact of the spill, including how it has affected the environment and natural habitats of the Gulf as well as whether residents of the area will be able to return to their jobs and livelihoods now that the leak has been capped. US government officials say that, even after the oil well is permanently sealed, workers will still have a lot to do, including the removal of around 20 million feet (6.1 million metres) of containment boom. “I would characterize this as the first 100 days. There’s a lot of work in front of us,” said Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft of the US Coast Guard.

Authorities will use submarines to assess damage underwater, while teams on the ground assess the shoreline. While removing oil from beaches is expected to be fairly straightforward, cleaning the marshlands will be particularly difficult, as boats are needed to maneuver through small channels and workers are unable to stand on solid ground. At least 638 miles (1,027 kilometres) of the Gulf coast have been hit by the oil.

The government is focusing on both cleaning sensitive coastal regions and looking for underwater oil plumes, but is also probing into what may have been the largest accidental oil spill. The US Justice Department, as well as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, are all investigating what contributed to the disaster. The Washington Post reported one team is looking into whether a close relationship between BP and government regulators played a role in the spill. The Post also said that Deepwater Horizon operator Transocean as well as oil services group Halliburton were being investigated.

BP officials say that they will try to perform the “static kill” process on Monday, a process which involves pumping a thick mixture of mud and cement down into the cap currently stopping the leak. At the end of next week, one of two relief wells currently being drilled should reach the leaking well, and officials will then know if the static kill has worked. It is hoped that this “bottom kill” operation will be able to permanently seal the damaged well.

Even though BP is close to sealing the oil reservoir, it still faces legal battles, economic struggles, and internal changes. On Tuesday, BP announced Tony Hayward would step down from his position as the company’s chief executive. His replacement, American Bob Dudley, will be the first non-British CEO of the company.

On Thursday, lawyers met at Boise, Idaho hearing to determine how around 200 various lawsuits against BP will play out. Depending on whether the suits can be consolidated, BP could be facing years of legal disputes. BP, Transocean, and Halliburton had already blamed each other for the disaster during a May hearing before the US Senate. Federal regulatory officials were criticized for allegedly taking bribes and not thoroughly inspecting the oil rig.

The company also reported a quarterly loss of US$16.9 billion and said it has allocated US$32.2 billion to pay for the spill. BP has a US$20 billion fund to help make up for the massive losses of the Gulf fishing, oil, and tourism industries and will pay damages for each of the millions of barrels of oil lost in the disaster.

BP says that it is the “responsible party” for cleaning up the spill because it owned the leaking well and had leased the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, but claims that it is not responsible for the entire spill.


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BP CEO Tony Hayward to resign, say analysts

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hayward at the World Economic Forum in 2008
Image: World Economic Forum.

BP Chief Executive Anthony Bryan “Tony” Hayward is negotiating the terms of his departure and will stand down from the company; effectively taking responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to journalists. The New York Times cites an anonymous source “close to the board”, and the BBC’s business editor makes a similar analysis. It is expected that President and CEO of the company’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization Bob Dudley, a Mississippi native, member of the Board of Directors, and most senior American executive of BP, will replace Tony Hayward as Chief Executive.

A report by the BBC World Service said a BP press release asserted that, “[Hayward] has the full confidence of the Board.” The resignation, and change of leadership, at the multinational UK-based oil firm are expected to be discussed by the company’s Board of Directors on Monday, and will potentially be ratified as early as Tuesday.

Hayward’s position was, essentially, undercut when United States President Barack Obama said he “would have fired him.”


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China launches major cleanup operation after oil spill

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

After an oil pipeline in China exploded and spilled around 1,500 tonnes of oil into the Yellow Sea near the city of Dalian, the government has launched a cleanup operation consisting of more than 800 vessels.

The spill occurred on Friday, after a pipeline at the port exploded. The oil terminal at the port has been closed ever since. Authorities have been using 24 ships designed for cleaning up oil, and today ordered around 800 civilian fishing boats to join the operation.

The spill has been halted, although an oil slick which measured 50 square kilometers at its height remains in the harbor, and ships are using absorbent foam to remove oil from the water, as well as barriers to keep oil from reaching the shore. Despite their efforts, parts of the coast reportedly have a slick of oil evident on beaches and rocks.

Although rough seas have affected the cleanup, authorities expect to have completed the operations within ten days.

According to domestic media, concerns over safety at the port have been raised in the past; a government study in 2006 noted that five projects at the port were at risk of accidents.

The spill has caused ongoing disruptions to the port’s operations, with several ships, including six oil tankers carrying a total of around twelve million barrels of oil, having been diverted to other ports both in China and other countries.


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ROV detects leaks in Deepwater Horizon well cap

Monday, July 19, 2010

As many as four leaks have been detected in the Deepwater Horizon well cap in the Gulf of Mexico, according to live footage shot by one of BP‘s ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles). The leaks were detected early this morning, just after 4:00 (EDT).

The HOS SUPER H ROV 1 made the discovery while performing an “integrity survey” of the well and well cap. It recorded what appears to be a thin metal pipe lining the outside of the oil cap. Four small leaks of what appear to oil bubbles were detected during this survey. The first appears just after the elbow connecting the pipe to the two green pipes. The second can be seen through the hole of the large metal ring. The third is seen just to the right of the metal ring.

Hydrocarbon builds up as oil and gas leaks from a pipe.
Image: BP.

It is not yet known what the pipe carries or what it connects to. It is also not yet clear if all leaks are from the pipe, or leaking from the well. BP confirmed the leaks and told Wikinews in a phone call to their Houston, Texas press office, there is a “small leak” releasing hydrates consisting of gases and oil. They are “studying the issue” and are prepared to fix the pipe if it becomes an issue. Live camera feeds show hydrocarbons building up as the oil and gas leak from the pipe.

On July 18, ROV cameras showed bubbles coming from the base of well. BP said it would test the bubbles to determine what they are and as of Sunday, COO of BP Doug Suttles says the bubbles are not methane, but further tests are being conducted. “If you can imagine, it is not an easy operation to collect those bubbles so that they can be tested to see what their make-up is.”

Yesterday an unnamed United States official told the Associated Press that there was “seepage” coming from the area at the bottom of the Deepwater well head. The official said the seepage and methane gas were discovered near the Deepwater well head, but did not specify an exact location. Admiral Thad Allen, a former US Coast Guard admiral who is overseeing the spill efforts for the US government said yesterday in a letter to BP that ROVs “detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head.” So far there is no word what those substances are, but BP says the bubbles detected on July 18 are not of a hydrocarbon nature.

“When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours,” said Allen in his letter to BP. During a press conference today, Allen confirmed seepage about 3km from the well point. He could not specify whether the seep was related to the capping of the well or if it is naturally occurring.

On June 13 the Viking Poseidon ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) 1 recorded oil and methane seeping from the seafloor at around 2:48 a.m.. The ROV monitors the seep for a minute and even gets covered in a plume of oil and sand before it moved on to the next spot. Smaller eruptions were seen as the ROV traveled. After an investigation, Wikinews determined that the seepage was located just over 50 feet from the Deepwater leak point. BP has denied that any oil or methane gas is leaking from the sea floor. On July 16, Kent Wells, the senior vice president of the company, said on their official Twitter page that “4 ROVs using sonar scanning [are] looking for anomalies in seabed floor. No indications any oil or gas escaping.”

BP issued a press release earlier this morning, but did not state information regarding any leaks or seepage from the well. BP did say that the well cap “measured at approximately 6,792 pounds per square inch and continues to rise slowly.”

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill started on April 20 after an explosion on the rig. Efforts to put out the fire failed and the rig subsequently sank to the bottom of the Gulf. On April 22, an oil slick appeared on the surface of the Gulf. BP capped the leaking well on July 13 which effectively stopped oil from leaking into the Gulf. The company has been running a pressure integrity test on the 150,000 pound cap since it stopped the flow of oil. BP hopes for the well’s pressure to rise to or above 7,500 PSI. As of Saturday morning the well’s pressure was just above 6,700 PSI. BP fears anything lower than the expected PSI could mean a leak in the cap or elsewhere, such as oil or methane seeping up from the seafloor.


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Oil spewing from crack in seafloor of Gulf of Mexico was fifty feet from Deepwater Horizon well

Monday, July 19, 2010

Oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico seen from space on June 22.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

After an investigation, Wikinews has learned that oil spewing from a rupture in the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico on June 13 was 50 to 60 feet from the Deepwater Horizon leak.

A nearly four and a half minute video posted on YouTube on June 13 was from the Viking Poseidon ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) 1. It shows oil and methane leaking from the seafloor at around 2:48 a.m. on June 13. The ROV monitors the leak for a minute and even gets covered in a plume of oil and sand before it moved on to the next spot. Smaller eruptions were seen as the ROV traveled, making the leak locations vary from 50 to 60 feet from the damaged well.

Until now, there was no way to determine the location of the ROVs in relation to the previously leaking Deepwater Horizon well. Alexander Higgins, an independent computer programmer, developed the ‘Gulf Oil Spill ROV UTM Distance Calculator.’ Using the coordinates for the location of the Deepwater Horizon, and the location of the Viking Poseidon on June 13, Wikinews was able to determine that the first rupture and leak was approximately 50.45 feet from the leaking well or “21.56 feet [n]orth and 45.61 feet [w]est” of the Deepwater leak point.

Higgins told Wikinews how he created the calculator, and says it is “very accurate,” but that the tool would “not give you accurate measurements over a large distance, e.g. from the well head to New Orleans.”

“This tool was created using java script that uses basic Pythagorean theorem (





A

2


+

B

2


=

C

2




{\displaystyle A^{2}+B^{2}=C^{2}}

) to calculate the distance between two points. The distance is simply






(

N

1




N

2



)

2


+
(

E

1




E

2



)

2






{\displaystyle {\sqrt {(N_{1}-N_{2})^{2}+(E_{1}-E_{2})^{2}}}}

. ROV coordinates match the location within a few feet when looking at the well because obviously the ROV can not be over the exact center because that is where the BOP is,” said Higgins.

BP, who owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon, has denied that any oil or methane gas is leaking from the sea floor. On July 16, Kent Wells, the senior vice president of BP, said on their official Twitter page that “4 ROVs using sonar scanning [are] looking for anomalies in seabed floor. No indications any oil or gas escaping.” Seismic tests were conducted on July 16; Admiral Thad Allen of the United States Coast Guard said that “no anomalies” were found, but also that the tests were “not comprehensive.”

On Sunday, Wikinews contacted BP, who authenticated the video, and asked if any ROVs were sent back to the crack and leak location on June 13 for further investigation. According to their office in London, England, they “sent ROVs to investigate and monitor that and no further signs of oil or gas were found.” They also stated that they “have continued to monitor” and “have also carried out seismic surveys. Nothing found to give concern.” Wikinews also asked if they could confirm the location of the leak and crack, but no response was given.

However, on July 18, the Associated Press reported that there was “seepage” coming from the area at the bottom of the Deepwater well head. For the past two days, ROV cameras showed bubbles coming from the base of well. BP said it would test the bubbles to determine what they are and as of Sunday, COO of BP Doug Suttles says the bubbles are not methane, but further tests are being conducted. “If you can imagine, it is not an easy operation to collect those bubbles so that they can be tested to see what their make-up is.”

Since the June 13 video surfaced, other videos have been posted to YouTube allegedly showing some of the ROVs being tossed around by large amounts of oil seeping through the seafloor. One video showed an alleged eruption spraying oil and debris around the BOA DEEP C 2 ROV before it was tossed from side to side. It then immediately retreated to the surface. Some of the cracks on ocean floors, where oil has leaked from, have occurred naturally. One such oil spill in California in 2005 was the result of a naturally occurring crack in the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Some of those cracks can cause oil to leak through at a rate as high as 5,000 gallons a day, with most of the oil not even reaching the water’s surface. In the Gulf of Mexico, oil leaks through natural cracks at a rate several times less than leaked from the Deepwater well.

“The Deepwater Horizon site releases 3 to 12 times the oil per day compared to that released by natural seeps across the entire Gulf of Mexico. By May 30, the Deepwater Horizon site had released between 468,000 and 741,000 barrels of oil, compared to 60,000 to 150,000 barrels from natural seeps across the entire Gulf of Mexico over the same 39 day period,” said Cutler Cleveland, a Boston University professor at the university’s Department of Geography and Environment.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill started on April 20 after an explosion on the rig. Efforts to put out the fire failed and the rig subsequently sank to the bottom of the Gulf. On April 22, an oil slick appeared on the surface of the Gulf. BP capped the leaking well on July 13 which effectively stopped oil from leaking into the Gulf. The company has been running a pressure integrity test on the 150,000 pound cap for 48 hours. Earlier on July 17, they announced the test would continue for another day. BP hopes for the well’s pressure to rise to or above 7,500 PSI. As of Saturday morning the well’s pressure was just above 6,700 PSI. BP fears anything lower than the expected PSI could mean a leak in the cap or elsewhere, such as oil or methane seeping up from the seafloor.

“We are feeling more comfortable we have integrity. We will keep monitoring and make the decisions as we go forward. The longer the test goes the more confidence we have in it,” said Allen.


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BP: New cap on Gulf of Mexico oil well in place

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico seen from space on June 22.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

For the first time since April 20, no oil is flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, though the halt may be temporary, as integrity testing began on a new sealing cap. The cap was installed on a leaking well in an effort by the BP energy company to contain oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. The previous containment cap, which was removed Saturday, had a much looser fit than the new one and allowed oil to escape into the Gulf. It took about three days for the cap to be removed, the site prepared, and the new one to be slowly lowered into position.

The energy company had planned to begin running integrity tests Tuesday to measure the performance of the well under pressure. The tests were delayed a day for further analysis, but clearance to proceed was given Wednesday afternoon, then a leak in a choke line had to be repaired. BP senior vice president Kent Wells announced at his Thursday afternoon briefing that the final valve on the cap assembly started to close at 1:15 PM Thursday and was fully closed at 2:25 PM, finally shutting in the oil flow. If the tests show that the well is strong enough, the sealing cap valves will likely remain closed. If the well cannot be safely closed from the top, the new cap is designed to funnel almost all the oil to ships above while two relief wells are constructed for a permanent fix. After the old cap was removed, oil flowed freely into the waters of the Gulf until the present cap was installed at about 7:00 PM CDT Monday (00:00 UTC Tuesday).

BP has stated that this oil containment system has never been deployed at the current depths, nor has it been tested in the conditions that it will be expected to operate in. During the testing period, which could last anywhere from six to forty-eight hours, all undersea oil containment systems will be temporarily suspended. The company made clear that, even if the tests succeed, this does not mean that oil leakage has permanently ceased.

Doug Suttles, a BP executive, explained that during the test, the well pressure will be carefully monitored. Suttles said at a Monday briefing that the ideal would be for tests to show high pressure around the seal, indicating that no oil is escaping. He also stated that on the other hand, the pressures could be lower than anticipated, leading to the assumption that the well is damaged and is leaking oil and gas into surrounding rock. If this were to happen, keeping the cap shut could further damage the well. The solution for this scenario is to reopen the valves and funnel most, if not all, of the oil to ships above.

Drilling of the first relief well was suspended until completion of the integrity test. Kent Wells explained at his Wednesday morning briefing that the first relief well is now 4 feet from the original well and there is a remote possibility that the pressure test could open a path to the relief well. Drilling of the second relief well has stopped at 16,000 feet so as not to interfere with the first well and to keep routing options open in case the first relief well fails. Even if the pressure tests do succeed and the main well is shut, work on the first relief well will continue until it intercepts the main well. When this occurs, mud and cement will be pumped into the well for a permanent seal. Containment and clean up operations will continue even after the relief wells are finished to deal with oil already released.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing eleven and marking the start of the worst offshore oil spill in United States history.


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