Monday, October 11, 2010
Friday, August 06, 2010
BP successfully killed its errant well yesterday after pumping drilling mud and then cement into the well bore. If the bore and well head structure filled completely it's a good bit there will be no more oil seeping into the Gulf from the Macondo reservoir. But, as Admiral Thad Allen suggested in his press briefing yesterday, it's still too early to "celebrate." To ensure complete success, mud and cement have to be pumped into the reservoir from one or both of the relief wells.
I'll probably be one of the first and only ones to say it, but I think BP stood up to the plate and did what had to be done to control and correct this terrible accident. They could have done what Exxon did during (and following) the Valdez spill but instead took a higher road. I think they should be commended and not lambasted by the media or the public on this score. As far as the circumventing of safety rules and regulations, well, that's another story. Even there, though, they didn't do anything others weren't also doing.
I wonder how long it will be before BP or another company suggests a return run on the Macondo oil field. There's still a lot of oil down there.
Meanwhile, there's a debate going on as to the true environmental impact of the disaster. Is there or isn't there a continuing oil pollution and chemical dispersant problem in the Gulf?
Monday, July 26, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Here's a good article in the WSJ.
I had a feeling this was going on. Very early on in the crisis I suggested the president was treading a fine line with his intensive attempt to control BP's operations, a multi-national foreign company. At any moment they can tell him to f-off. What happens then?
Regardless, the politicized micromanagement of the response effort is done at the expense of the environment. The government is incapable of functioning in an efficient, economic or timely manner. This isn't a criticism of the Obama Administration. It's a criticism of government in general.
However, nobody in the Obama administration has ever run a business or handled a corporate emergency. They have no fiscal responsibility and no expertise in cost-crisis decision-making.
Part of me agrees with the government's thought process. "Keep recovering oil and flaring gas. Stick with the plan. Wait for the relief wells."
But BP engineers think they can static kill the well now, while the new cap is in place and holding. Maybe they're right. Maybe they know something about the relief wells they're not saying, e.g. that the relief wells are a long shot and that they always were.
At this point, you have no choice. You have to go with the experts. You have to look at the risks of not taking advantage of the lower pressure in the well bore; before it builds up again, maybe try a static kill with heavy mud.
Adapt and improvise.
PoTUS isn't sure. He wants more tests, more research, more time to weigh the risks.
Time is the killer, for sure.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
This is the Seaward 25. It's a shoal draft sailboat (25") that is both easy to trailer and comfortable to cruise. It has 5'9" of headroom below. Built by Hake yachts of Florida as a shallow water gunkholer, the boat has a very substantial following and a great fan base. Reportedly, at one time, Hake Yachts was putting out one a week. Although not billed as a bluewater pocket boat, you can still find testimonials from people on the net who say they have witnessed some nasty wind and weather.
The old classic bluewater pocket cruiser is the Flicka, designed by Bruce Bingham and based on a Rhode Island fishing boat. These were eventually semi-produiction built by Pacific Seacraft starting in 1977. The Flicka is unquestionably the smallest, most able sailing yacht out there. Many people put their Flicka's on trailers but with the full keel (3'3") and a total of 5' or more in trailer and boat depth to overcome, launching and recovering the boat from a ramp is a bit tricky. You need a heck of a good ramp with a decent drop off and a lot of winch cable, unless you drive an Army DUKW or LARC.
This is my favorite configuration of the Freedom 40. She's 46' OAL and has the low waist of Viking Knorr. Her stay-less rig is worry free and accommodations below make her an excellent long distance traveler. I love the sheer, the raised quarter deck and center cockpit. This is Black Magic II in Australia.
Monday, July 19, 2010
* JULY 19, 2010, 12:18 P.M. ET
China Passes U.S. as World's Biggest Energy Consumer
By SPENCER SWARTZ
China is now the world's biggest energy consumer, knocking the U.S. off a perch it held for more than a century, according to new data from the International Energy Agency.
The Paris-based agency, whose forecasts are generally regarded as bellwether indicators for the energy industry, said China devoured 2,252 million tons of oil equivalent last year, or about 4% more than the U.S., which burned through 2,170 million tons of oil equivalent. The oil-equivalent metric represents all forms of energy consumed, including crude oil, nuclear, coal, natural gas and renewable sources such as hydropower.
The figures reflect, in part, how the global recession hit the U.S. more severely than China and hurt American industrial activity and energy use. Still, China's total energy consumption has clocked annual double-digit growth rates for many years, driven by the country's big industrial base. Highlighting how quickly its energy demand has increased, China's total energy consumption was just half the size of the U.S. 10 years ago.
"The fact that China overtook the U.S. as the world's largest energy consumer symbolizes the start of a new age in the history of energy," IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said in an interview. The U.S. had been the biggest overall energy consumer since the early 1900s, he said. The IEA is an energy adviser to most of the world's biggest economies.
China's voracious energy demand helps explain why the country—which gets most of its electricity from coal, the dirtiest of fossil-fuel resources—passed the U.S. in 2007 as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases.
The U.S. is still by far the biggest energy consumer per capita, with the average American burning five times as much energy annually as the average Chinese citizen, said Mr. Birol, who has been in his current role for six years.
The U.S. also is the biggest oil consumer by a wide margin, going through on average roughly 19 million barrels a day—with China at a distant second at about 9.2 million barrels a day. But many oil analysts believe U.S. crude demand has peaked or is unlikely to grow very much in coming years because of improved energy efficiency and more-stringent vehicle fuel-efficiency regulations.
Prior to the recession, China had been expected to become the biggest energy consumer in about five years, but the economic malaise and energy-efficiency programs in the U.S. brought forward the date of that superlative, Mr. Birol said.
The decreased energy "intensity" of the U.S. economy is a key reason investors, such as General Electric Co., have increasingly looked to China as a driver of future growth. Mr. Birol said China requires total energy investments of some $4 trillion over the next 20 years to keep feeding its economy and to avoid power blackouts and fuel shortages.
Mr. Birol, previously an economist at the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, said China is expected to build over the next 15 years some 1,000 gigawatts of new power-generation capacity. That is about the total amount of electricity-generation capacity in the U.S. currently, and the construction of all those gigawatts occurred over several decades. "This demonstrates the major growth we are talking about" in energy demand and capacity growth in China, Mr. Birol said.
Full WSJ Article here.
Why are so many politicians and scientists eager to leave Climategate behind them?
July 18, 2010
A Whale won't be part of Gulf response
After an extended trial period, Federal On-Scene Coordinator Admiral Paul Zukunft announced that the giant converted ore/oil carrier A Whale will not be deployed as a part of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill response.
The 1,115 foot long super skimmer went through an extensive operational review by a multiagency team under the supervision of the U.S. Coast Guard. The report concluded that after significant effort, the amount of oil recovered was negligible, and limited oil beyond a sheen was found in the cargo tanks."
"While its stature is impressive, 'A Whale' is not ideally suited to the needs of this response," said Admiral Zukunft. "We appreciate the ingenuity of the TMT team to try to make this innovative system work under these unique conditions. This is the largest oil spill response in our nation's history and we will continue to attack the oil as far offshore as possible with our fleet of hundreds of skimmers, controlled burns, and effective use of dispersant."
Bob Grantham, spokesman for TMT Offshore, said the A Whale concluded its final battery of tests Friday.
"The ship demonstrated that it can bring substantial volumes of capacity to bear in addressing oil spills, and can do so quickly and with great maneuverability," he noted. But "the particular conditions present in the Macondo spill did not afford the vessel the opportunity to recover a significant amount of oil. In large measure, this is due to the highly dispersed nature of the oil in the Gulf. When dispersants are used in high volume virtually from the point that oil leaves the well, it presents real challenges for high-volume skimming.
"We have learned much over the last several weeks about how to build a high-volume super-skimming task force capable of addressing oil spills wherever they may occur in the future. What our experience now tells us is that future oil spill response protocol should deploy super-skimmer capacity as soon as possible and as close as possible to the source of the spill. In this fashion, effective organic containment of oil can be undertaken without substantial use of chemical dispersants. Thereafter, and in more judicious application, dispersants can be used as needed.
"We intend to continue to work with our colleagues at the Coast Guard, the Navy, and elsewhere in the U.S. government, along with experts and authorities around the globe, to modify and perfect super-skimmers.
"As Mr. Nobu Su, the CEO of TMT Offshore has remarked, 'We came to the Gulf with a sophisticated piece of equipment at no cost to taxpayers or BP to see if we could assist the communities and environment of the area. While conditions we found in the Gulf limited the A Whale's effectiveness, we intend to put what we have learned to good use as part of a global solution to oil spill response wherever future incidents may occur.'"
Know-it-all Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts had this to say in a letter to Admiral Allen:
"If the well remains fully shut in until the relief well is completed, we may never have a fully accurate determination of the flow rate from this well. If so, BP -- which has consistently underestimated the flow rate -- might evade billions of dollars of fines."
When it comes to spending money Markey seem to have no concept of the dollar; when it comes to collecting it, he doesn't want to miss a dime.
Hey, Markey! It's not just about the money!
Where is this sudden change in spill containment coming from? Is it BP or the government? We should stick to the original plan. The new cap is in place. It's holding back the pressure better than expected. We should use this opportunity between now and the end of July or beginning of August - when the relief wells are expected to hit their marks - to collect as much oil and flare as much gas as possible.
The problem, I suspect, is that the government, in its infinite wisdom, established operational conditions that make shutting the well and leaving it a higher priority than siphoning the oil. They told BP that BP would have to pay for everything. They would be fined on the total spill amount AND have to pay all clean-up and economic hardship costs. BP also announced they were donating revenues from spilled oil to Gulf Coast charities. This latter decision was prompted by President Obama when he promised the American people that BP would not profit one cent from the oil coming out of the well.
Add to this the U.S.C.G. and E.P.A. general rule of thumb with respect to spilled or leaking pollutants. Rule number one: Stop The Leak!
But as Admiral Thad Allen, BP and President Obama has said on numerous occasions: This is an unprecedented situation that requires an unprecedented response.
Why should BP spend billions keeping the Q4000 and the Helix Producer and all the other oil industry assets on scene if it can prove to the government's satisfaction that no more oil is leaking from the well? There is no incentive for BP to do anything more than what is required of it by the U.S. Government and BP's Board of Directors. Stop the leak. Clean up the spill. Pay the fines.
Herein lies the insanity. So what if the pressure and seismic tests with the new cap in place conclude the well is secure? That's now. What happens tomorrow, or a week from tomorrow? What happens if the well burps a huge, catastrophic bubble of methane gas? Isn't it better to have a relief valve of some sort, like the flaring and collection capability that's currently available with the Q4000 and Helix Producer?
I realize there's a huge air pollution nightmare associated with the burning and flaring of gas and oil, and I realize that the collection of oil on the surface and subsequent transfer of oil to cargo ships adds another pollution risk to the equation. But neutralizing the pressure in the well seems to me to be more important than the quick fix of this containment cap, and to that end, the Q4000 and Helix Producer have an important job to do.
According to BP's latest update:
BP continues to work cooperatively with the guidance and approval of the National Incident Commander and the leadership and direction of federal government including the Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, Federal Science Team, Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement, U.S. Coast Guard and secretaries Ken Salazar and Steven Chu. At this time, the well integrity test on the MC252 exploratory well continues.
During the test, the three ram capping stack has been closed, shutting in the well. All sub-sea containment systems (namely, the Q4000 and Helix Producer systems) have been temporarily suspended.
I think Admiral Allen and the other government authorities (It's a mouthful, isn't it?) should step back and keep the recovery and flaring assets on scene and working. Stick to the plan. Don't put all your faith in this cap. Take the slow, deliberate approach to neutralizing the well.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Meanwhile, the Helix Producer and the q4000 are on standby.
But why are we waiting for the well to build more and more pressure. Isn't pressure containment's evil twin? Won't the buildup of pressure increase risk of another leak in the well? What are we waiting to prove, that the well will build up enough pressure to eventually destroy integrity of the well bore?
The cap is holding. There are no apparent leaks. Why don't we start siphoning oil off to the tune of 80,000 barrels per day (as we were promised weeks ago) and let the cap do it's job? If we have to bug out of there for a hurricane, we can shut the well down completely or maybe even partially and come back. Wasn't that the point of this whole exercise?
There is no viable alternative to this plan other than the relief wells. And every barrel of oil collected is a barrel of oil not in the reservoir helping to contribute to a buildup of pressure. Why not take the oil out now and stop worrying about whether or not the containment cap will hold? All this wasted time in testing is wasting time that could be used collecting oil and reducing, however minimally, the chance for another blowout. Four days at 80,000 barrels per day is 320,000 barrels of oil, not to mention all the volatile gas that's flared out of the well.
Even if the well builds up to 10,000 psi of pressure, what's to stop it from burping up to 20,000 psi or even 50,000 psi two or three weeks from now? I'm not saying it can. I have no expertise in these matters. But I would like to hear from Admiral Allen and/or the government science board why it's so important to prove the cap can provide 100% containment.
I imagine the Q&A going something like this:
Q. Why is it so important to check the pressure?
A. We want t to make sure that if we have to leave the well in the event of a serious weather event, a hurricane for example, that the cap will hold.
Q. But even if the tests prove conclusive that the cap will hold is that a guarantee it will continue to hold for all time.
A. No. We can't be absolutely certain of that. There are always destructive forces at work in the well bore.
Q. And if the tests prove the opposite, what's the alternative?
A. We have other contingency plans.
Q. Like what?
A. Other plans, And we're ahead of schedule with the relief wells.
Q. But the cap seems to be holding. Isn't that more than we had hoped for from the start? If it holds at 6,700 psi, why not start recovering oil and flaring gas? Won't the oil and gas taken out of the well help reduce pressure?
A. We feel we need to be sure the cap will hold.
Q. But at no time when this cap plan was talked about did anyone think it would completely hold back the well. From the start we were told this cap would allow us to recover up to 80,000 barrels of oil per day? It can do that now. Why aren't we doing it? Seems to me the 100% containment criteria is something the government only came up with after the fact. Isn't 100% containment via the well head structure really just a bonus?
A. Next question.
I know some of you reporters and broadcasters down there are thinking the same things, so how about getting some answers on this.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Speaking to Al Jazeera, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, an Obama appointee, said the following:
"When I became the NASA administrator — or before I became the NASA administrator — he [Obama] charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, [two] he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science ... and math and engineering."
So, I get it that we're scrapping the Shuttle Program, and canceling the Constellation Program, and I get it that's we're not going to Mars or even the moon (unless we can get there when it's shaped like a crescent), but do we have to all hold hands and sing "We Are The World" at the same time?
I'm all for community organizing the globe but this is ridiculous. Who are we going to have taking care of our GPS, weather and defense satellites? The Chinese? The Russians? The Iranians?
The White House denies this is NASA policy and it denies giving these instructions to Bolden. Last Monday White House Press Secretary Gibbs said: "That was not his task, and that's not the task of NASA."
Yeah, OK. Like he just came out and said that to Al Jazeera all on his own. He made it up.
It's no secret Obama is gutting NASA, and while he has come out in favor of a planned mission to send astronauts to Mars and beyond, he has provided absolutely no funding for the plan.
Two NASA veterans have voiced their criticisms of the Obama space program. Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong and Apollo 17 Commander Eugene A. Cernan dismissed the plan in testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee. "Nowhere do we find a commitment in dollars to support this national endeavor," Cernan said, adding later that "this budget proposal presents no challenges, has no focus, and in fact is a blueprint for a mission to nowhere."
Thursday, July 15, 2010
MarPro turned to the federal authorities for clarification. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “It is essential to underscore that, despite allegations to the contrary, the Jones Act has not hindered the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup effort.” A prepared statement from DOT goes on to claim that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are working to coordinate all offers of assistance – from domestic and international sources alike. Foreign-flag vessels have been participating, and will continue to participate, in the cleanup effort. Beyond this, DOT also claims, “If the Unified Command determines that specific assets are necessary but require a Jones Act waiver, we will do whatever is needed to ensure those assets are deployed. But to be absolutely clear, to date, the Jones Act has not prevented or delayed the mobilization of useful assets.” That position seems clear enough.
On Tuesday morning, the Joint Information Center for the spill response in Houston also provided MarPro with definitive advice on the physical assets now in play in the U.S. Gulf for the purpose of assisting in the spill cleanup. This is what they had to say (*):
* Jones Act Waivers Requested: 7
* Jones Act Waivers Denied: 0
* Pending Waiver Requests: None
* Total Foreign Flag (registered) Vessels in Service (5): ~25
* Vessels of Opportunity in Service (1): 2,718
* Skimmers in Service (2): 584
* Barges in Service (3): 504
* Other Vessels (4): 2,934
According to a local spokesperson in Houston, the numbers do not necessarily add up in a linear way. That’s because it wasn’t clear if some of the vessels of opportunity – private boats not necessarily built for oil spill response – were included in the totals represented by the bloc of skimmers being used. In any event, a total number of as many as 6,850 floating assets were reported as being used to combat the ongoing spill. The best information available to MarPro on Wednesday morning was that no more than 25 of these vessels were of foreign registry.
I got the same list when I contacted Unified Command a week ago. What I don't understand is why nobody can say if any of the waivers have been approved. "Waivers Denied (0) is not the same as Waivers Approved. Regardless, 25 foreign-flagged vessels assisting in the clean-up is pathetic, especially when one considers that the Mighty Servant III is one of them (previously working in the U.S. on a waiver) and the others are most likely tiny, inshore skimmers that were shipped here by air.
I'm not so sure the debate is a tempest in a teapot. Or maybe it is because it has gone on for so long. There would be no debate if a temporary suspension had been granted from the start. Now, of course, it's too late. There's too much egg flying around.
I think it behooves the government to prove unequivocally that there has been no downside to not granted a temporary suspension of the Jones Act, whether real or just perceived. In other words, perhaps, from a purely legal perspective, it's true that the Jones Act does not prohibit large foreign-flagged oil recovery vessels from assisting in the clean-up withing three miles of shore. But did owners of foreign-flagged vessels choose to not mobilize because they perceived the Jones Act would place them in violation of American cabotage laws?
Another excerpt from the MarPro article:
Veteran maritime attorney and retired U.S. Coast Guard Captain Dennis Bryant perhaps puts it best when he says, “I continue to be mystified regarding all the controversy about the oil spill response and the Jones Act. The Jones Act only applies to the transport of merchandise (cargo) from one port or place in the United States to another port or place in the United States. Such transport by water must be done by a US vessel eligible to engage in the coastwise trade. Skimming spilled oil off the waters of the Gulf of Mexico outside of three nautical miles is not an activity that implicates the Jones Act, even if the recovered oil is offloaded in a US port.” Bryant ought to know: he has been actively involved with maritime and regulatory matters for more than forty years.
Regarding the legal aspect, and with all due respect to Captain Dennis Bryant, one lawyer will say one thing and another will say another, and then it's a court and/or a federal judge that decides which is which. Why would a foreign ship owner want to tie up his vessels or open the door to a lengthy and expensive legal battle in the U.S.?
From the MarPro article:
MarPro also reached out on Tuesday to the International Marine Contractor’s Association (IMCA), an entity representing the interests of foreign-registered tonnage in the U.S. Gulf. They declined to provide comment for the purposes of this article. Likewise, efforts to elicit comment and clarifications from Allegiance Capital, a firm which is on record as trying to bring oil skimmers and vessels from Europe to the Gulf of Mexico to fight the spill, also proved fruitless. Allegiance Capital was the subject of a Texas newspaper’s recent investigative report that reported, among other things, that this firm had applied for Jones Act waivers on June 16. In contrast, the Joint Information Center in Houston told MarPro on Tuesday that no waivers had been denied and none were pending.
What, exactly, are they saying by their silence?
Today is the day the Super Skimmer A Whale, owned and operated by the TMT Corporation of Taiwan, concludes the test period set for it by the U.S.C.G. According to company spokesman, Danny Wang, in Taipei, the ship has performed satisfactorily but it has been difficult to judge its effectiveness because the oil-water mix is very "dirty" as a result if it being seaborne for so long.
Initial tests of the ship were hampered by 4' to 5' seas, which in and of themselves would pose no more problem for a ship this size than a gnat would to a bull elephant. But, in this case, the skimming and separation of the oil-water is the complicating factor.
What's so incredibly frustrating with this situation is the following:
Here we have a corporate giant, a foreign corporate giant, spending huge amounts of money on a very speculative oil spill recovery venture. It's a risk to his company and a risk to his personal wealth. Forget his motivations, whether there's any altruism involved or whether he's just in it for the money -- it doesn't matter -- because it's the environment that can eventually reap the rewards.
It doesn't even matter that it works as well as intended. The important thing is that someone has taken a step in the right direction. They've attempted to advance and improve the technology and the means of major oil spill remediation.
One would think our government would welcome this kind of speculative and risky corporate venture. Instead, our government has done everything in its power to keep this thing on the bench. I ask you? Where is the number one major oil spill catastrophe in the world right now? Where is the absolute best testing area for a vessel of this size? If it's not testing or working in the Gulf, where should it go to test and improve its oil recovery capability? Should it create its own spill and try to recover that?
The actions of the Obama Administration and the U.S. Government regarding (1) this ship's future, (2) the future of oil spill recovery technology, (3) the application and mobilization of every possible revovery and clean-up asset (including foreign assets), and (4) the creation of jobs and new manufacturing in the oil spill recovery field, are absolutely reprehensible.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
According to the latest CNN story, they actually want to see a high pressure value, because that would mean the leak hasn't been transferred or shifted to some other part of the well head. But with all that has happened to the well head in the more than two and a half months since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, how can they be sure of structural integrity? There is virtually no way to inspect what's below the sea floor, and it's equally impossible to be sure of every weld and seam in the massive structure that sits between the new cap and the seabed. Closing the valves and shutting off the well using this cap is a huge risk. What if the pressure is so great it blows off the whole structure and opens a hole right through the seabed? And let's say the cap does hold the gushing oil, how can we be sure it will do so for a whole day, a week or a month without eventually losing structural integrity? It's not like sweating a pipe under your bathroom sink.
The other side of the coin is this: Why, all of a sudden, is the government expert panel putting up a stop sign? Do they know something the BP engineers don't know? Are they just being cautious? Or is there some other reason for this? Is this an example of U.S. government micro-management?
So we wait. They say 24 hours and maybe as much as 48 hours before they can start shutting valves and measuring pressures, enough time for the mathematicians to do their calculations, I guess. Meanwhile, the Helix Producer and the Q4000 are on tap to collect and flare oil and gas. We were suppose to be at a stage where we could collect and flare up to 80,000 barrels a day. That's not going to happen now. Not until we get the OK from the government.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post - Some are attuned to the possibility of looming catastrophe and know how to head it off. Others are unprepared for risk and even unable to get their priorities straight when risk turns to reality.
The Dutch fall into the first group. Three days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, the Netherlands offered the U.S. government ships equipped to handle a major spill, one much larger than the BP spill that then appeared to be underway. "Our system can handle 400 cubic metres per hour," Weird Koops, the chairman of Spill Response Group Holland, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide, giving each Dutch ship more cleanup capacity than all the ships that the U.S. was then employing in the Gulf to combat the spill.
To protect against the possibility that its equipment wouldn't capture all the oil gushing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch also offered to prepare for the U.S. a contingency plan to protect Louisiana's marshlands with sand barriers. One Dutch research institute specializing in deltas, coastal areas and rivers, in fact, developed a strategy to begin building 60-mile-long sand dikes within three weeks.
The Dutch know how to handle maritime emergencies. In the event of an oil spill, The Netherlands government, which owns its own ships and high-tech skimmers, gives an oil company 12 hours to demonstrate it has the spill in hand. If the company shows signs of unpreparedness, the government dispatches its own ships at the oil company's expense. "If there's a country that's experienced with building dikes and managing water, it's the Netherlands," says Geert Visser, the Dutch consul general in Houston.
In sharp contrast to Dutch preparedness before the fact and the Dutch instinct to dive into action once an emergency becomes apparent, witness the American reaction to the Dutch offer of help. The U.S. government responded with "Thanks but no thanks," remarked Visser, despite BP's desire to bring in the Dutch equipment and despite the no-lose nature of the Dutch offer --the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge. Even after the U.S. refused, the Dutch kept their vessels on standby, hoping the Americans would come round. By May 5, the U.S. had not come round. To the contrary, the U.S. had also turned down offers of help from 12 other governments, most of them with superior expertise and equipment --unlike the U.S., Europe has robust fleets of Oil Spill Response Vessels that sail circles around their make-shift U.S. counterparts.
When ships in U.S. waters take in oil-contaminated water, they are forced to store it. As U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the official in charge of the clean-up operation, explained in a press briefing on June 11, "We have skimmed, to date, about 18 million gallons of oily water--the oil has to be decanted from that [and] our yield is usually somewhere around 10% or 15% on that." In other words, U.S. ships have mostly been removing water from the Gulf, requiring them to make up to 10 times as many trips to storage facilities where they off-load their oil-water mixture, an approach Koops calls "crazy."
The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer -- but only partly. Because the U.S. didn't want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.
A catastrophe that could have been averted is now playing out. With oil increasingly reaching the Gulf coast, the emergency construction of sand berns to minimize the damage is imperative. Again, the U.S. government priority is on U.S. jobs, with the Dutch asked to train American workers rather than to build the berns. According to Floris Van Hovell, a spokesman for the Dutch embassy in Washington, Dutch dredging ships could complete the berms in Louisiana twice as fast as the U.S. companies awarded the work. "Given the fact that there is so much oil on a daily basis coming in, you do not have that much time to protect the marshlands," he says, perplexed that the U.S. government could be so focussed on side issues with the entire Gulf Coast hanging in the balance.
Then again, perhaps he should not be all that perplexed at the American tolerance for turning an accident into a catastrophe. When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident occurred off the coast of Alaska in 1989, a Dutch team with clean-up equipment flew in to Anchorage airport to offer their help. To their amazement, they were rebuffed and told to go home with their equipment. The Exxon Valdez became the biggest oil spill disaster in U.S. history--until the BP Gulf spill.
Let's hope the owners and operators of this vessel can rethink their attack plan and methodology to make this work. It's in the vicinity of the spill, so it should be in and around oil-polluted waters.
I wish they would try anchoring it and letting other skimmers and boom tenders bring the oil to it. Or they have to add massive pumps to suck the oil into the cargo hold.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Report: Libya blocking Gadhafi's son from joining Gaza aid ship - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News
Friday, July 09, 2010
WASHINGTON -- Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander for the Deepwater BP Oil Spill response, briefed the media Thursday morning.
A downloadable audio file of the conference is available here; a full transcript of the call follows:
July 8, 2010
9:00 a.m. EDT
ADMIRAL ALLEN: It's great to be back in Theodore. I want to thank the folks here for the great work they're doing. We picked this site specifically this morning so after we give the update we can talk about skimming operations.
For the past four to five weeks there is been a concerted effort to increase our skimming capabilities. We focus on our ability to intercept oil in near shore asset, the well site itself as the (inaudible) has evolved into what I called hundreds of thousands of oil catches that are out there, it's required us some mass forces from South Louisiana to Port St. Joe, Florida and attack this oil offshore rather than deal with it on the beaches and in the marshlands.
To that end we have a very, very aggressive program with skimming equipment out there. The skimming equipment is used not only by vessels of the federal government, state and local entities, about five vessels of opportunity as well.
There have been enough questions raised about what are skimmers, what do they do, where are they used. We thought it would be helpful today to have a broader discussion on skimming capabilities after the brief this morning. I'll be available to answer questions, go over how skimming operations are conducted.
We have subject matter expertise from our strike teams, deployed routinely with this equipment. They can provide you in-depth briefings on the particular types of skimming apparatus that is there. So with that, let me give you an update on what's going on.
In the 24 hour period that ended at midnight last night and it came to nearly 25,000 barrels from the Discover Enterprise which produces oil and flares off natural gas and there is the Q4000 which flares off both natural gas and oil.
I visited the site yesterday. I was on the Discover Enterprise with Bob Dudley who is leading the BP response in the Gulf. We had discussions out there regarding the production system that is there. And the near term containment plans and the plans to move forward.
If I can just go over these briefly and also talk about the status of the relief wells, and then I'd be glad any questions you may have for me.
The current containment plans for now are centered on the cap that is on the wellbore. That cap is a loosely fitting cap with a rubber seal around the bottom. As you know, that resulted in oil being released around that oil seal.
We have the capability later on in the next day or two as it ceases size out there to hook up a third production platform, the Helix Producer, that will bring our entire production capability up to between 50 and 53,000 barrels a day under the current containment cap.
What has remained to bring the Helix Producer on board is to hook a flexible hose up from the vertical riser pipe that’s been installed underneath the ocean that connects back to the kill line on the wellbore to the bottom of a fully (inaudible) that would then connects up to the Helix Producer.
We had to stop just a few days ago because of the sea states first but Hurricane Alex coming through and (inaudible). It just went over the Yucatan Channel. It appears that today we will the sea state we need to finish that hook up. We would hope in the next two to three days to be producing out of the Helix Producer.
That will then optimize the production capability out of the current configuration of the containment cap on the well bore. The three modes of productions, just to repeat them are the Discover Enterprise, which produces oil and flares gas; the Q4000, which will flare both gas and oil, and now the Helix Producer, which will actually produce the oil on pad and transfer it to a shuttle tanker to be taken ashore.
Once we have that rigged up, that will be the maximum production that we can get out of that system with the current containment cap. There have been extensive meetings held last week and this week within the federal government and in Houston with BP and our technical team headed by Secretary Salazar and Secretary Chu looking at options for a second containment cap.
BP is in position at this time to move forward when the conditions allow to put a second containment cap on that allow us to actually remove that stubby piece of riser pipe where we had to bury an elegant sheer cut a while back and replace that with a pipe that’s actually bolted on to flange that will give us a seal.
That will allow us at some point with—as other production platforms are brought on board during the month of July to increase our production rate to between 60,000 and 80,000 barrels.
At that point, our production capacity will be on—be beyond the current estimated flow rate which is between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day. I just want to remind everybody that continues to be an estimated flow rate. Once we get this wellbore completely steeled and are producing out of we'll have better empirical data by which to establish and refine our flow rate moving forward.
The big question in the next couple days for us is the weather window to achieve the removal of the current containment cap and put a new top cap on. Later this day I'll be communicating that British—BP request for a time line and how they would go ahead to do that.
We will have a science team meeting in Houston tomorrow and would anticipate sometime in the next few days the decision to move ahead with the second containment cap if conditions are met and we have the proper time line and details of (inaudible) from BP to move ahead.
So that will be an ongoing activity within the next 24 to 48 hours. We need to decisions either stay with the 52,000 barrels capacity while we have the helix producer or move ahead with the new containment cap which would be a substantial improvement in production capabilities.
Also it would give us quick disconnect capability in the event of heavy weather. One of the reasons we're looking at this right now, with the passage of the troughs through the Yucatan Peninsula yesterday and the calming of the seas today, we are in a little bit of lull between tropical depressions.
And there is a particularly good weather window in the next seven to 10 days to try and accomplish the change out of the containment cap. So the conditions leading to that decision point will all be looked at over the next 24 to 48 hours.
Regarding the relief wells, Development Driller III, which is the lead drilling rig for the relief wells is now at 17,780 feet measured depth, within a couple hundred feet of the proposed penetration point of the wellbore.
We were down to the final days and weeks of a closing in to a point where we can intercept the well. Our target date remains the middle of August because there are a number of uncertainties related to what happens when we get down and penetrate the well bore.
I'll talk about this in a minute. There are certain things that could move that date up. But for right now my official position is that it'll be the middle of August before this well is capped. We should be able to get (inaudible).
If something happens I will advise you. But right now current government estimate is the middle of August. What will have to happen is when the relief well is adjacent to the well bore and close enough to be able to turn to make the penetration, then we'll first penetrate the area outside the well pipe.
And we will see if there is oil there or not. At that point mud will be pumped into the wellbore to see if that contains the well. If that does not, the mud and a (inaudible) plug will be inserted and then we will drill again into the inner pipe.
That will be the second attempt to plug the well if oil is coming up through the pipe with mud and cement. These two procedures will take us into August. There're things that could happen that could shorten that but right now into August is what the official estimate is.
I flew over the area from New Orleans this morning in a National Guard helicopter. We flew over the entrances to Lake Pontchartrain, the Rigolets, Lake Borgne and so forth. We looked at the Mississippi Sound.
The skimming vessels are coming back out onto the water this morning. There were a significant number of vessels coming out of Bay St. Louis starting to put out skimming equipment. And there were vessels in and around Biloxi Bay, moving over towards Alabama here.
It looks like we're getting the weather to put the skimming equipment that's going to be seen here later and we talked about back on the water today. The weather is improving.
We hope to have a much more productive day today and over the next seven to ten days in regards to skimming, which is mechanical removal and (inaudible) burning to the extent we can do that. And we'll try and take advantage of this weather opportunity to fight the oil (inaudible).
(inaudible) your questions.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, I think everybody would agree there’s not enough skimming operations because right now that is the area where we could have the most effect regarding oil that’s on the water and keeping it from coming ashore. The elements that have to come together to make a successful skimming operations actually have been forming up over the last four to six weeks. If I could go over them in sequence—because it’s important that everybody understand that.
First of all, with the overwhelming response to the solicitation for vessels of opportunity—and we are grateful for that because the local lawmen show up with passion and resources and a commitment to work for their communities. On the other hand, they all have the same types of boats. Some are small open boats with outboard motors some are very sophisticated fishing vessels with communications and electronic devices. One of the analogies I’ve made has been to the militia at Concord before the Revolution. Everybody showed up for the fight. Some had muskets some had a hatchet.
And so our question has been how do we form these groups up and make them most effective? How do we get skimming capability into their hands? But more importantly where do we tell them to go and how do we coordinate how they’re doing that. Since this has never been done on this scale with thousands of vessels of opportunity what we have done over the last four to five weeks is form these vessels up into task forces. They’ve been sub-divided down into stripe teams with proper communications and tracking devices so we know where they’re at. But that’s only part of the equation.
We need to have aerial surveillance to find the oil because if you’re sitting in a boat looking out you could have oil 100 yards away and not be able to see it. Unless you’re airborne and can look down and see the sheen or the actual implications of oil being on the water. So for that reason several weeks ago working with the First Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base we basically created an air management system for the entire Gulf where there’s a requirement for air surveillance to be coordinated.
Then in between we need a way to refer the air sightings down to the task forces on the water. So what we have done over the last month is basically create a command and control structure for the vessels of opportunity. This allows us to employ them in the right place at the right time with the right capability and then send them to where the oil is at. Everything we did before that—until we had all those pieces in place is going to sub-optimize our response.
So the question is how do we bring all these different parts together, organize them correctly, give them the communication to tell them where to go to find the oil? That’s what’s been happening. The feedback we’re getting recently is that there’s been a marked improvement on the coordination. It takes time to stand this up. The local folks have to be trained in safety procedure. In some cases we have to provide them the communications equipment and put the locating devices on that. I think we’re there. I think it’s time to ramp up. It’s time to put everybody to sea.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Actually that was more related to the vessels of opportunity than it was when the oil came out. When the oil came out—we’ve always been attacking the oil at the well site itself with very large offshore skimmers. What created the opportunity for us to really en masse our forces, from the shoreline out, were the vessels of opportunity which basically have doubled and tripled the number of boats that we have.
The question is how do you take them and bring them into the system? That’s what’s taking the time.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Both timelines reflect two things. Number one, if you take into account that you’re going to exhaust every possibility, if you go someplace and there’s not oil and you have to go find it in other place in that wellbore and you have to first seal what they call the annulus, the area outside the pipe, with mud and then cement that and go back in and re-bore into the pipe itself because you’re going to slowly remove any source of oil the closer you get inside the wellbore.
If you have to do all of that, it will take you well into August. If you get in there and you find the oil, you can see the oil in the annulus of the well bore the first time around, then it could be shorter. So it could happen, but I’m not going to assume that. I’ve been around you folks long enough to know that we need to under-promise and over-deliver. So, Allen is at August. OK?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Well, I’m not in a position to comment on the policy of the moratorium, that’s not my pay rate. But regarding the skimming capability, I can make this observation. A little over a week ago, we (inaudible) an emergency rule—I say we, the federal government—it was the combined rule of EPA and the Coast Guard. It allowed the facilities and vessels around the country to lower their standby requirements for oil spill response so we could potentially free up resources to flow to the gulf.
There was an assumption made on that that they could lower their standby response from a worst case scenario to an average most probably discharge and these are planning factors that they have to use. They are also a response plan and then if they had a worst case discharge, that they would (inaudible) each mutual aid or what we call cascading. They would all commit to applying local resources to assist that facility to meet their requirement in order to free up that facility to come here.
What work is required after that is almost a state by state or a port by port evaluation of how you would set up that cascading plan and what could be freed up to come to the gulf. OK? So (inaudible) the legal vulnerability of the rest of the country.
So there are two portions to this. The moratorium issue (inaudible) those that are making policy decisions. As far as—as far as response equipment, the urgency rule that was issued allows some flexibility in how you mass a force to deal with the worst case spill scenario so you can free up some resources to move down here. Including those that are at naval installations and (inaudible) as well.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: There certainly is and we understand that when oil comes ashore, especially on beaches, (inaudible) changes buried with sand. One of the things that is required at the end of an oil spill response is an agreement on everybody, including the state and local representatives and the federal trustees, to represent the resources on how clean is clean? And there are provisions to come back and continue to clean that up under the recovery until we get it clean.
And those criteria on how that will be done will be brokered locally by our incident commanders working with the state and local governments. But we have the where with all to order removal and we can have the responsibility party come back as many times as we need to until we get it clean. Thank you.
We going to the phones? Operator, at this time we'd like to turn it over to the phone line.
OPERATOR: To ask an audio question at this time simply press Star then the number One on your telephone keypad. And your first question comes from (inaudible) from CNN.
Q: Good morning Admiral, I just have a question about something you said earlier and I apologize for asking—if somebody asks this earlier, it's kind of hard to hear but you said, BP at this time is prepared to move forward with the second long-term containment cap and then you're sort of in a 24 to 48 hour window to decide if weather conditions are met and if they get you this timeline.
Now when would this all take place? Are you looking at I think you also mentioned in the next seven to ten days from now, you are looking at possibly a good weather window. Is this when this would take place?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Let me just explain again. We are going to ask BP to give us a detailed timeline of what series of events would have to take place. The reason we're doing this is if we move forward at this time, we are going to move forward in parallel with hooking up the Helix Producer to be able to produce from the free standing riser pipe, which is part of the current recovery system so it would be part of the future recovery system.
The initial thinking was that we would do that, see the results of that and then move to a decision on a containment cap. What has been presented to us, it may be a weather window we will not see at any time later in the summer that will allow us to move to the new containment cap.
So with that in mind, I am asking BP to give me a detailed timeline in 24 hours on how they would accomplish the hookup of the units producer to the free standing riser pipe and then how they would move the current containment cap off, putting a containment cap on that would effectively seal the top of that well and go to the new containment structure, which does a couple of things, it gets us to a production capacity and a redundancy in the system of 60 to 80,000 barrels of day.
It also gives us quick hookup and quick disconnect and it will give us heavy weather or a hurricane. So not only do we have number one we have a weather window, number two we're going to get the weather to be able to hookup the Helix Producer.
I have asked BP to give me within the next 24 hours a detailed timeline that we can look at and then approve that will allow them to move forward. If we can take advantage of this weather window we will certainly do that. Next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Bertha Coombs with CNBC.
Q: Yes Admiral, can—you said that there are a couple things that could actually move the date up with regard to the completion of the relief well. Can you give us a timeline of where we are now, how many days away, how many weeks away in terms of getting to that wellbore and being able to penetrate it?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes, we are several hundred feet away from the penetration point at this point and what's going to happen is they will drill ahead somewhere between 10 and 15 feet at a time. They will withdraw the bit and actually put down a (inaudible) device on an electrical cable. They will take a look at it - trying to detect the electromagnetic field around the pipe casing and the well bore.
This allows them to get a range and a bearing if you will, from the well bore they're drilling to the well bore they're trying to intercept. They do this very, very slowly so that the end of the pipe they're trying to intercept is between seven and eight inches wide and they're doing this down at about over 17,000 feet of measured depth.
So the next period of time will probably take seven to 10 days to get to a point where they can turn the drill inward and actually start to penetrate the wellbore. At that point they will go through a series of layers leading to the inner pipe and it depends on where the oil is coming up through, where they can intercept it, where they can put the mud in and where they can put the cement plug.
How many days after that will take them to actually seal the well? If for instance, all the oil that is coming to the surface is not coming through the center pipe. But what they call the annulus that is a circle of area outside the pipe and they find that first they put the mud in or able to put the plug in you know that stops it then everything will happen much sooner.
But we can’t rule out the fact that the oil is coming up through the center pipe, which requires them to then drill back in again and complete the same series of procedures and steps to put mud in the pipe and plug it.
There will be a series of sequential steps. If you take I will call it the worst case but if you take the scenario (inaudible) it requires you to exhaust all means by which the hydrocarbons or oil could be coming up that wellbore to the surface it takes you into August.
All I’m saying is I don’t think we need to (inaudible) on hitting it the first time and there’s always the chance we could run into some kind of a weather window after the one we’re talking about now.
So I think prudence dictates we have realistic expectations that this could be done by middle August if it happens sooner than that I think we can all jump for joy but right now as I said middle August I think is a reasonable date. Next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Susan Baker with Dow Jones Newswire.
Q: Hi, Admiral I know that you’re saying that you’re hoping for this to be completed the relief well be completed by mid August. But BP in the story we just had today said that it’s pushing to get it done by July 27th, in time for its earnings in order to show investors that it’s taking care of its problems. Is there any concern on your part that they are rushing or that they don’t want to put the second cap on because they’re hoping that the relief well will be done by July 27th?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: I don’t want to speak for BP and their inter communication regarding how they deal with their board. My board of directors is the American people next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Zach Warmbrodt with Argas Media.
Q: Hi, thank you. In regards to the backup plans for the relief wells, I was wondering if you could talk about what fields you’ve identified that you could pump oil into. And at what point you’d be able to do that if the relief wells don’t work.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: At the request of the federal government at an industry meeting almost two weeks ago in Washington, we asked BP to probe on a backup for the relief well. Because I think, we found out so far you need a backup for the backup if you can in responding to this crisis.
One of the ideas that came up was to take wells in the local area that were not producing an actually put the oil back down into those wells. There are some wells in the area they range from two to 10 miles away.
They’re owned by various companies and the opportunity exist actually like pipeline and then use the mechanism that we are putting in place for the containment system that I just briefed on and actually divert that flow into those pipelines.
And then run it back across the floor of the Gulf of Mexico into wells that are not producing now. That will take some construction and some time will probably move it to somewhere in the later August time frame. But becomes a viable backup should the first relief well or second relief well not be successful.
Now we have every reason to believe though that we’re going to be successful between the two relief wells. But I think this situation has taught us from the start to have a backup—to have viable backup plan have it engineered and be moving towards that backup plan being available in the event the relief wells don’t come through.
I will leave the actual details to the particular wells the plans and the arrangements between those private companies to be discussed by BP. Because those are business arrangements that they’re discussing right now. Next question.
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Paula Dietrich with Oil and Gas Journal.
Q: Hi, Admiral thanks for taking my question. You gave us a measured depth this morning for the Development Driller III at 17,780 feet I just wondered if you know what the ultimate — the target measured depth is that they're going for.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes what I would like to do, and I don’t have the numbers if front of me right now, today is more a tutorial on skimming when I am done. I think tomorrow we need to have a discussion about how they actually depths because I think we are at the point where it will be good for the press and American people to understand it. Let me just give you an over view today and then we will provide you the exact numbers.
There are two measures of depth that are related to drilling these relief wells. One is called Measured Depth—that is the total feet of the well bore that is being drilled to intercept the current well bore. And as you know that is not vertically straight it started out a good distant from the current well sight and it is now curved in. The second measure is True Vertical Depth. And that is the depth at which we will penetrate the well bore as measured from a perpendicular line to a plane (inaudible) to the surface of the water.
I don’t want to get to geometrical here but if you can imagine a perpendicular line going straight down as measured directly and then a curving line that actually reflects the direction of the relief well. We have measured depth which is the length of the well and true vertical which is the depth below the height of the ocean. They both represent ways to describe where the intersection will take place. And tomorrow I will have the exact numbers of True Vertical Depth and Measured Depth for you. One final question?
OPERATOR: Your next question comes from Kristin Hayes with Reuters.
Q: Yes hello Admiral. I was wondering you mentioned earlier at the point where the relief well would kind of—its drilling parallel now and it would turn and enter the well bore. I was wondering if you could kind of talk me through step by step how that will work. It will go into the annulus first see what happens and then possibly into the pipe.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Yes it will go into the annulus first and if there is oil there it will then pump mud in and when they pump the mud into the annulus it will go and completely fill the well bore top to bottom to the point where the weight of the mud will over power the pressure of the oil coming out of the reservoir. Once they have stabilized the well bore at that point they will then cement in a plug between the relief well and the current well to basically kill the well with cement.
They will then back out and then re-drill through that cement. But to do you must imagine they have hardened the perimeter around the pipe. They will then actually re-drill through the cement they just laid and then go into the inner pipe to see if there is oil there. And if there is oil there they will replicate the same procedure by pumping mud in until the pressure of the mud overcomes the pressure of the oil in the reservoir and then put a cement plug in at that point.
So if you can imagine a series of hollow tree rings going to center and starting with the outer hollow ring first filling that with mud and cement and going back in and going to the inner one until we get to the pipe and then filling it up. If you go in sequence you have to do every one of those because there is oil in every one of those rings if you will this takes until the middle of August.
You get in there and it’s only in the pipe you cut a significant time out of that process. The problem is that we do not know the status of the well bore at this point. That’s the reason that we need to get more definite from what is going on we are just going to have to wait and see. Until we know that the date remains August.
Q: OK. Ok and just one more. Did I hear you right that in seven to 10 days they might be able to make that first penetration into the annulus?
ADMIRAL ALLEN: That is correct.
Q: OK thank you.
ADMIRAL ALLEN: Thank you.
For information about the response effort, visit www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.
[He said he would talk in depth about skimming operations but apparently the press wasn't interested. I'll tryto find the transcript of the "tutorial" he mentioned in this briefing. Clearly, skimming operations are not covered here in detail.]