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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Well Cap: Will it Work?

© BP p.l.c.

BP has installed the new and improved "capping stack" and is in the process of scheduling tests. They were supposed to actually begin testing yesterday but government scientists and industry professionals got nervous about what might happen to the well head and/or what's left of the sub sea well structure when the valves were shut down. This cap weighs 80,000 tons, is 30' tall and rests at 5,000 feet below sea level. With all that pressure down there you can imagine the eruptive forces they're worried about, maybe as much as 10,000 psi.

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.


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