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With Cap Tests Delayed, Oil Well Gushes On

Updated: 2 hours 39 minutes ago

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Lauren Frayer


(July 14) -- Oil is gushing out into the Gulf of Mexico for an 85th day today, after BP was forced to delay pressure tests of a tighter-fitting well cap it hopes can halt the flow altogether, over possible fears they could spark a catastrophic undersea explosion.


The tests involve slowly shutting three giant valves on the cap, an 18-foot high, 150,000-pound stack of metal pipes and machinery lowered into place Monday. Pressure readings would then help engineers gauge how severely damaged the blown-out well is, and whether it is leaking in more than one place. They could also give the most precise estimate so far of how much oil is spewing from the sea floor.



But there are dangers. When all the valves are shut, engineers are expecting a spike in pressure that could potentially risk rupturing the whole well.


"Simply shutting the well in and hoping that pressure doesn't rise too much is like playing Russian roulette with five bullets in the gun," the Houston Chronicle quoted analysts with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Securities as telling investors.


BP says the well's steel casing is probably strong enough to withstand the pressure, but that engineers will be at the ready to abort the tests immediately and open the valves if it looks like they could explode.


"The test has been carefully designed to make sure we don't create a bad situation," BP senior vice president Kent Wells said in a telephone briefing with reporters Tuesday afternoon.


Meanwhile crude continues to spew into the gulf, with 90.4 million to 178.6 million gallons already in the water by Tuesday night, according to federal estimates reported by several news agencies.

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BP did not specify the exact reason for Tuesday's delay on the tests, but said on its website that "additional analysis of the well testing procedure should be performed before starting the well integrity test." That analysis was taking place overnight and into today, it said. The decision to hold off on Tuesday's tests was made after a meeting with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and his team of scientific and industry experts, BP said.


The Obama administration has been careful to hold BP to task on safety measures, and believes that lax safety standards in offshore drilling may have contributed to an April 20 explosion aboard the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig that unleashed the spill and killed 11 workers. To that end, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a revised moratorium Monday on such drilling, after a federal judge overturned a previous ban.


The new ban was a topic of discussion Tuesday in the second day of talks by a presidential commission meeting in New Orleans to investigate the spill. Commission co-chairman William Reilly initially supported the moratorium but has now changed his mind after touring the region and talking with locals and oil company executives and workers. Reilly said Tuesday he's now prepared to press President Barack Obama and Salazar to adopt new safety and environmental measures but lift the ban, The New York Times reported. The other co-chairman, Bob Graham, also said he thought the moratorium is a burden for the gulf region's economy.


In Louisiana alone, the offshore oil and natural gas drilling business generates $3 billion a year. Across the Gulf of Mexico, the industry provides tens of thousands of jobs.


Before Tuesday's delay of the well tests, BP engineers ran a seismic survey to map the sea floor, searching for underground pockets of gas or other geographical features that could affect pressure inside the well. But it's unclear what the results were, and whether they were the reason BP decided to postpone the tests.


"It's an incredibly big concern," Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of Professional Geoscience Programs at the University of Houston, told The Associated Press. "They need to get a scan of where things are, that way when they do pressure testing, they know to look out for ruptures or changes."


It's a painstaking technical process, for which many Gulf Coast residents have little patience.


"I don't know what's taking them so long. I just hope they take care of it," Lanette Eder, a school nutritionist on vacation in Florida, told the AP.

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I looked at the video, and it appears that nothing that BP has done has worked yet.



Are we being fed a bunch of propagated lies in the news?


There's a bunch of people now saying that we actually tapped into a Volcano, which I'm starting to believe. It doesnt even look like oil coming out and if it was just an oil well they surely could have capped it by now.

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There's a bunch of people now saying that we actually tapped into a Volcano, which I'm starting to believe. It doesn't even look like oil coming out and if it was just an oil well they surely could have capped it by now.



Thats ridiculous. Ever see what happens to volcanic lava when it hits the ocean? It hardens. (See Hawaii).

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Looks like this episode is 17,000 feet down is the reservoir of oil. Including 5000 feet of water. In my view the huge error was allowing drilling to take place at such a depth with only one safety valve. In this case one that totally failed.


The Nation should pass a law requiring deep water drilling to have triple redundant safety valves. One at the surface, ie water bottom, and one each at depths 500 feet and 1000 feet below water bottom.



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Looks like this episode is 17,000 feet down is the reservoir of oil. Including 5000 feet of water. In my view the huge error was allowing drilling to take place at such a depth with only one safety valve. In this case one that totally failed.


The Nation should pass a law requiring deep water drilling to have triple redundant safety valves. One at the surface, ie water bottom, and one each at depths 500 feet and 1000 feet below water bottom.


They shouldn't be drilling at this depth to begin with. The risk/reward isnt worth it. Maybe for BP it might be but for the general population, no. I say we go after Obama because if he wouldnt of said they cant drill in shallow waters to begin with this would of never happened.



Obama’s Stealth Moratorium on Shallow-Water Drilling


House Republicans are questioning the Obama Administration about why permits have not been re-issued to allow drilling to resume in shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico.


Rep. Bill Cassidy (R.-La.), at a House National Resources Committee hearing on Wednesday, sought questions about the de-facto drilling moratorium from Michael Bromwich, the new director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, who has only been on the job for eight days.

“There is a disconnect between what is being said by the administration and what we’re hearing from the industry,” Cassidy told HUMAN EVENTS at the hearing.


“What is said by the administration is, ‘No we’ve worked out everything that could be the least problematic -- it’s just a question now of getting the process rolling again, but it’s going to go through.’ What we’re hearing from the industry is that indeed there’s a shifting set of regulations, that no one will make a decision, and that they’ve been unable to activate,” Cassidy said.


It’s been over a month since President Obama claimed there’s no moratorium on shallow-water drilling. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, all drilling in the Gulf was halted. The President announced that shallow-water drilling would resume but that companies would be required to re-permit under new safety guidelines.


But no shallow-water drilling permits—with the exception of two which were quickly rescinded -- have been granted since the drilling moratorium was first announced on May 6th.


“We’re told by the government that the de-facto moratorium doesn’t exist,” Cassidy said.“By industry, by workers, we’re told that it does.”






A timeline provided by a House Republican staff member shows the progression of events:


April 20 -- The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.


April 22 -- Following the fire and explosion, the rig sank 130 miles southeast of New Orleans.


May 6 -- Without public review, Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI), announced an immediate moratorium on the approval of all offshore oil and gas drilling permits until the completion of an offshore safety review.


May 26 -- Salazar met with Gulf Coast senators and staff and with shallow-water drilling industry executives to discuss the need to lift the moratorium on shallow water drilling operations.


May 28 -- Following the DOI safety review, and with the support of many members of Congress, the administration lifted the offshore moratorium for shallow-water drilling operations in 500 feet of water or less where the “blowout preventer” is located above the surface.


May 31 – The Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) Gulf of Mexico Regional Office confirmed the approval for two shallow-water drilling permits. Shortly thereafter, those permits were revoked.


June 2 – An Interior Department press release said that the shallow-water drilling moratorium was lifted, but that such drilling operations must “satisfy new safety and environmental requirements.”


June 3 -- President Obama publicly stated that “the [offshore drilling] moratorium has not extended to the shallow waters.”


June 8 – The Interior Department issued a Safety “Notice to Lessees” (NTL) which imposed stronger safety requirements to be met before any new shallow-water drilling operations would be permitted. The shallow-water drilling industry sought clarification concerning the implementation of the Safety NTL.


June 11 – Shallow-water drilling industry executives, with congressional participation, met with the acting MMS director to seek clarification of the Safety NTL. MMS addressed the industry concerns, and advised that written clarification would be provided.


June 18 -- MMS provided written clarification concerning the Safety NTL. Additionally, a “second NTL” memo was issued applicable to the filings for new drilling permits, exploration plans or development plans. No new permits have yet been filed under the new guidelines.

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engineers Detect Seepage at BP Oil Well

Theunis Bates



(July 19) -- The U.S. government this morning announced that it will allow BP to keep a cap on its damaged Gulf of Mexico oil well for another 24 hours, after the oil giant promised to closely observe the seabed for evidence a new leak.


On Sunday, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is in charge of the government's response to the disaster, wrote to BP and demanded an explanation for an unspecified seepage near the 2.5-mile-deep well along with "undetermined anomalies at the well head."


"When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours," Allen said in a letter to BP Managing Director Bob Dudley. "I direct you to provide me a written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed."



In a new statement issued this morning, Allen said that a Federal science team held a conference call with BP officials on Sunday night, and got the answers they needed about how the company is monitoring the possible leak. But he added that the cap would be pulled if there was any evidence it was worsening the situation on the seabed


BP also confirmed today that it was keeping a close on eye on the well, saying in a statement that "extensive monitoring activities" were being carried out. The press release left out any mention of the possible leakage, but said that pressure inside the well "continues to rise slowly."


According to The Associated Press, Allen and other government figures are worried that -- as pressure readings on the cap haven't been as high as expected since it was installed Thursday -- there's a leak somewhere else in the wellbore, possibly deep in the bedrock. To prevent the fragile well from rupturing in another location, they want to ease pressure in the reservoir by piping oil to ships on the surface. But for that to work, oil would have to be released into the water for up to three days to allow pressure to drop and engineers to hook up the piping.


However, BP -- wary of yet more damaging footage of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico being broadcast -- appears interested in keeping the cap in place. Just a few hours before Allen's letter was released on Sunday, Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, said the company hoped to keep the damaged well shut off until a relief well is completed in August and the leak is sealed off with mud and cement. "We're hopeful that if the encouraging signs continue that we'll be able to continue the integrity test all the way to the point that we get the well killed," he said at a news conference . "Clearly we don't want to reanimate flow into the gulf if we don't have to."


Revelations of the new possible seepage have further dented BP's share price, which fell around 2.3 percent in London trading. The company's stock has lost almost 40 percent of its value since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April, killing 11 workers. And the London-headquartered firm today announced that it's bill for the cleanup operation is continuing to climb, hitting $3.95 billion, including $207 million to settle individual claims for damages from residents and businesses along the southern U.S. coast.


The company could be in for another share price knock on July 29, when the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on possible ties between BP and the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the Libyan intelligence officer convicted of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.


Four U.S. senators have alleged that BP lobbied the British government to set free Megrahi -- who was found guilty of 270 counts of murder for masterminding the attack -- so that it could secure a lucrative drilling deal off the Libyan coast. Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague this weekend said there was no connection between BP and last year's release of Megrahi, who returned to Libya to a hero's welcome in August after doctors said his prostate cancer was likely to result in his death within three months. The British cancer specialist who made that initial prediction now says Megrahi could survive for another decade.


British Prime Minister David Cameron, who is due to meet President Barack Obama in Washington tomorrow, today said that he deeply regretted the decision by Scotland's government to release Megrahi. "All I know is, as leader of the opposition, I could not have been more clear that I thought the decision to release al-Megrahi was completely and utterly wrong," Cameron, who was elected Prime Minister this May, told BBC TV.


Asked whether BP had pushed for Megrahi's release, he said: "I have no idea what BP did. I am not responsible for BP."



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(Aug. 3) -- BP began pumping mud and cement into its broken well in the Gulf of Mexico late this afternoon as part of a "static kill" procedure, a final step in permanently stopping the flow of oil.


The company ran "injectivity tests" earlier today to determine whether the blown-out well could withstand the pressure from the procedure, which is meant to begin killing the troubled oil well for good. The idea is to use heavy mud and cement to push the oil back into its reservoir, more than two miles below the water's surface.


The latest effort to kill the blown-out well came amid word that new federal estimates make the Deepwater Horizon disaster the world's worst-ever accidental oil spill.


Back in June, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill became America's worst ever, exceeding the volume of crude released in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. But new federal numbers released Monday show that nearly 5 million barrels of oil have gushed out of BP's damaged well since an April 20 explosion killed 11 rig workers. That means the Deepwater Horizon spill is much larger than what was previously believed to be the world's largest accidental spill, the 1979 Ixtoc I leak in Mexico's Bay of Campeche, which spilled 3.3 million barrels.


"We've never had a spill of this magnitude in the deep ocean," Ian R. MacDonald, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, told The New York Times. The new figures were reported by several news agencies.


"These things reverberate through the ecosystem," MacDonald said. "It is an ecological echo chamber, and I think we'll be hearing the echoes of this, ecologically, for the rest of my life."


The largest oil spill in history is still believed to have been Iraqi troops' intentional release of an estimated 8 million barrels into the Persian Gulf during the 1991 Gulf War.


According to the new federal estimates, only about 800,000 barrels of the oil that has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico -- about one-fifth of the total -- has been cleaned up. The rate of oil flowing from the well has slowed over time, the figures show. At first, it was leaking about 62,000 barrels of oil each day in late April, but then slowed to about 53,000 barrels daily before the well was capped last month.


The static kill involves pumping heavy drilling mud into the well's 150,000-pound containment cap, and then possibly sealing it with cement through a relief well the company has been digging for months. It's similar to a tactic that failed in May, the so-called "top kill," which BP tried to pull off while thousands of gallons of crude were still spewing out of the damaged well shaft. But now that the flow has basically been halted, engineers believe the tactic has a better chance of success.


For the past several weeks, BP has described the static kill as only half the solution. The other half, officials have said, is a plan to plug the damaged well from the bottom using two nearby relief wells. A similar process involving the pumping of heavy drilling fluids and cement would also be carried out below the well, sealing it off from the top and bottom.


But officials said Monday that depending on how successful the static kill is, BP might not need to pump cement through the relief wells too. Instead, they could be used as a tool to ensure that the static kill is sufficient.


"Even if we were to pump the cement from the top, we will still continue on with the relief well and confirm that the well is dead," BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said, according to The Associated Press. Either way, he said, "we want to end up with cement in the bottom of the hole."


"Precisely what the relief wells will do remains to be seen, given what we learn from the static kill," BP spokesman Daren Beaudo told the AP. "Can't predict it for certain."


The static kill is expected to run through Wednesday, when a decision will be made about whether a second sealing operation is needed, officials said. Meanwhile the closest relief well, which has already been drilled within five feet of the damaged oil pipe, will make contact with it sometime between Aug. 11 and Aug. 15, the BBC reported. If a so-called "bottom kill" operation is needed, that could take days or weeks.

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