Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hearings Provide Little Information Into Failed Well

Deepwater Horizon
(Photo by US Coast Guard/Courtesy of Sky Truth)
BP and parties connected to Deepwater Horizon refuse to take blame for failed well

By Nicholas Moroni

BP representatives answered questions posed by members of The National Academy of Engineering regarding the failed well that led to the gulf spill today.

Issues regarding the safety of the well, workers' conditions, and the emergence response system attached to the well all came under fire.

BP sought to dodge blame for many of these issues in a report it recently published. The board today challenged many of the reports findings.

BP and Halliburton have ping-ponged the relevance of a supposed flawed cement job on the well. Halliburton told the Academy that BP's report was "erroneous."

The Academy is studying the report and looking into the well at the request of Interior secretary Ken Salazar.

No entity has been forthcoming to take responsibilty for the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon.

"It is clear that you could go further into the analysis," said Mark Bly, BP head of safety and operations.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Relief Well Finished, BP Says

Blown-out BP well is declared "dead"

By Nicholas Moroni

BP and the federal government stated today that a months-long operation to seal the failed well in the Gulf of Mexico is completed.

Drilled alongside the once-gushing Macondo well, which leaked subsequent to the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, a relief well (there are two of them) is reportedl intersected, and cement was pumped into the bottom of the Macondo well, thus sealing it.

The Macondo well was fitted in July with a temporary cap, but today was officially declared "dead," with the completion of the cement that had been pumped, and the relief well, which acts as a sealent from the bottom.

"This is a significant milestone in the response to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and is the final step in a complex and unprecedented subsea operation - finally confirming that this well no longer presents a threat to the Gulf of Mexico," BP CEO Tony Haywayrd said in a company press release. "However, there is still more to be done. BP's commitment to complete our work and restore the damage done to the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf coast and the livelihoods of the people across the region remains unchanged."

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's lead man in the response, said the well no longer posed any threat.

4 million barrels of oil leaked into gulf waters and BP has paid $9.5 billion in response since the spill.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

History Indicates Gulf of Mexico Spill is Among World's Largest

A sign on a building along Louisiana Highway
1 (LA 1) in Lafourche, La. (Photo by Nicholas

Ten of the world's largest oil spills: the Deepwater Horizon now has a spot on the list

By Nicholas Moroni

Recently, Live Science, Foreign Policy, (The History Channel's Web site), and scores of other publications have put out articles listing the worst oil spills in the history of the world. At the time these articles appeared, the gushing Macondo well - which leaked over 200 million gallons of oil - in the Gulf of Mexico was not comparable to some of the catastrophic spills cited.

  • Gulf War - Leaving Kuwait on January 21, 1991, Iraqi forces released valves and pipelines from oil tankers as they retreated and spilled between 150 million and 450 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf.
  • Ixtoc 1 Spill - This occurred in the wee hours of June 3, 1979, when a flaming mixture of oil and gas shut up a drilling well located off the coast of Cidudad del Carmen, Mexico, in the Gulf of Mexico. All the workers aboard the rig were able to evacuate safely, but the explosion leaked close to 140 million barrels of oil; and, ironically, what was once a tiny shrimping town is now a haven for oil exploration.
  • Atlantic Empress/Aegean Captain Collision - These two carriers, which happened to be brimming with oil, collided 10 miles off the coast of Trinidad and Tabago in the midst of a tropical storm on July 19, 1979. Both ships caught fire and 26 crewmembers perished. Around 90 million gallons of oil was spilled.
  • Fergana Valley - A total of 88 million gallons of oil were spilled into this dense industrial region of eastern Uzbekistan in March 1992. This remains the world's largest inland spill. Reports surrounding the cause of the incident appear to be scarce.
  • Nowruz Platform - During the Iran/Iraq war, an Irani oil tanker collided with a platform in the Persian Gulf on February 10, 1983. The crash caused the platform to tilt at a 45-degree angle and uncap a well, ultimately spilling 1,500 barrels of oil into the gulf daily until it was capped in September of that year. Iraqi forces then attacked the platform when workers were attempting the capping, and oil on the deck resulted in a fire which claimed 11 lives. A nearby platform was then ambushed by Iraqi helicopters, which resulted in an additional spill. When workers finally capped this well in March 1985, nine men died in the process. A total of 80 million gallons leaked.
  • ABT Summer - This Liberian tanker held 260,000 tons of crude and exploded off the coast of Angola on May 28, 1991, killing five crew members.
  • Castillo de Beliver - On August 6, 1983, a fire broke out on board this Spanish tanker as it was sailing in waters along the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. An explosion occurred, and 79 million gallons of oil leaked into the water.
  • Amoco Cadiz - This tanker wreck and the resulting spill of 69 million gallons of oil brought the world its first images of oil-slicked birds. The crash occurred on March 16, 1978 off the coast of Portsall, France, and 240 miles of the Brittany coast suffered extensive damage.
  • M/T Haven - Six crew members died and 45 million gallons of oil spilled into the Mediterranean coasts of Italy and France when this very large crude container (VLCC) exploded off the coast of Genoa, Italy on April 11, 1991.
  • Odyssey - This American drilling-rig blew up off the coast of Novia Scotia in November 1988. The accident caused one death and 42 million gallons of oil leaked.
To date, it is surmised that over 200 millions gallons of oil were spilled from the Macondo well, granting it a second-place ranking among the world's largest oil spills.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

BP's Report on Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Failed Well Leaves Questions

Questions are unanswered in BP's report on the explosion aboard Deepwater Horizon

By Nicholas Moroni

BP's release of a preliminary report on the events surrounding the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon that led to three months of spewing oil in the Gulf of Mexico, hints at a defensive role that the company will probably be playing as it faces investigations and litigation in the future.

"No single factor caused the Macondo well tragedy. Rather, a sequence of failures involving a number of different parties" caused the oil rig to explode and the oil spill in the gulf, BP stated in a press release today. In the aforementioned report, the oil giant names Transocean (which owned the Deepwater Horizon), Cameron International (the manufacturer of the failed blowout preventer) and Halliburton (accused of performing a shoddy job in pouring cement down the well: one that might have failed to stop firy oil and gas from rising to the surface and to cause the explosion), as responsible entities.

Similar to the blame game that was played recently in Houston at federal investigative hearings; mea culpas from entities linked to BP and the Deepwater Horizon were not forthcoming.

The Washington Post published the following statements in an article today:

  • "It is evident that a series of events rather than a single mistake or failure led to the tragedy," said BP CEO Tony Hayward, who has been silent for months, and will step down from his post on October 1 - he will be taking a position in Russia, and will yield less power within the company. Bob Dudley will take over as CEO.
  • "In both its design and construction, BP made a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk - in some cases severly," read a statement from Transocean.
  • "The well owner [BP] is responsible for designing the well program and any testing related to the well," Halliburton rebutted in a statement.
The report, which was presented at a press conference in Washington, D.C. today, failed to hold anyone in particular within BP responsible for the explosion.

The report did claim that the blowout did not rise from the sides of the well (an area known as the annulus); but, rather up the center - an indication that the company may dodge blame for operating with a cheaper casing that had been assessed as riskier, and going with a reduced number of centralizers (they keep the casing in place, and the company used).

BP will remain on the defensive as it stands to face billions of dollars in fines that could be imposd under the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.

The Justice Dept. is already investigating BP, and the company is facing litigation from states and individual plaintiffs.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

BP Continues to Pay for Study of Environmental Impacts of Oil Spill

A seagull rests atop a boom in Grand Isle, La.
(Photo by Nicholas Moroni)

BP Continues to pay into a $500 million research fund it pledged to uphold in May

By Nicholas Moroni

BP stated today that it will hand over $10 million to the National Institutes of Health in order to study the environmental impacts of the three-month-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, The Times-Picayune reported today.

The money is part of a broader $500 million pledge that the oil giant made in May. BP will fund research into potentially long-term environmental damage that may occur subsequent to the 5 million barrels of oil, and the 1-2 million gallons of dispersants that were used to dissipate the oil in the wake of the spill. Little is known about the dispersants: the EPA has dubbed them "non-toxic," but the EDF questions that ascertainment.

The NIH (a congressionally-funded organization that conducts research in the name of enhancing human and environmental health) will be governing the distribution of funds to public agencies and Gulf Coast academic institutions that will conduct research.

Last month, The Los Angeles Times reported that the South Florida researchers had discovered the presence of oil in plants that are crucial to the diets of many sea organisms.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Blowout Preventer on Failed Well in Gulf of Mexico Waters Removed

The failed blowout preventer atop the Macondo Well was removed today

By Nicholas Moroni

BP was able to remove the failed blowout preventer after a robot was submerged unto the seafloor to retrieve the 50-foot, 300-ton device, The Associated Press reported today.

The device is important to Justice Dept. investigations that will be udertaken to understand why the device did not seal the well after the April 20th explosion.

Hundreds of lawsuits have already been filed against the potentially liable companies, and lawyers will be watching the findings, as many more could follow.

For its part, BP claimed it has already spent $8 billion in the gulf - throughout the saga, the company has pledged to take "full responsibility." It has also agreed to pay into a $20 billion escrow fund for spill victims.

The New York Times reported today that BP announced that recently proposed legislation that would deny the compnay drilling permits in the gulf could impede its ability to pay into the fund.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Oil Rig Explodes Off the Coast of Louisiana

Oil rig explodes near the site of the failed Macondo well off the coast of Louisiana

By Nicholas Moroni

The Associated Press reported a short time ago today that an offshore petroleum platform exploded 80 miles off the coast of Vermillion Bay - not far from the site of the failed Macondo well, which leaked into the gulf's waters for three months.

Information at this point is limited. Residents in and around Vermillion Parish claim that little can be seen at this time.

"We think it's a production platform," said a representative from the Vermillion Parish Tourist Commission, reinforcing the AP report. The representative asked to be quoted anonymously.

"We don't see any smoke trails. All I know is what I've seen on the news," said Steve Chevalier, a hotel owner in nearby Grand Isle.

AP, reporting on a Coast Guard briefing, stated that Coast Guard Petty Officer Casey Ranel said the blast was reported by private helicopter company this morning.

The exploded rig was in roughly 350 feet of water, according to the Department of Homeland Security; while the Deepwater Horizon was submerged 5,000 feet at the time when it burst into flames.

All 13 workers aboard the rig have been accounted for, with only 1 injury, The Times-Picayune reported.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Relief Well, Bottom Kill, Static Kill, What?

A caricature made in protest of the
spill in the Gulf of Mexico along Louisiana
Highway 1, in Lafourche, La.
(Photo by Nicholas Moroni)

Due to the gulf spill, industry terminology is now part of the public discourse; but, what does "bottom kill" mean?

By Nicholas Moroni

Four months after the disastrous explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in Gulf of Mexico waters off the coast of Louisiana - one that led to a failed oil well that was only recently tamed - both BP and the federal response have supplemented news coverage of the oil spill with a slew of industry terminology. But, what is the difference between a "static kill" and "bottom kill?" And, didn't they already try the latter? No, that was the failed "top kill" method."

Provided below is a list of some of the methodologies employed in the wake of the spill, concise definitions, and whether or not they were successful in stanching the 4.9 billion gallons of crude that gushed into the gulf between April 20 and July 15.