Stupak stunner: Oil well’s blowout preventer had leaks, dead battery, design flaws, “How can a device that has 260 failure modes be considered fail-safe?”

Coast Guard Captain slams industry “self-certification” of BOP: “Manufactured by industry, installed by industry, with no government witnessing oversight of the installation or the construction.” And the rig flew the Marshall Island flag to further escape U.S. oversight

A senior House Democrat said that the blowout preventer that failed to stop an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico had a dead battery in its control pod, leaks in its hydraulic system, a “useless” test version of one of the devices that was supposed to close the flow of oil and a cutting tool that wasn’t strong enough to shear through joints that made up 10 percent of the drill pipe.

That’s the lede of the WashPost coverage on the devastating opening statement by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) in a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

It simply becomes more and more astounding that BP ever  called this blowout disaster ‘inconceivable,’ ‘unprecedented,’ and unforeseeable.  It was quite literally an accident waiting to happen.  A 30-second video of the undersea volcano finally released by BP is above.

You can read comments by the Coast Guard on how the rig minimizes regulatory oversight in the WP piece and also at, which reports:

The Coast Guard inspections follow up on the monitoring done by the classification society for the flag state. Gifford said the Deepwater Horizon used the Marshall Islands’ flag as a “flag of convenience” so it could comply with that country’s standards, and not the U.S. regulations.

The story relates more shocking testimony from the Coast Guard and MMS:

Summarizing testimony by Mike Saucier, a regional supervisor for field operations for the federal Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, Capt. Hung Nguyen said:

“So, MMS approves the design of the well, but they don’t check what type of pipe is used. And we have a study some time ago about whether a shear ram would cut a certain pipe (to shut off a well in an emergency), but we don’t know what was installed here. I don’t understand that.”

The testimony from Saucier established that the government agency he works for doesn’t do any certification of blowout preventers, the massive devices that are supposed to be the final cut off of an out-of-control well. Saucier said most of the action MMS has taken to control blowout preventers has been through “notices to lessees,” letters that go to drill operators but are not enforceable.

“We have self-certification of critical equipment and safety notices that are not enforceable…” Nguyen said, digesting the testimony before tailing off, pursing his lips and moving on to his next question.

The panel of three Coast Guard officials and three MMS representatives also appeared disappointed to learn from Saucier that tighter rules for monitoring deepwater drilling safety systems were proposed nine years ago, but got lost in the shuffle and never were adopted.

Saucier said new rules were written in 2001 to require secondary control systems for blowout preventers, the stacks of valves and pistons on the seafloor that are supposed to shut a well in an emergency, but MMS higher-ups in Washington never approved the regulations.

“As far as I know, they’re still up in headquarters,” he said.

If the rules had been adopted, they may not have prevented the catastrophe at Deepwater Horizon.

Hmm.  I wonder what former Halliburton CEO was in charge of U.S. oil policy in 2001.

Also worth noting, “Coast Guard regulations governing drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf have not been updated since 1996.”

Stupak points out that this is the third hearing he has held as chairman of Oversight and Investigations involving British Petroleum. Here are extended excerpts of his sobering opening statement:

Three years ago – almost to the day – this subcommittee held a hearing into British Petroleum’s disasters at Texas City and on the North Slope of Alaska.  The 2005 Texas City refinery explosion resulted in the deaths of 15 workers and injured more than 170 people.  As a result of that accident and BP’s failure to correct potential hazards faced by employees at Texas City, OSHA has twice slapped BP with record setting fines totaling more than $100 million.  Several reports criticized management at the Texas City facility including BP’s own 2007 Report of the Management Accountability Project which stated “a culture that evolved over the years seemed to ignore risk, tolerated non-compliance and accepted incompetence.”

In March of 2006 BP discovered their pipeline on Alaska’s North Slope had spilled more than 200,000 gallons of oil on the tundra, making it the largest spill in North Slope history.  Our hearings discovered that significant cost cutting measures resulted in decreased maintenance and inspections of the pipeline and BP’s management culture deterred individuals from raising safety concerns.

Since our last hearing BP has experienced continued problems on the North Slope

  • September 29, 2008 an 8 inch high pressure gas line at the Y-Pad location “separated” sending 3 pieces of pipe to the tundra.  One segment of the pipe landed 900 feet from the pipeline.  Roughly 30 minutes later a second and unrelated incident occurred on the S Pad where there was a gas release.
  • January 15, 2009 a isc cleaning pig became lodged and lost in a 34 inch Oil Transit Line during de-oiling allowing gas to pass around the pig and travel through Skid 50, to Pump Station 1 causing a significant venting of gas to the atmosphere and the complete shutdown of the Trans Alaska Pipeline for a period of time.
  • October 10, 2009 at the Central Compressor Plant low pressure flare staging valves were stuck closed causing gas to travel to the backup low pressure flare valves, which activated causing the gas to vent to the atmosphere which could have caused an explosion.
  • November 29, 2009 an 18 inch three-phase common line near the Lisburne Production Center carrying a mixture of crude oil, produced water and natural gas ruptured spraying its contents over an estimated 8,400 square feet area.

… The world is wondering what went wrong to allow explosive gas to shoot out of the drill pipe on the Deepwater Horizon causing the explosion.  We heard Chairman Waxman discuss theories of what may have gone wrong in the well (down hole as they call it) and what went wrong on the rig.  I would like to take a few minutes to discuss issues related to the blowout preventer (BOP) which was the “fail safe system” to cut off the flow of oil and gas to the rig.

In his testimony today, Lamar McKay, the President of BP America, says that blowout preventers are “intended to “¦ be fail-safe.”  But that didn’t happen.  The blowout preventer used by the Deepwater Horizon rig failed to stop the flow of gas and oil, the rig exploded, and an enormous oil spill is now threatening the Gulf Coast.

We know that the blowout preventer, the BOP,  did not properly engage.  The BOP has multiple rams that are supposed to slam shut to pinch off any flow around the drill pipe and stop the flow of oil from the well.  There are also shear rams in the BOP that are supposed to cut and seal the pipe to prevent oil and gas from flowing.  The question we will ask is why did these rams fail?

Our investigation is at its early stages, but already we have uncovered at least four significant problems with the blowout preventer used on the Deepwater Horizon drill rig.

First, the blowout preventer apparently had a significant leak in a key hydraulic system.  This leak was found in the hydraulic system that provides emergency power to the shear rams, which are the devices that are supposed to cut the drill pipe and seal the well.

I would like to put on the screen a document that the Committee received from BP.  This document states: “leaks have been discovered in the BOP hydraulics system.”

The blowout preventer was manufactured by Cameron.  We asked a senior official at Cameron what he knew about these leaks.  He told us when the remote operating vehicles (ROVs) tried to operate the shear rams, they noticed a loss of pressure.  They investigated this by injecting dye into the hydraulic fluid, which showed a large leak coming from a loose fitting, which was backed off several turns.

The Cameron official told us that he did not believe the leak was caused by the blowout because every other fitting in the system was tight.

We also asked about the significance of the leak.  The Cameron official said it was one of several possible failure modes.  If the leak deprived the shear rams of sufficient power, they might not succeed in cutting through the drill pipe and sealing the well.

Second, we learned that the blowout preventer had been modified in unexpected ways.  One of these modifications was potentially significant.  The blowout preventer has an underwater control panel.  BP spent a day trying to use this control panel to activate a variable bore ram on the blowout preventer that is designed to seal tight around any pipe in the well.  When they investigated why their attempts failed to activate the bore ram, they learned that the device had been modified.  A useless test ram – not the variable bore ram – had been connected to the socket that was supposed to activate the variable bore ram.  An entire day’s worth of precious time had been spent engaging rams that closed the wrong way.

BP told us the modifications on the BOP were extensive.  After the accident, they asked Transocean for drawings of the blowout preventer.  Because of the modifications, the drawings they received didn’t match the structure on the ocean floor.  BP said they wasted many hours figuring this out.

Third, we learned that the blowout preventer is not powerful enough to cut through joints in the drill pipe.  We found a Transocean document that I would like to put on the screen.  It says:  most blind shear rams are “designed to shear effectively only on the body of the drillpipe.  Procedures for the use of BSR’s must therefore ensure that there is no tool joint opposite the ram prior to shearing.”

This seemed astounding to us because the threaded joints between the sections of drillpipe make up about 10% of the length of the pipe.  If the shear rams cannot cut through the joints, that would mean that this so-called failsafe device would succeed in cutting the drillpipe only 90% of the time.

We asked the Cameron official about the cutting capacity of the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon.  He confirmed that it is not powerful enough to cut through the joints in the drillpipe.  And he told us this was another possible explanation for the failure of the blowout preventer to seal the well.

And fourth, we learned that the emergency controls on the blowout preventer may have failed.  The blowout preventer has two emergency controls.  One is called the emergency disconnect system or EDS.  BP officials told us that that the EDS was activated on the drill rig before the rig was evacuated.  But the Cameron official said they doubted the signals ever reached the blowout preventer on the seabed.  Cameron officials believed the explosion on the rig destroyed the communications link to the blowout preventer before the emergency sequence could be completed.

In other words, the emergency controls may have failed because the explosion that caused the emergency also disabled communications to the blowout preventer.

Still, the blowout preventer also has a “deadman switch” which is supposed to activate the blowout preventer when all else fails.  But according to Cameron, there were multiple scenarios that could have caused the deadman switch not to activate.  One is human oversight:  the deadman switch may not have been enabled on the control panel prior to the BOP being installed on the ocean floor.  One is lack of maintenance:  the deadman switch won’t work if the batteries are dead.  The deadman switch is connected to two separate control pods on the blowout preventer.  Both rely on battery power to operate.  When one of the control pods was removed and inspected after the spill began, the battery was found to be dead.  The battery in the other pod has not been inspected yet.

And one appears to be a design problem.  The deadman switch activates only when three separate lines that connect the rig to the blowout preventer are all severed:  the communication, power, and hydraulic lines.  Cameron believes the power and communication lines were severed in the explosion, but it is possible the hydraulic lines remained intact, which would have stopped the deadman switch from activating.

If this last scenario is true, the acoustic shut-off switch BP failed to install to save $500,000 would probably have worked to stop the blowout (see “Shocking allegations against BP“):

These are not the only failure scenarios that could impair the function of the blowout preventer.  The Cameron official we met with described many other potential problems that could have prevented the blowout preventer from functioning properly.  Steel casing or casing hanger could have been ejected from the well and blocked the operation of the rams.  The drill pipe could have been severed successfully, but then dropped from the rig, breaking the seal.  Or operators on the rig could have tried to activate the shear rams by pushing the shear ram control button.  This would have initiated an attempt to close the rams, but it would not have been successful.  The shear rams do not have enough power to cut drill pipe unless they are activated through the emergency switch or the deadman switch.

In fact, we uncovered an astonishing document that Transocean prepared in 2001, when it bought the blowout preventer from Cameron.  I would like to display the executive summary from this document.  It says there are 260 separate “failure modes” that “could require pulling of the BOP.”  According to this report, “the predominant failures” included “ram locking mechanisms.”

How can a device that has 260 failure modes be considered failsafe?

The problems with the blowout preventer extend to the procedures for testing the device.  The CEO of Transocean, Steven Newman, says in his testimony:  “we have no reason to believe that they were not operational – they were jointly tested by BP and Transocean personnel as specified on April 10 and 17 and found to be functional.”

But this assertion appears to be contradicted by a document prepared by BP on April 27, one week after the explosion.  According to this document, “BOP stack emergency systems are not typically tested once the BOP stack is on the seabed.”   What this means that while some functions on the BOP may have been tested in the weeks before the explosion, the emergency systems, including the deadman system and the leaking emergency hydraulic system, were unlikely to have been tested.

After the Alaska pipeline and Texas refinery disasters, BP promised to make safety its number one priority.  This hearing will raise serious questions about whether BP and its partners fulfilled this commitment.  The safety of its entire operations rested on the performance of a leaking and apparently defective blowout preventer.

And so again we see the tragic combination of Recklessness, Arrogance, and Hubris.

Related Post:

44 Responses to Stupak stunner: Oil well’s blowout preventer had leaks, dead battery, design flaws, “How can a device that has 260 failure modes be considered fail-safe?”

  1. Wit's End says:

    The lies, obfuscation, and general mendacity that allowed this disgusting (and ever more disgusting) episode in the Gulf to occur are mirrored to the same degree of destruction on land.

    There was some investigation into the invisible effects of fuel emissions in the last century. Somehow, the funding for that dried up.

    “There is evidence that air pollution is damaging trees and other vegetation in California. Ozone damage has been observed in the forests of southern California and in the southern and mid-range of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This study is a step in expanding our understanding of the nature and extent of that air pollution damage.”

    That passage is from a 1989 report ( Since then, the background level of tropospheric ozone has been inexorably rising, but the attention from research scientists, media, and government agencies has been inexorably decreasing.

    Why? Because it’s really, really scary. Crops are failing, trees are dying. At this rate, we are in for a major population reduction.

  2. Leif says:

    It was reported on the web this morning that the fire boats may of been instrumental in the sinking of the rig. This hypothesis makes a lot of sense to me. The rig is in fact a floating vessel and one can be sure that there were openings from the deck to the bilges. The bilge pumps would have been inoperable once the fire started or soon after. Much of the water sprayed on the fire, which was a hopeless cause anyway because it was a gas fire, would have made it to the bilges and sunk the rig. When that happened the riser pipe crumpled and broke requiring any further mitigation actions to happen on the sea floor a mile down. While the rig was burning at least the riser pipe was intact and perhaps mitigation could have proceeded closer to the surface. Perhaps even squeeze the riser against the drill core with hydraulics. Certainly the fire was minimizing the spill impact.

  3. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Joe, your coverage of the problems our oil dependency causes has been extensive. Have you covered the mountains of sulphur we have created in the process.

    PS Climate Progress’s coverage of the BP disaster has been outstanding. Well done

    [JR: Thanks. No, I missed the sulphur — guess I don’t live near enough to it.]

  4. DWhite says:

    Leif’s comment reminds me of a joke:
    How many firemen does it take to change a light bulb?

    4 – one to change the bulb and three to cut a hole in the roof

  5. Lou Grinzo says:

    The only thing that surprises me when something like this happens is the level of surprise many other people display that it happened at all.

    If you did a complete,unannounced safety inspection on any drilling (or refining or mining or …) project, down to the level of the flaws described above, how many problems do you think you’d find? My guess: A lot.

    This is what “cut corners” looks like, people!

    The companies know that most of the time they can get away with all those little safety shortcomings and reap a bit more profit. Every once in a while something backfires, they pay a trivial (to them) fine, get dragged in front of Congress and the TV cameras, swear to do better, and then go right back to BAU, complete with large enough campaign contributions to ensure regulation doesn’t get too inconvenient.

    Until campaign finance reform happens, expect to see minor and major variations on this theme play out over and over in the coming years.

  6. My take on this is that this is part of much larger problem of pretending that nature doesn’t matter. That’s also the conclusion of a major review of biodiversity:

    “Similar business and policy decisions, multiplied thousands times over the last hundred years, have put the biological infrastructure that supports life in jeopardy, according to the Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (GBO3) report, issued May 10”

    “We have to elevate the importance of biology on the human agenda,” says Thomas Lovejoy, tropical biologist and chief biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank.

  7. Steve O says:

    So they were fined $100 million for the Texas refinery disaster. That’s pocket change to BP. And for an incident that killed 15 people! Also, in the end Exxon only paid a $1 billion fine for the Valdez.

    I think what would help is proportional fines. Some countries do this for traffic violations: the fine is based on ability to pay, so a rich person might pay a $500 speeding ticket while a poorer person might pay $80 for the same violation.

    In the case of oil companies that have many billions in profits, the fines need to be large enough to make them care. How about something like 100% of their last year’s profits. That would likely get their insurance companies to put a little heat on them to make the “failsafe” systems actually failsafe.

    (The same comment could apply to Massey Coal. They pay way too little in fines to change their behavior.)

  8. Leif says:

    With all the evidence of the fossil industries’ disregard for the environment, safety procedures, redundancy and human suffering, it is beyond my understanding how the Tea Baggers can be so gullible, continue to brush it all aside and still carry their water for them. They do not even get payed. To add insult to injury the Tin Hats also suffer much of the abuse in lost homes, environmental destruction, air and water contamination and health effects.

    Very strange.

  9. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    This is going to hurt BP and we should make sure it does. The resignation of one senior executive is not enough, and even that has not happened yet.

  10. catman306 says:

    I’ll bet if this oil disaster had happened off the coast of China to Chinese corporations, we’d already be hearing about the forthcoming executions of their corporation executives.

    Leif: I wonder how long the rig would have stayed afloat without the firefighters water to cool it, however slightly. Could it still be floating today with a gas and oil flare and much of the superstructure melted? Would they have already been able to clamp the riser shut and thus begin to put out the fire? Wouldn’t this be exactly the sort of scenario that would be included in emergency contingency planning?

    Better Planning (next time!)

  11. mike roddy says:

    This is a severe cultural problem in the fossil fuel industry. Their executives and beancounters are so crazed with greed that death and destruction is worth it in relation to ROI and the discount rate.

    In my own experience of managing construction projects in seismic zones all over the world, key connections (analagous to the underwater wellhead) were designed with a safety factor of 2.5. The opposite seems to be occurring in the fossil fuel industry.

    Structural engineers almost anywhere in the world in seismic areas are inclined to employ these standard safety factors whether there are inspections or not. Exceptions were smaller buildings and situations where the developer overruled staff.

    It appears that BP designed for minimum compliance and then cut costs further instead of following standard practice safety factors.

    We could talk about bad management, but it really comes down to the fact that people who work for oil and coal companies are from the dark side. Hiring people to lie about climate change, supporting torture of prisoners (Cheney), and obliterating ecosystems are part of the package.

    These kinds of people have always been with us. What is most missing today are enough people who are in a position to do so stepping up and doing something about it. It is here that Obama has disappointed the most.

  12. Chris Dudley says:

    While these details are illuminating, the thing to remember is that this was bound to happen and allowing the well to continue to spill for a long period was inevitable. Offshore drilling is the problem. There are many places where oil can be produced cheaply and in great quantities on land. If we want oil, and I am not saying we should, we would do better to buy that oil at a low price than to produce risky and expensive oil offshore. We use about 11 gallons of gasoline per passenger vehicle per week. If we cut back to 8, we could force the price of oil down below $20/barrel. And, we’d avoid more oil spills in the Gulf since new drilling would stop at that price for oil.

  13. Karen S. says:

    The real stunner is this: multiply the number of oil extraction facilities worldwide, sloppily monitored by agencies from many governments (BP operates in 30 countries) times the number of so-called fail-safe devices, and you get the real number of accidents waiting to happen. Look up the worst oil spills in history, check the recovery stats for 10, 20 years later, add a dash of terrorism risk, and decide if it’s worth it.

    Ethanol is sucking up 75 percent of subsidies for alternative energy development. Wind and solar are begging for money. What don’t we understand about Big Oil’s grip on our lives?

  14. Stephen Watson says:

    @5. Lou Grinzo said:

    “The companies know that most of the time they can get away with all those little safety shortcomings and reap a bit more profit. Every once in a while something backfires, they pay a trivial (to them) fine, get dragged in front of Congress and the TV cameras, swear to do better, and then go right back to BAU, complete with large enough campaign contributions to ensure regulation doesn’t get too inconvenient.”

    So true and so depressingly familiar. This is the corporate pattern. I’ve just been reading ‘Risk’ by John Adams which talks about the process we each follow everyday in balancing the unpleasant consequences of what we are doing against the likely rewards and then we act accordingly.

    Years ago when the last cross-channel hovercraft went from England to France I was there to see it and spoke to a man who worked for Hoverspeed. I asked “I suppose it’s not making profit any more which is why it’s being stopped?” to which he replied “No. It’s still making profit – but not enough.” So, even when you make the profits that BP (or any oil company really) does it will still not be enough and one way to make even more is to reduce your costs and take the chance that if it goes wrong the costs will be bearable. This is why almost all large companies in both Europe and the USA outsource their manufacturing to the other countries which pay lower wages and don’t have to suffer expensive safety regulations (Bhopal anyone?) This is why the industry loves self-regulation – in the UK the supermarkets are always avoiding any regulation saying that they can do it just fine themselves thank you. It’s the standard response.

    Steve O’s idea of proportional fines would really help I’m sure. I never knew until this incident that there was a cap on the losses a company could pay! Unbelievable. I’m sure there is no cap on their profits – no doubt this is to encourage strong and profitable risk taking … It’s exactly the same with the banks recently – no limits to private profit but when the losses come the government can be relied on to bail you out!

    And finally, I’m confused by Chris’ thinking: “Offshore drilling is the problem. There are many places where oil can be produced cheaply and in great quantities on land. If we want oil, and I am not saying we should, we would do better to buy that oil at a low price than to produce risky and expensive oil offshore.” I’ve included a short extract from a Peak Oil talk I’ve given as a response:

    “This … explains why energy costs in the oil industry are on the rise and are reflected in the increasing depth of wells: 300 feet in 1870; 1,000 feet in 1900; 3,000 feet in the 1920s and more than 6,000 feet by 1980. As [Colin] Campbell has observed, “It is axiomatic that no one would look for oil in 6,000 feet of water if there were anywhere easier left.” And the Deepwater Horizon was in much Deeper Water than 6,000 feet!

  15. Thanks Joe for all this information!

    It is now also completely clear why BP tried to keep the video secret. They (and NOAA) still claim a leakage rate of only 5,000 barrels/day, that’s less than 2.5 gallons/second (so less than one bucket per second). Anyone who has seen the video knows that this is totally ridiculous. More likely that prof. Ian Macdonald of FSU is right after all with his estimate of 25,000 barrels/day!

  16. catman306 says:

    Does anyone know the diameter of the pipe that is leaking, no, make that gushing? It’s difficult to know the scale from the video.

  17. prokaryote says:

    Oil spill probe: BP had wrong diagram to close blowout preventer

  18. archmunster says:

    This oil spill is getting out of hand! And yet, Sarah Palin has a commonsense approach to deal with it and move the country forward. Check out her interview here–it’s very compelling:

  19. Whatshisname says:

    Can someone help me with my math? According to the BP site, the Deepwater Horizon was pumping from The Thunder Horse reserve (formerly known as Crazy Horse). Thunder Horse contains an estimated 1.5 billion barrels of oil (or about 63 billion gallons), according to BP.

    If Deepwater Horizon bleeds out, how much oil will it release?

  20. prokaryote says:

    Disaster unfolds slowly in the Gulf of Mexico

    Sickening what the oil technologys disaster means for centurys.
    Do we really need off shore drilling? Why not build wind farms?


  21. catman306 says:

    This caught my eye from prokaryote:

    “In Venice, La., Gov. Bobby Jindal reiterated his call for BP to supply more anti-oil booms to help keep the oil out of Louisiana’s wetlands.”

    I hope that the manufacturers of such booms and ALL of their suppliers are working 24/7! Get on this BP!

  22. catman306: There’s some confusion about this (BP should tell us), with some sources saying it’s as wide as 5 feet. However, if it’s the same diameter as the ‘riser’ pipe, it’s more probably 21 inch (
    According to the Transocean website, the riser devices on the Deepwater Horizon were manufactured by VetcoGray, a division of General Electric Oil & Gas. The specific designation is a “HMF-Class H, 21-inch outside diameter riser; 90 foot long joints with Choke & Kill, and booster and hydraulic supply lines.”

    Anyone have better information?

  23. prokaryote says:

    “I hope that the manufacturers of such booms and ALL of their suppliers are working 24/7! Get on this BP!”

    People should try this. Take for example cotton blankets – old clothes and stuff. Tie them to a barrier and hang between two ships. While driving through the water you can collect dispersants and oil bubbles.
    I think this makes an effective filter.

    This could be scaled with many participants and when patroling 24/7 infront of the coast, you could collect a lot of oil. As long as the oil volcano last.

    The biggest problem is, how you clean the towel filter. I read about water and oil seperation. Well, maybe just get a lot of old clothes and stuff?

  24. catman306 says:

    Whathisname: Pure speculation follows: Without human intervention it will ALL leak out. First as the gusher we are witnessing. When the pressure of the oil reserve drops to that at the sea floor the gusher will cease, but oil being lighter than water, will work it’s way out the drill hole and continue leaking as a dribble until it’s all replaced with sea water. Obviously the oil pressure in the oil reserve is greater than the pressure at the sea floor, but how much greater, I don’t know. If someone knew the pressure, then they might compute how long until the gusher stops.

    Bottom line is that this gusher/ dribbler needs to be stopped and men will need to do it. Explosives might fracture the rock so that the oil leaks in dozens of places.

    Of course, the exact three dimensional shape of the oil reserve might prevent all of the oil from leaking out through the single bore hole.

    If anyone has some of those bacteria that eat crude oil, now would be an excellent time to send some to the GOM.

  25. Leland Palmer says:

    Amy Goodman has reported that Transocean, the owner of the drilling platform, has made 260 million dollars on the insurance payout.

    Very interesting.

    Halliburton causes the accident, probably, Transocean profits from it, and BP is ultimately financially responsible, I guess.

    Wow, curiouser and curiouser.

  26. Leif says:

    Leland Palmer, #25: An in the end the American public pays. Insurance costs are no doubt billed to the consumer, are tax deductible or both. The public will be confronted with numerous costs that will fall thru the cracks. Environmental, personal stress and health, species depletion…

    It is just a cost of doing business and those folks know how to pass the costs on. Look at their P&L statements.

  27. David Gibson says:

    For the love of everything please blog about this product to save us all they need our help to get the message out

  28. Chris Winter says:

    Steve O wrote: “In the case of oil companies that have many billions in profits, the fines need to be large enough to make them care. How about something like 100% of their last year’s profits. That would likely get their insurance companies to put a little heat on them to make the “failsafe” systems actually failsafe.

    (The same comment could apply to Massey Coal. They pay way too little in fines to change their behavior.)”

    How about this: If there’s an accident leading to loss of life on an oil rig or in a mine, and if the company is shown to have neglected safety, they forfeit that asset to someone with a better safety record.

  29. catman306 says:

    David Gibson: Thanks for the link to oil gone easy. If this is for real we may have a chance to save the ecosystem in the Gulf. Mrs. catman, who lived in Biloxi, 30 years ago, and I actually cried when we saw the photos linked above from Boston Big Picture.

    Goo balls we can handle. Oil floating on the surface is a disaster.

  30. Doug Bostrom says:

    5 years from now, after the dust settles (or the oil sticks, whatever) I can guarantee you we’ll see whiny, self-righteous editorials in Oil and Gas Journal complaining about “regulatory burden” and the like, same as we’ve seen for decades now. This in spite history showing us regulations are only revisited and expanded after the industry shoots itself in the foot.

  31. Mark S says:

    Anybody out there doing leak rate estimates based on the video? I’ve been trying and have some numbers but wondering if I’m missing anything, for example, type of pipe fracture. But we do know that it is a 12″ pipe, is leaking gas and oil, and one can estimate a leak velocity based on the video–I’ve seen between 2-3 feet per second. However, would be interested in other factors to take into account if anyone out there knows something about this.

  32. Mark, how do you know it is 12″? Isn’t the pipe you see the ‘riser’ which has a 21″ outer diameter? That would probably raise your velocity estimate by a (scale) factor of 21/12 as well, to 3.5-5 feet/second

  33. Jenny says:

    Steve O and Chris Winter — Requiring corporations to pay higher fines and forfeit equipment is probably not the best way of preventing future incidents such as the Gulf disaster. Joe mentioned in his MSNBC interview that all the costs involved in the Gulf nightmare so far would only consume 4 days of BP’s profits. Perhaps a better approach would be to start criminally prosecuting corporate executives in situations where their shockingly reckless (and, in some cases, intentional) actions and omissions cause death and environmental devastation (as well as serious economic harm). Civil penalties are merely a cost of doing business that can be passed on to shareholders. The profits in the oil industry are so unimaginably enormous that even large civil penalties are truly insignificant, and do not constitute any sort of real incentive to change corporate behavior or corporate culture. On the other hand, the prospect of going to prison is typically genuinely terrifying for the folks such as those who are responsible for the Gulf catastrophe. Moreover, criminal monetary penalties can’t be passed along to shareholders (at least they can’t be under CA law — I’m not sure about federal law or the law in other states).

    I once criminally prosecuted Pacific Gas & Electric Company for causing a massive wildfire in Northern CA when an untrimmed tree contacted one of their 20,000-volt power lines. (They are required by statute to keep vegetation cleared from their high-voltage lines.) My investigation showed that this was neither an isolated incident nor an unforeseeable accident. Long story short, they’d diverted nearly 80 million dollars of ratepayer funds from vegetation maintenance into profits, because they decided it was less expensive to pay civil claims for damages after causing fires than it was to actually go out and trim the trees near their high-voltage lines. Over a period of years this approach had resulted in numerous fires (thankfully – and only by sheer luck – there were no deaths), and payment of civil monetary settlements by the company. But it wasn’t until they were criminally prosecuted that their conduct changed.

  34. Mark S says:

    Sustainable: the 12″ number came from the BP oil incident response website (I think). If it is 21″ then, yes, everything would need to be scaled.

  35. Mark S: This is what I now find in the Guardian:

    The Deepwater Horizon Unified Command – set up by Marine Board of Investigation to report on the explosion on 20 April that caused the leak – posted the first clip on Wednesday. It said the oil and gas were flowing from the larger of the two known leaks on the riser.

    “This leak is located approximately 460ft (140 metres) from the top of the blowout preventer and rests on the sea floor at a depth of about 5,000ft.”

    So the pipe you see must indeed be the riser. For that, I find the 21″ number (see source in my response #22).

  36. Mike S, taking my pipe diameter (21″) and your speed estimate, scaled by 21/12, I arrive at roughly 160,000 barrels/day. Agree?

    Even at 12″ and your corresponding speed estimate it would be 30,000 barrels/day.

  37. Mark S says:

    sustainable: I’ve been checking around the web and I’ve found multiple sources for the 21″ claim. I’d like verification by someone but would agree with you that the pipe is indeed the 21″er. There are a couple things that lower the estimate from the top number however. One is that a bunch of natural gas is mixed. I’m using a rough number of 30% by volume. This would lower my estimate to 21k barrels/day. The amount of leak from a 18″ inside diameter pipe (if pipe thickness is 1.5″ and using a 1.5 scale factor to be conservative) would be 57k barrels to 85k barrels. Obviously there are a lot of unknowns that could lower (or raise) this estimate but I think it goes without saying there is way more oil being discharged than previously estimated.

  38. Mark S. Good thinking! I have read that the large leak (and DHUC states that’s the one in the video) causes 85% of the flow. So we’d have to multiply your numbers by 100/85 again to find the total flow, leading to an estimate of 70k – 100k barrels/day.

  39. Mark S says:

    Sustainable: Agreed. It does make some sense in that 30k barrels is a good estimate of what a controlled production rig produces in the gulf. An uncontrolled pipe that spews 2-3x that amount isn’t surprising to me.

  40. Mark S says:

    sustainable: Check out this link….u r not going to believe how close we were to the experts. It’s almost like they used the numbers we came up with….

  41. Mark S; that’s indeed almost unbelievable! The situation is really a giant mess, and I’m quite sure people with better access to the data have known this for weeks. Might it be that BP and NOAA have agreed not to cause further panic?

  42. Whathisname says:

    Catman306 — Thanks much. Down here people are starting to plan for the worst (the unspeakable). As you know, oil companies are notorious for playing hide and seek. My most recent maps related to energy exploration in these parts were probably obsolete before the ink dried, and no one I’ve spoken with is sure which oil reserve is gushing and how much is left. Needless to say, BP and Transocean’s websites are vague.

    I now have an ominous question passed along by my wife, who is a longtime primary care physician: What’s next in terms of health hazards? Symptoms? Causes? What is coming?

  43. lookingaround says:

    prokaryote says:
    May 13, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Disaster unfolds slowly in the Gulf of Mexico

    Sickening what the oil technologys disaster means for centurys.
    Do we really need off shore drilling? Why not build wind farms?


    Yeah, right, we wish….the same week of the leak, the Admin approved a wind farm off the coast of Nantucket. Yup, the Kennedy’s immediately sued the Dept of the Interior.

  44. Dan H, Airzona says:

    Every evening, as I hear more about the events leading up to and continuing on, it infuriates me, but not for any of the topics typically talked about on the news.

    Once a week, on Tuesdays, the large aircraft hangar where I work undergoes a 2-3 hour check/test of the water & foam fire suppression system. Does this take time? YES Does this cost lots of money? YES Does it slow down or stop other work from being done? Usually, YES. But still it’s done, week after week, year after year. I can pretty much set my watch by it at 9AM every Tuesday morning.

    My observation is this: Can someone explain to us in what manner, and with what frequency, the BOP and other safety devices were regularly tested for proper functionality? Also, please explain the criteria for dealing with problems encountered during these tests. There were obvious warning signs (i.e., chewed up annular seal being spit out on the deck, control pod – the “backup” one – inoperative), but nothing was done. Someone’s asleep at the wheel, boys! If you’re going to install the safety equipment, shouldn’t you make sure it’s going to work the one time you need it to? Not being an industry insider, I’m guessing the regulations require the use of a BOP, and some cursory checks periodically, which they probably did half-heartedly. For the sake of their employees and their reputation, and in light of the fact that they were pushing the technology envelope, someone in authority should have seen this potential, and had the courage to do the right thing. Ever heard the expression, “Too Many Managers, Too Few Leaders!!!”

    What a shame! Everyone from the BOP designers to BP ownership, to the installers and the operators, should have DEMANDED a device that not only allowed for 100% verification of system performance, but also should not have yielded to pressures of putting profits above safety. And I’m not even talking about personnel safety, even in light of those who lost their lives in the explosion/sinking of the drilling platform (of whom we hear little to nothing about in the news). What about the economic, environmental, and health safety of all who depend on the Gulf Region for their livelihood? Left too much longer, and this oil will be making its way up the east coast. I won’t even get into the fact that the shearing mechanism likely wouldn’t have cut thru a section of pipe with a coupler present (10% of the length of each section of pipe) – effectivley lowering reliability by 10 percent right off the top. Rarely have I heard engineers tell me the “best case scenario” during a design review – best case, stuff better work!!! It’s the worse case that usually concerns me. If things won’t work worse case, then the statistician better be able to prove to me that the likelihood of worse case conditions is once every millenium.

    The problem is that not enough people realize that Murphy’s Law, in all its forms, will rear its ugly head. Now, multiply that by thousands (for each PSI of oil pressure at the ocean floor) and you get this disaster. However, there are all too many greedy bastards out there who will gladly pay money for their negligence (I can’t call it “mistakes”), while the rest of society (and in this case, the planet) is what suffers. Even with all the lawsuits and clean up bills, it will still likely be cheaper to pay those than to slow down and do things the proper way. Unless that atmosphere changes, this will continue to happen. Let’s keep a watch on the oil rig ATLANTIS, and see what a disaster that’ll be when it happens.

    I’ve seen it too many times, on highly engineered systems that are implemented or managed by “production minded” idiots. Yes, you get paid by what you produce, but if you operate your equipment outside the design parameters, you SHOULD expect disaster. System interlocks should have prevented the system from boring faster than conditions or equipment could handle. A busting drill tip/bit should be a wake up call. Engineers and technical types will usually operate conservatively, while production types will want to operate to the limits (or beyond). There’s usually enough design margin (or safety factor) and redundancy built in to a highly engineered system to handle operating up to or slightly beyond the limits, but it assumes that all the key pieces of the puzzle are operating properly – which obviously was not the case here! “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish”. At $1M per day, I think that event BP wouldn’t mind an extra week or two of slowing down or stopping to fix a major safety problem, compared to losing the rig, losing11 workers, and dealing with another PR nightmare.