Posted by MataHarley on 4 May, 2010 at 11:17 pm. 66 comments already!

As is usual with an US crisis, the media theatres are twofold – the hands on rescue efforts, and the political free-for-all that breaks out in it’s wake. When the media can manage to multitask, focusing on something other than the arrest of the NYC bomber, we’ve been bombarded with the political fingerpointing. Yet the “since day one” efforts of the administration have proven lackluster – with the stories emerging of booms that didn’t exist in sufficient quantities, and test burns that were not done. In contrast, the “do’ers” are busy “doing” in the effort to combat the encroaching oil spill.

What this administration did do is what this community organizer administration does best – employ thuggish threats thru the media, and plan the future paths of the lawsuits. Our Coast Guard? According to Talking Point’s Memo’s Muckraker, they’re being used as an accounting firm… tallying up BP’s bill.

The Coast Guard, which is leading the joint local-state-federal unified command responding to the spill, is keeping track of costs and will eventually bill BP, an Obama Administration official tells TPMmuckraker. It’s not clear when that will happen. (We’ve asked the unified command for details and will let you know if we hear back.)

The prime villain for media purposes had already been targeted… BP as the icon of the evil big oil corporations. But as I pointed out in my April 30th post, the drillship rig was owned and operated by Transocean LTD, and only six BP staffers were aboard when the tragedy happened. Transocean had 79 employees operating the rig, along with 41 unaffiliated contractors. BP leased both the rig and the Transocean crew.

The research challenged were slow to come around to these details, but eventually figured out that BP wasn’t doing the drilling, nor the cementing on the rig. However Transocean, a major oil rig operator with an above average industry safety record, isn’t as easy to scapegoat as the much maligned oil giants.

As more was learned, one more name got added to the fray, to the delight of sundry lib/prog bloggers…. Halliburton.

Crooks and Liars gleefully labels this as “Halliburton’s Katrina”. And then decides, in their infinite wisdom, that Halliburton’s cement job is conclusively the reason for the failure. With Crooks and Liars around, who needs an industry expert investigation, right? C&L then reminds us that Halliburton was the cementing subcontractor on Australia’s West Atlas rig last fall (a rig not leased, owned or operated by either BP or Transocean) when a blowout happened. The well, like the Horizon’s, flowed an estimated 3000 bbls a day for over two months.

According to a not-so-neutral media, the WA Today, a subsidiary of the Sidney Morning Herald, it took four attempts to cap it and relief wells were dug. However, contrary to the media’s headline, the “cause of the spill” was not revealed because there was an impending hearing. The WA Today took it upon themselves to pronounce judgment based on one driller’s personal opinion. Had the research challenged Crooks & Liars bothered to follow thru, they would have learned that the cause of the blowout had nothing to do with Halliburton’s cementing, but was traced back to a pressure corrosion cap that was removed to clean corroded casing threads in the well, but was not reinstalled.

Oops…. there goes another convenient political scapegoat to accuse of deliberate negligence in that case.

The POTUS, thus far, has confined his… and his mouthpieces’…. demonization to BP. But the Senate energy committee is well aware of both Transocean’s and Halliburton’s presence in the event. They’re busy doing what they do best… scheduling hearings for a public reaming. They’ve summoned execs from all three companies, plus independent experts, to a hearing next week. After they’re thru ripping them a new one, the House plans to follows suit with their stage show the next day.

That panel, which will look at the possible problems leading to explosions on the rig as well as the adequacy of containment and cleanup measures, would probably be the first of several, Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, the subcommittee chairman, said in a statement.

A separate federal investigation into the explosion is under way by the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service.

That would be, of course, the same MMS who was out doing the necessary safety inspections, “regular as clockwork”, according to “James” – a Horizon survivor interviewed on the Mark Levin Show April 30th.

As our resident oil dude visitor, oil guy from Alberta commented on my “a dose of reality” thread, the elected ones will get a crash course education… including from Mike Miller. Miller is the chief executive officer and senior well-control supervisor at Safety Boss, headquartered in Alberta. Safety Boss is renowned for their emergency response to the blowouts, and to fires in Kuwait. But they’ve been around since 1979 as some of the “go to” guys.

Miller’s “burning” questions? Why wasn’t the burning done at the onset, and why the heck did they fill that drillship with water, effectively sinking it?

“At least while the rig was burning, all of the effluent from the well was coming to the surface and burning at the surface,” Miller notes. Indeed, burning oil — even on the sea surface — is an accepted spill-mitigation technique. So he’s puzzled why water boats were deployed to dowse the burning platform.

“What they did was fill the rig up with water. At which point it sunk,” Miller says — a full 5,000 feet to the seabed. And that, he maintains, violated “the first rule in offshore fire-fighting, which is not to sink the ship.” The reason: As soon as the rig submerged, it took down the riser pipe, which in this case was a 5,000-foot-long tethered straw through which the oil was gushing up from a reservoir 13,000 feet below the seafloor.

Mental note to government… if you’re not sure what you’re doing, please don’t “help”. Did anyone even think about what that water would do to the rig, and the ensuing damage?

TMPs Muckracker clarified another important “day one” task of the administration; cornering BP on their liability language…

BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, has said that the company takes full responsibility for cleaning up the oil. But, in a possible bid to limit liability, he has consistently placed blame for the accident on the rig owner, Transocean.

In a claims document posted on its website, BP says it will pay for “all necessary and appropriate clean-up costs” as well as “legitimate and objectively verifiable claims for other loss and damage caused by the spill.” The document says such damage “may include claims for assessment, mitigation and clean up of spilled oil, real and property damage caused by the oil, personal injury caused by the spill, commercial losses including loss of earnings/profit and other losses as contemplated by applicable laws and regulations..”

According to the AP, the Obama Administration and several state AGs have asked BP to clarify its offer to pay damages. This was reported to be a planned topic of conversation in a Monday meeting between Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and BP executives.

Yeah… that’s first on my mind too…. *not*!

Then, of course, there’s Salon’s Joseph Romm, who laments that Obama is missing a golden opportunity to push his alternative energy agenda even further.


Well, count me not so bowled over with our government’s “response”. The Coast Guard, sinking the rig with an ill-thought response, Congressional hearings, claims of broken regulations and cries for more… topped off with tons of the media chit chat and a plethora of misinformation. OMG, please spare me the media chit chat. Dang, who’s tending the well? Shouldn’t combining all possible forces and resources be taking priorities over planning litigation? Or are my priorities out of order?


… and now to the groups who really *are* doing something!

Let’s get a far more interesting focus. An update on just what the powers that actually *are* doing something to stem the tide of oil… and not from politicians and desk jocks.

For the more informed perspectives, I turned to the The Oil Drum from yesterday. The first of three steel/concrete containment caps is being shipped today. Again the media reports it’s BP building them – perhaps to prepare the public for yet another reason for blame in the event it doesn’t work. But in fact it’s Wild Well Control who’s doing the building – a company who’s been around for 35 years responding to well control and pressure emergencies. In that time, they’ve responded to over 2700 events – both land and offshore.

Below, a picture of the first of three cap… via the Oil Drum link

How it’s supposed to work?

Image from Superior Energy – (via Johnson Rice)

How it works

• The system is made up of a 125-ton, 14’ x 24’ x 40’ structure that will be set on top of the largest leak source. This leak is located at the end of the riser, about 600 feet from the wellhead.

• Equipment at the top of the system is connected to a 5,000 foot riser that will convey the hydrocarbons to the surface ship, the Deepwater Enterprise.

• Once in place, oil will flow up into the containment system’s dome to the surface ship.

• Once on the surface ship, the hydrocarbons will be processed and oil will be separated from water and gas. The oil will then be temporarily stored before being offloaded and shipped to a designated oil terminal onshore.

• The Deepwater Enterprise is capable of processing 15,000 barrels of oil per day and storing 139,000 barrels.

• A support barge will also be deployed with a capacity to store 137,000 barrels of oil.

• This system could collect as much as 85% of oil rising from the seafloor.

According to The Oil Drum’s report, there are three separate points where the damaged risers are leaking, with the main leak some 600′ below the well head, and below the sea bed. What are the chances this works? BBC provides an article based on data from John Curry, of BP. This has been used successfully before… after Hurricane Katrina to channel spilt oil from the platforms to the surface. But that was in much shallower water.

This is breaking new ground, lowering these 98-tonne containers down 5000′. And while that, in itself, becomes a technical challenge, and the location of the leaks are known, there are other obstacles… including the softness of the seabed. Also, as Mike Miller of Safety Boss (mentioned above) notes, these devices, even in shallow water, tend to under perform to their expectations.


… and about that “remote-controlled acoustic shutoff switch”
…. aka ACS

Part of the dog n’ pony show planned by Congress has to do with this “acoustic shutoff” switch. It’s absence on the Transocean (not BP) rig has been cited by many a misinformed media pundit, evoking the impression with ominous certainty that, had the US implemented regulations demanding those, all would have been just hunky dory. Another dose of reality. The US Mineral Management Services didn’t require it simply because it was too expensive or troublesome to change regulations. They didn’t believe it added that much level of protection.

Again, this from the same WSJ article, whining about that ACS not being in place:

U.S. regulators don’t mandate use of the remote-control device on offshore rigs, and the Deepwater Horizon, hired by oil giant BP PLC, didn’t have one. With the remote control, a crew can attempt to trigger an underwater valve that shuts down the well even if the oil rig itself is damaged or evacuated.

The efficacy of the devices is unclear. Major offshore oil-well blowouts are rare, and it remained unclear Wednesday evening whether acoustic switches have ever been put to the test in a real-world accident. When wells do surge out of control, the primary shut-off systems almost always work. Remote control systems such as the acoustic switch, which have been tested in simulations, are intended as a last resort


The U.S. considered requiring a remote-controlled shut-off mechanism several years ago, but drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness, according to the agency overseeing offshore drilling. The agency, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, says it decided the remote device wasn’t needed because rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.

That pesky reality of skepticism by a US oversight body aside, would it have worked? Again, from the original Oil Drum post..

There has been some significant attention paid as to whether the rig should have been fitted with an acoustic remote control system for the BOPs – though in one discussion I heard there was some confusion as to what this would have changed on the rig, since there were BOPs in place. The acoustic system has the following benefit:

The ACS system is a redundant receiver/transmitter for communication with the rig through acoustics. It is interfaced to the BOP control pod so that different sets of emergency functions can be executed to shut down the well and avoid a pollution. If the regular umbilical is broken and normal communication with the BOP is not possible, the ACS is the last and only means to shut down the well. If a function is executed from the ACS, signal goes to a solenoid that activates a big valve on the BOP; the valve is then energized by air pressure bottles on the BOP.

In this case that doesn’t seem to be likely to have helped, since there was, apparently, a signal on the rig floor that the BOP had activated, though obviously it had not worked the way it was intended. The reason(s) for the BOP failing to work as anticipated is still a matter of conjecture.

As Hydraulic Pneumatics, a BOP manufacturer, notes on their website, high pressure gases when drilling is an ever present danger that strikes both safety and economic fear into the heart of all drillers. However the offshore/subsea pressures are even more extreme, especially when compounded by a cold environment such as the North Sea, Russian or Canadian rigs. It is a reality that they face daily in any operation. Is it possible to avoid? Not likely. Is it also possible that, at some times and under some circumstances, Mother Nature is going to be dealt the winning hand? Absolutely.


All in all, our best hopes for optimum outcome is not our government’s focus on legalities, but on incredibly brave and innovative men and women, attempting to plow new paths in deep water offshore drilling emergency response.

While they are moving heaven and earth to figure out a quick way to cap the Horizon well, someone should figure out a way to put a lid on Obama, his administration and his Congress. What needs to be addressed first is stemming the flow of the crude, not planning the court docket line up.

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