The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Fixing the Deepwater Horizon Leaks

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted May 13, 2010

The New York Times reports today that BP is making headway in solving the problems that are allowing oil from the Macondo well to spill into the Gulf.

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After a briefing at BP's command center in Houston, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said, "Things are looking up." He added, "I'm feeling more comfortable than I was a week ago."

Similarly, in his daily email message, LCDR J.R. Hoeft of the Unified Area Command reported today that a gamma-ray sensor provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has scanned the blowout preventer (BOP) and has confirmed that some of the valves did close. These valves are restricting the flow of the oil and could make it easier to stop the leak.

With this information in hand, BP is preparing to use several intervention options:

  • The top hat - The two-ton containment dome, also called a cofferdam, that can be lowered over a leak and funnel the oil to the surface for processing. Unlike the larger cofferdam that was deployed last weekend, this one contains ports allowing for the injection of heated water and methanol (anti-freeze) to prevent the formation of icy gas hydrates. Slushy hydrates clogged the larger cofferdam.
  • The junk shot - This process involves clogging the BOP with shredded tires and golf balls.
  • A top kill - This would follow the junk shot. In this procedure, BP would pump heavy drilling mud into the well to counterbalance the pressure of the oil coming up from the well.
  • A second blowout preventer - BP would place a BOP on top of the partially activated one and use the top one to stop the flow.
  • A new pipe valve - This involves cutting the bent and twisted riser and installing a valve and a new pipe that would capture the oil and move it safely to the surface.

Hoeft also says that we should know in the next 72 hours whether the top hat will work. If it fails, BP is expected to move to the junk shot option.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.