July 20th, 2010
02:15 PM ET

BP’s trial & error: What’s worked and what hasn’t


[Updated 10:25 a.m., Aug. 6]

With oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for almost three months, every attempt to stop the leak has failed, or fallen short - until now. Oil finally stopped gushing from the well on July 15. We look back at how we ended up here: what BP has tried and done so far.

July 20, 2010

Solution: Static Kill
Scientists are weighing a new option called  "static kill” for permanently sealing it. The "static kill" would involve pumping mud into the well to force oil back into the reservoir below. This is similar to the "top kill" method that failed earlier (see below), except that now the oil isn't flowing - hence the word "static."

Read more on static kill at Time.com

Engineers are proceeding with the relief wells that eventually will pump concrete into the well bore to kill it from the bottom. A static kill, if pursued, would hit it from the top.

Expectation
BP noted that the option could succeed where other similar attempts have failed because pressure in the well is lower than expected. Geologist Arthur Berman tells CNN's "American Morning" the relative simplicity of the static kill makes it an attractive option for BP.

Outcome
BP finished pouring cement down the well on Aug. 6, completing the job earlier than expected. The process took six hours. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said the cementing phase of the "static kill" operation is not the end of the process, "but it will virtually assure us there's no chance of oil leaking into the environment."

July 10, 2010

Solution: New better-fitting containment cap
BP said it was going to remove the old containment cap, replacing it with another that has a better fit. Robots removed six giant bolts from the apparatus July 11 so the new cap could be positioned.

Scientists will then be able to gauge the pressure inside the well and determine whether the cap is holding in the oil or if crews will need to continue siphoning oil.

BP says it will conduct a “well integrity test,” which involves closing the stack end and stemming the flow coming from the well.

If it works, oil collection via the vessels, Q4000 and Helix Producer, will cease. BP will then close in on the perforated pipe. This process, which will be done in collaboration with U.S. government officials, could take up to 48 hours.

Expectation
In the best-case scenario, the containment cap would have the ability to actually close down the valves and slowly contain all the oil – not plug the well.

If oil collection was still necessary, over the next two to three weeks, 60,000 to 80,000 barrels (2.52 million to 3.36 million gallons) a day could be collected as part of the containment process, BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said. That's because the containment cap would allow four collection ships to access the well, rather than the maximum of three allowed by the old cap.

The oil giant said earlier as well that the cap "should improve containment efficiency during hurricane season by allowing shorter disconnect and reconnect times."

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said he approved the cap-switch plan to take advantage of favorable weather predicted for coming days and because, once the switch is complete, the resulting capacity to contain oil "will be far greater than the capabilities we have achieved using current systems." Allen also stressed that once the capping device is on, "we would get the most accurate flow rate to date."

Outcome
The oil stopped gushing out on the afternoon of July 15 -  the first time BP has been able to gain control since the the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded three months ago and triggered the catastrophe.

The "well integrity test" began on July 15 after two days of delays, first as government scientists scrutinized testing procedures and then as BP replaced a leaking piece of equipment known as a choke line.

BP cautioned that the oil cutoff, while welcomed, isn't likely to go beyond the 48 hours. Valves are expected to open after that to resume siphoning oil to two ships on the surface, the Q4000 and Helix Producer, as government and BP officials assess the data and decide what to do next.

As of July 19, testing on a capped oil well in the Gulf of Mexico continues as the federal government says BP has addressed questions about a seep near the well. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's response manager for the oil spill, says that a federal science team and BP representatives discussed the seep during a conference call, including the "possible observation of methane over the well."

See progress on relief wells

June 16, 2010

Solution: Second containment system
BP said Wednesday it has started collecting oil gushing into the Gulf through a second containment system attached to the ruptured well. The new system is connected directly to the blowout preventer and carries oil up to a second ship, the Q4000. The Q4000 uses a specialised clean-burning system to flare oil and gas captured by this second system. The Q4000 uses a specialised clean-burning system to flare oil and gas captured by this second system.

Expectation
This second system supplements the lower marine riser package (LMRP) cap containment system, which remains in operation, BP said. The new system is connected directly to the blowout preventer and carries oil and gas through a manifold and hoses to the Q4000 vessel on the surface.

Outcome
Oil and gas collected from the blowout preventer reached the Q4000 at approximately early on June 16. Operations continue to stabilise and optimise the performance of the second containment system.

See progress on the relief wells

June 3, 2010
Solution: An altered version of "cut and cap"
BP went back to the drawing board June 3 and planned to cut away the remains of the damaged riser pipe with a robotic-arm shearing device. A containment dome would then be put over the blowout preventer's lower marine riser package, but the larger, less precise shearing device will have left a rougher cut than what the diamond wire cutter was supposed to offer.

Expectation
The more primitive cut means that a rubber seal will not be as tight as previously hoped, so the dome may capture less of the oil. Nevertheless, the hope is that a good amount of the oil can be captured and brought to the surface until August, when BP is expected to be ready to use a relief well to seal the leaking well for good.Outcome
BP sliced off the remains of the damaged riser June 3, and Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's response manager, called the news "extremely important." Robot submarines steered the new cap to the well later that evening. The cap placed over the top of the well funnels oil and gas to a surface ship, though oil is still spilling out from the cap and the valves.

On June 7, BP says that it has closed one of four vents on top of the cap, and that the process is working well. The company says it may not close all four of the valves because engineers think the valves may be releasing more gas than oil.

On June 10, scientists said as much as 40,000 barrels of crude are gushing into the sea every day. The previous estimate by researchers, made two weeks ago, was 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day.

BP has collected about 73,300 barrels (about 3 million gallons) of oil since it placed a containment cap on its ruptured well, the company said.

June 1, 2010
Solution: "Cut and cap"

BP plans to send marine robots that will cut the "lower marine riser package,” or LMRP, on the well. This is a set of pipes that connect the oil well’s blowout preventer to the damaged pipe. After that, a diamond-cut saw will be used to make a "clean cut," preparing the way for a custom-made cap to be fitted over the package. One of a number of caps that BP has available, depending on the cut, will be placed over the package to bring the oil and gas to the surface.

The operation represents the first of three containment steps that BP plans to take. After the cap is on, a second operation will create a second flow through the blowout preventer, meaning there will be two channels of oil leaking to the surface.

Expectation
When asked about his level of confidence in the capping procedure, given the fact that other operations aimed at stopping the spill have failed, BP Managing Director Bob Dudley said the company has learned a lot from previous attempts. For instance, warm water will be pumped down in an effort to combat the formation of hydrates, or crystals, that blocked a previous containment vessel.

While the engineering has never been attempted at a depth of 5,000 feet, Dudley said, it is "more straightforward" than that used in previous operations. The cap "should be able to capture most of the oil," Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP's global exploration and production business said. However, he cautioned that the new cap will not provide a "tight mechanical seal."

If successful, the procedure will allow BP to collect most, but not all, of the oil spewing from the well. The cutting that precedes the cap placement carries with it a risk of increasing the oil flow, Dudley acknowledged. But "even with increased flow rate, this cap will be able to handle this." However, the BP statement said, "systems such as the LMRP containment cap have never been deployed at these depths and conditions, and their efficiency and ability to contain the oil and gas cannot be assured."

Outcome
BP's effort to slice off a damaged riser pipe stalled after the blade of a diamond wire saw got stuck June 2. The diamond wire cutter plan was dumped after the device got stuck midway through the pipe. It was freed and taken to the surface.

May 28, 2010
Solution: “Junk shot”
This method involves debris such as shredded tires, golf balls and similar objects being shot under extremely high pressure into the blowout preventer in an attempt to clog it and stop the leak. Engineers at BP used this technique along with the top kill.

What was expected
"Each of these [materials] has been proven to fill various-sized spaces in the blowout preventer until the flow is stopped," BP says in a statement on its website. "While there is no known perfect 'recipe,' a number of combinations of materials will be used." More drilling mud would follow the junk shot, with the hope that the two methods together would stop the oil long enough for cement to be poured into the well. BP’s Suttles compared the operation to stopping up a toilet.

Did it work?
This one failed, too. The process was carried out "a number of times" with the U.S. Coast Guard before the oil giant admitted that the experiment had failed, BP press officer Sheila Williams said. Engineers first used the junk shot to quell the 1991 Kuwait oil fires, but never at such depths. "I don't think we'll be using golf balls again," Williams said.

May 25, 2010
Solution: "Top kill"
The top kill involves pumping heavy drilling fluid into the head of the leaking well at the sea floor. The manufactured fluid, known as drilling mud, is normally used as a lubricant and counterweight in drilling operations. The hope is that the drilling mud will stop the flow of oil. Cement then would be pumped in to seal the well. The first round of pumping began May 26.

Expectation
Top kill has worked on above-ground oil wells in the Middle East but has never been tested 5,000 feet underwater. BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward has given the maneuver a 60 percent to 70 percent chance of success.

A team of experts will examine conditions inside the five-story blowout preventer to determine how much pressure the injected mud will have to overcome. The company then performs diagnostic tests to determine whether the procedure can proceed.

Outcome
Three days of work involving three separate pumping efforts and 30,000 barrels of mud – along with what Hayward described as "16 different bridging material shots" – just didn't do the trick.

"We have not been able to stop the flow," a somber Suttles told reporters. " ... Repeated pumping, we don't believe, will achieve success, so we will move on to the next option." Suttles and other officials said that the top kill attempt to stop the flow did so – but only as long as they were pumping. When the pumping stopped, the oil resumed its escape.

May 14, 2010
Solution: Riser insertion tube
The riser insertion tube tool is a temporary solution that involves inserting a 4-inch-diameter tube into the Deepwater Horizon’s rise, a 21-inch diameter pipe, between the well and the broken end of the riser on the sea floor.

Expectation
The insertion tube connects to a new riser to allow hydrocarbons to flow up to the Transocean Discoverer Enterprise drill ship. The oil will be separated and shipped ashore.

Outcome
This seems to be the most successful effort thus far in containing some of the spill. The system was able to capture some of the leaking oil and pipe it aboard a drill ship, burning off some of the natural gas released in the process, according to a statement from the joint BP-Coast Guard command center leading the response to the oil spill.

The flow rate from the tube reached 3,000 barrels of crude (126,000 gallons) and 14 million cubic feet of gas a day as of May 20. BP’s Suttles said the company is "very pleased" with the performance of the tube. However, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana says the efforts haven't stopped oil from reaching his state's coastline.

May 12, 2010
Solution: Second containment dome or “top hat”
The "top-hat" cofferdam is a 5-foot-tall, 4-foot-diameter structure that weighs less than 2 tons and would be injected with alcohol to act as an antifreeze and keep its outlet clear.

Expectation
BP built the smaller dome after the containment vessel, designed to cap the larger of two leaks in the well, developed glitches. The new device would keep most of the water out at the beginning of the capping process and allow engineers to pump in methanol to keep the hydrates from forming, BP's Suttles said. Methanol is a simple alcohol that can be used as an antifreeze.

Outcome
BP abandoned the idea of using the “top hat” and opted to proceed with an insertion tube technique instead. It wasn’t clear why BP made that choice.

May 7, 2010
Solution: First containment dome
BP lowered a massive four-story containment vessel over the well to cap the larger of two leak points. The hope was that the container would collect the leaking oil, which would be sucked up to a drill ship on the surface.

Expectation
"If all goes according to plan, we should begin the process of processing the fluid and stop the spilling to the sea," Suttles said. But the method had not been done at such depths before.

Outcome
The plan was thwarted after ice-like hydrate crystals formed when gas combined with water to block the top of the dome and make it buoyant. The dome was moved off to the side of the wellhead and is resting on the sea floor, Suttles said. He declined to call it a failed operation but said, "What we attempted to do ... didn't work."

May 4, 2010
Solution: Drilling a relief well
The second well joins the failed well at the bottom, in rock 13,000 feet below the ocean. Once contact is made, drilling fluid and concrete will be put into the first well.

Expectation
This will lower the pressure on the failed well, enough to allow a concrete plug to be placed into it and permanently shut it down. The relief well could also be used for future oil and gas production. BP began drilling the second well this month, but it will take three months to complete. Weather conditions could prolong the process, Beaudo said.

Outcome
The well is expected to be completed by August. It would be a permanent solution to cap the leaking well.

End of April
Solution: Robots to shut blowout preventer
The rig’s blowout preventer, a 48-foot-tall, 450-ton apparatus that sits atop the well 5,000 feet underwater, failed to automatically cut off the oil flow after the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. BP attempted to use remote-controlled submarines with robotic arms to reach access portals and activate the valve.

Expectation
The highly complex task was to take 24 to 36 hours, said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP's global exploration and production business.

Outcome
Failed. "We've tried many different ways. Some things have showed promise; some haven't," BP spokesman Daren Beaudo said. "We don't know why the remote-operated shutdown systems haven't worked."

Testing on a capped oil well in the Gulf of Mexico continues for another day as the federal government says BP has addressed questions about a seep near the well. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's response manager for the oil spill, says that a federal science team and BP representatives discussed the seep during a conference call, including the "possible observation of methane over the well."

Post by:
Filed under: BP • Gulf Coast Oil Spill
soundoff (303 Responses)
  1. Mrtomcat

    Why did BP figure to cut a pipe where the weight of the pipe will press against the blade when the cutting is taking place? Cut on one side then the other depending how the pipe is in vertical or horizontal position. Why do you cut from underneath?
    Wouldn't it make more sense to attach a sleeve over the cut end now with a valve attached to it. Let the oil at first run freely through it until it is attached properly. The new valve with a pipe is to be supported as well. So oil flows through the new pipe stub with a valve at the end. Then just close the valve. What are we missing?

    June 3, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. The Dude

    You can thank "Dick" Cheney and other TEABAGGING REPUBLICAN RODENTS for this unprecedented catastrophe of monolithic proportions. The Republicans have been in bed with and sucking the D1CKS of big oil companies for decades....you know, DEREGULATION!!! It's all about "investment interests" and "$$$$" for these hypocritical RIGHT-WING VERMIN, and now the Gulf of Mexico is F#*KED for the next 100 or more years!! Thanks D1CKHEADS!!!

    June 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Wilben Dahl

    I have watched the comments with much humer, however this is not a funny situation. If we let the Master minds like those making some of the comments handle this, the whole world is doomed. If we turn it over to the Government, that would be like turning it over to the Post Office. BP may not be doing everything right, but they seem to be the best choice at this time. There is the endless clamor of, "who is going to pay for this", any nitwit should realise who will pay in the end. You might as well try to get the grocery stores to pay the bill. Like it or not we will pay the bill, where would the money come from otherwise??

    June 3, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dan

    Nothing is being done because that's the plan. To pollute the world. Go pollute europe you buncha mormon pilgrims!

    June 3, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. dan

    You make me sick.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dan

    Your whole family tree is disgusting.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Allan Edwards

    PLEASE RELAX PEOPLE! BP will drill a new relief well and stop the original leak. The current fixes are just entertainment while the new relief well is under construction. Whatever costs to the enviorment will be absorbed
    by the Oil Indusry and passed directly on to you, the end user. We are killing ourselves as we bow to our new GOD,
    OIL.

    June 4, 2010 at 2:02 am | Report abuse |
  8. Dutchie

    Common, please accept our help, let your voice hear, do it for the sake of the planets health
    http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/dutch-oil-spill-response-team-standby-us-oil-disaster

    June 4, 2010 at 4:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. you suck

    Fukk you.

    June 4, 2010 at 5:22 am | Report abuse |
  10. Scott

    If it was escaping oil and gas that caused the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to explode and sink, then what is going to happen if the new well head cap directs the same escaping oil and gas to a surface vessel trying to collect it? Where is all that explosive oil and gas mixture going to go and how will another explosion and fire be prevented?

    June 4, 2010 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. Driveway

    A number of others have proposed an idea or new technique that I actually agree with. I'm not an engineer or physicist and have no idea of the complications or changing physics at this depth (5000') or pressure (7000-9000psi). But, every effort to date has revolved around collecting the oil, mainly by capping or syphoning. Let's try stopping the oil (not collecting) through an insertion method rather than a capture method? Others have suggested inserting inflatable bladders (singles or chained multiples) into the pipe to stem the flow and then using other methods to cap or plug the riser assembly. Plumbers use a similar method when soldering copper pipe with water trickling out of it. Water does not allow solder to adhere to the copper. They will insert a device called a jet sweat to stem the water. It is an expandable rubber plug on the end of an extension that is inserted into the pipe. A handle on the end twists, thereby expanding the plug on the other end to seal the pipe. This is very similar to a rubber plug used in the stern of small jon boats. I know there are buoyancy issues even with steel at this depth so a rubber plug surely isn't the answer, but I feel the insertion idea rather than capping is. You have to insert a nuke in the tube (which is one of the latest extreme ideas). Why not insert an expandable plug or similar device?

    June 4, 2010 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  12. misty santana

    First of all, which is of course a moot point now it was absolutely insane to run giant oil lines in the Ocean. There was no way this would not have eventually occured when one considers the environment of an Ocean and its power. There was no way to maintain these lines even minimally adequately. People who work in Ecological Restoration know that this had to be a disaster waiting to happen! This event is like Eco Terrorism and its effects will be immeasurable if and when they finally get this leak capped off! The illnesses to the people and to the Land and the environment from the Ocean to the Land to the very Air we breath will be also be immeasurable! It makes us feel very very disillusioned and deeply sad about what we are doing to this small Planet dangling out in space, our only habitat!!!!
    Misty Santana Canada

    June 4, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. Kent

    It seems to me that BP is allowing the pressure of the gushing oil to push the oil and gas up to the ship. Why are they not pumping, sure they will pull in some seawater but the oil will not be gushing out into the water anymore? i.e. if the oil and gas is coming out at 5000psi they should be pulling 10000psi and sucking in seawater rather than letting oil gush out. Everyone thinks BP sucks anyway, in my opinion they have nothing to lose.

    June 4, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ken

    1. The last-hope BOP valve made by Cameron failed. It is a good valve design, but through some bad luck, it did not work.
    2. With the fail-safe valve malfunction, we now have an oil leak. No one, including BP or Halliburton, wants the well to leak.
    3. BP is trying to stop the leak. With the valve shot, this is very tricky at 5000 feet. Even on land it can be difficult, as evidenced by Russians in the past using nuclear bombs as a last-resort solution to blow offs (one was implemented after trying unsuccessfully to control a blown well for three years)
    4. Even the relief drilling might not work, but hopefully it will.
    5. BP does not want the well to leak. And, whatever we armchair "experts" might think, they probably know what they are doing, since they do drill a lot of wells.
    6. Since we all use oil, we all share a part of the responsibility for off-shore drilling. There are no villains here, just bad luck (the valve), a great need (the oil), and bad luck (the valve).
    7.We cannot power an airplane or create a computer without using oil. The "alternate energy of the future" dreams will remain just that.....wind power is not going to fly a jet, nor will nuclear.

    Conclusion.....let us stop blaming, and start cheering for these brave workers who are actually out there trying to cap this thing. Hopefully, they will have success.

    June 4, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. GARY LANE / BSME - MS : RPI

    HOW TO PULL or PUSH A TAPERED PLUG INTO THE OIL HOLE:

    ENGINEERING BASICS:

    THE OIL PRESSURE LOADING FORCES

    11” Dia. Pipe = 100 sq. in.

    10,000 psi x 100 sq in = 1-million pounds

    THE WEIGHT:

    Lead weighs 62.4/ cubic foot x 11.34 (density)= 707 pounds per cubic foot

    11.2 ft cube of lead weighs ca. 1-million pounds

    1,400 cubes of lead weigh 1-million pounds

    THE STEEL GUIDING CABLE (i.e. elevator cable)

    100,000 psi steel cable x 10 sq. in. (3.6” dia.) = 1-million pounds strength

    1.Thread a small 3/8” dia cable with eye-loop up through the drilling-mud port and into the main oil stream
    2.Pull a heavier cable back down through the blow-out preventer hole
    3. Pull a slender-pointed conical rod back into the hole far enough but leaving enough room for the oil to escape
    4. Start lowering 1,400 the lead blocks onto a high strength platform on to of the conical steel plug

    (Just like a massive “needle-valve”)

    No worries about breaking anything because this is an independent, BALANCED SYTEM
    It does NOT stress any existing components.
    Obviously, this works only if the riser / pipe is vertically oriented.

    Alternately,
    It might be possible to pull a modest dia. Cable out of the mud-line opening and pull the conical plug in from the oil-leaking end.

    June 4, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Architect

      Hi Gary,
      I like your ideas. The only concern would be putting lead into the earth's crust, and effectively, the ocean. Or, did I not understand your solution?

      Are you a Mechanical Engineer? (BSME- Bachelor of Science in Mech'l Engineering?). We definitely need all hands on deck, so to speak, to solve this crisis!

      I've got some ideas and will post them later.

      Thanks for posting yours!

      June 9, 2010 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
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