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. juan narvaiz

    PENER MUCHAS PIPES DE LA MAS PEQUENA A LA MAS GRANDE

    June 2, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. deb hoffman

    they need to cut off pipe in sections at a time thus eliminating the weight that is making the blade get stuck

    June 2, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mark L

    I am not a scientist but has anyone considered implosion or explosion of the conduit using an explosive charge? Would this not create impaction of the layers cutting off the flow of oil? We gotta do something..

    June 2, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tony Hayward

    Why can't we use the non-toxic EPA approved caking oil absorbent made by Mobius Technologies?????

    June 2, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. greedrules

    BP is all about saving the well and collecting the oil. Everything they have tried is either focused on keeping the oil flowing and collecting it, or is a ruse, doomed to failure but intended to look like they're doing something. They have done nothing to stop the oil from getting to the coast, nothing to help people who are getting sick and losing their livelihoods. They have lied about every aspect of this disaster and tried to hide the worst of it. It's time to kick them out of the Gulf, and turn the job over to anyone with an idea and a true desire to help. A group of compassionate idiots could not do worse than this group of greedy sociopaths.

    June 2, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. nikk

    How about a subterranean explosion that would dstroy the well and make it collapse under tons of rock?

    June 3, 2010 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. steve

    why do we just dump 10 tons of rock & sand on this thing to slow it down. Stop thinking ecological & economical and think simple.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. steve

    why dont we just drop a ton of rocks on it.... sorry

    June 3, 2010 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  9. Nelson

    The failed engineer in me suggest "Why not use a circular saw with a 40" blade and do not cut all the way through leaving the blade inside the tube as a cap, and reduce the pressure and flow coming out until the relief well can be drilled"

    June 3, 2010 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
    • sam

      good idea. why not take the blade out and slide in a piece of steel that fits the inside diameter in the part not cut. it would slow it down enough to install a valve.

      June 4, 2010 at 2:36 am | Report abuse |
  10. xinlaw

    I have read some good ideas amongst the comments section. However, a lot of you fail to take into account the depth of the well. The pressure, distance, and water current of the Gulf makes this a difficult problem to solve, which is why Oil Companies wanting to drill at that depth should have had more requirements to drill that deep. For example, provide counter measures in case of this, and fullfill 'proof of concept' obligations, meaning the equipment needs to be built, and shown to work before they could even drill at that depth, especially near econimic dependant coastlines.

    Also, for everyone proposing using explosives or a nuclear weapon, please think for just a min, this is 1 mile underwater and the Gulf has water currents that are not going to stop flowing just so we can fix the leak. If you blow up the well, you risk igniting the oil or the natural gas. Also, covering it up with debris will not stop the flow, it will still leak into the ground covering the well, and seep into the Gulf. This would then require digging through all that debris and fixing it the right way which could take 4-6 months or longer. Also, if you blow it up, especially with a nuke, most of the debris will be carried away from the water current and not even land over the well, and instead of a well to cap, there will be a big ass hole with shredded piping and debris.

    June 3, 2010 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  11. Kyle Petlock

    The ultimate solution:

    Plug the well with BP executives. This will form an impenatrable layer of lard, stone walling and thick bone heads that no amount of pressure will be able to break through! After all, nothing has ever been able to penetrate these thick heads yet. Best of all, they won't be able to cause any more catastrophies!

    June 3, 2010 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  12. J.O.

    Plugging the end of the pipe?

    I read an article with BP estimating the oil pressure at approx. 7500 psi.at the blowout protector. The ocean pressure is approx. 2500 psi at 1 mile down. So I'd imagine the relative pressure in the blowout device at zero flow would be approx. 5000 psi. The upper pipe is 21" in diameter with a 1" wall which gives an internal diameter of 19". Given these estimates, anything placed over the end of the pipe or in the pipe to stop the oil flow would need to withstand about 1.4 million pounds of force at zero flow rate.

    The videos of the cutting operation showed an obvious tilt or bend in the upper body of the blowout preventer in the same direction as the bent upper pipe they are attempting to cut. Hopefully they have analyzed the extent of strength loss due to this deformation & are confident the forces they plan to place on it won't lead to it's failure.

    A section of the diamond coated cutting wire probably remains stuck in the internal drill pipe cut since they've decided to shear the pipe higher up. When cut the internal drill pipe will probably fall down through the blowout protector and well casing since they reportedly were unable to actuate the blowout protector clamp and shear rams. The falling drill pipe will take the remaining diamond cutting wire segment with it and then they could move back in and complete the diamond wire cut.

    If I were BP, instead of a rubber skirted top cap I'd machine a tapered metal insert (similar to a cork). The taper would enter the remaining open pipe end and since it is probably no longer concentric the taper would reform it and elongate it out into a sealable surface. The outside of the insert would have multiple hydraulicly operated clamp arms to grasp the existing pipe flange & pull in and retain the metal insert. The insert would have multiple through holes for surface hose attachment. The whole assembly would be analogous to how a cork is held in a champagine bottle.

    BP should also attempt actuating or cycling the blowout protector shear rams if the drill pipe falls down the shaft. If the rams work (with no pipe now to cut) the oil flow should then cease.

    June 3, 2010 at 6:29 am | Report abuse |
  13. Chester

    It's pretty obvious we must put much more effort researching safer, newer sources of energy. Of course, we are drilling for oil because we need it. Oil companies need to have a least three fail -safe systems in place in case of a disaster like this. And have the technology to deal with a crisis immediately in case of failure.

    We need to bring all the skimmers ship from around the world to start clean up the mess. Why wait? This is a massive problem which needs a massive force!

    I suggest BP need to build this contraption: A long 100 ft device like a fireman's jack with powerful suction cups on the outside; push it deep into the hole and fill it with air. Disconnect, then fill another one. Then cement the damn hole!

    June 3, 2010 at 6:30 am | Report abuse |
  14. Michael

    use a manned submersible in lieu of robots!

    June 3, 2010 at 6:34 am | Report abuse |
  15. Murray Bodin

    If Richard Feynman were alive today he might look at the Gulf blowout somewhat like this:

    Problem: There is a pipe, 2 miles long, full of oil going at high speed. Somewhat like a freight train 2 miles long: VERY hard to stop quickly. You have to slow the train over some distance. Likewise, you have to stop the stream of oil SLOWLY. How?

    The saw blade got stuck today. WHY? Because the pressure of the rising oil jammed the blade against the cut.

    IMPORTANT! That means the flow of oil was restricted, which is the goal of this whole exercise. LEAVE THE STUCK SAW BLADE where it is! Make another cut 1-2 (?) inches above the first cut, only at 60 degrees around the pipe. Now you have restricted the oil more with the second stuck blade. Make a third cut 60 degrees more around the pipe, 1-2 inches above the last cut. You wind up with a series of stuck saw blades restricting the flow of oil, but more important, you now can do a junk shot with better expectation of it working. Because the blades form a barrier you didn't have before.

    />>>>>>>>

    Last week's solution

    One way might be to drill a small hole in the pipe (somewhat above the blowout preventer) with a drill with a long shank. When the drill is in the opposite side of the pipe, you leave it there and drill another 3 holes just under and 90 degrees to the first drill. Then more holes, bigger, with the drills forming a tight matrix, each drill bracing the ones under it. When the space between the drills is small enough, you insert steel balls (Bucky balls would be best) directly under the lowest set of rods. So they slide in, rather than get slammed into the rods. More balls until the flow of oil is significantly reduced. THEN, with the oil slowed, you do the junk shot and the junk will get stuck on the balls further reducing the flow.

    The hydraulic rams either work in the first 30 seconds or the force of the oil going up jams the rams against the grove they are in and enormous force can't get them to move. Like a gate valve trying to stop a fast flow of water. Try sticking your finger in a garden hose flowing freely.

    Look at the game Ker Plunk. Only put the rods in, not take them out.

    June 3, 2010 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
    • OilUser

      Except the oil coming up is at high pressure. All the drilling on the pipe would probably weaken it to the point that once the oil was plugged pressure from the oil would blow out the weakened pipe.

      (This part not directed at you Murray) Most solutions I see people post with their thoughts of "I have good ideas, why don't the engineers a BP try this" are from people with obviously no engineering experience, or an understanding of the great amount of pressure involved. Some even seem to have only a tenuous grasp of English. A problem at 5000 feet in the ocean is akin to being in space and having a major problem. Sure, we'll be able to send supplies and help, but everything is going to be slower, more risky, less understood, and less likely to work.

      June 3, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
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