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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

"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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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

    Okay firstly, the biggest problem is this: IT IS 5,000 FEET UNDER water. Do you have any idea of the pressure or coldness of that depth? Not to mention they have to use remote controlled machines to do everything for them. It's all an estimate, the amount of oil leaking, what it will do to fix it. One of the biggest and powerful Oil companies are really struggling to fix the problem. Who thinks they can do better, especiallly without the resources or knowledge of the machines?

    Did BP mess up, heck yeah they did. They should have had it inspected better, they should have shut it down when trouble signs arrised. They should have brought in any kind of help and resources at the biggining.

    Are we going to pay for it? Yup.. They will too. But so will we Oil is goign to go up, more taxes to pay for this stuff. Just as always, All of the oil and gas prices have been scammy at best. Tell us something we already didn't know.

    What they need to do is just fix it, and deal with the blame and stuff later. We are screwing up our world, with something that won't be fixed for years.

    After this mess we need to work on a new energy source big time. 😛

    May 26, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ramit

    I am surprised that they have yet still not found a way to stop the oil..our technology has enabled us to create synthetic life and we cannot solve this issue? I propose an idea which might bring about a solution. We can attach a large open bottom square cover attached to a large pipe from the top. The base of the cover will take shape of the land around the leak and the box will be screwed (screwes will be large in terms of length and size as they must be strongly attached at the seabed) from all sides by underwater machines. Then a large strip of "Concrete Canvas" (Discovery channel) can also be screwed in to surround all the exterior sides of the box so that no leakage occurs. Hopefully this helps out.

    May 26, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • hahaha


      June 2, 2010 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
    • slipwrench

      They already did, it didn't work !!

      June 2, 2010 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
    • OilUser

      Genius!!! Why didn't the enigneers at BP think of this idea!!!

      ohh, wait, they have already tried this idea TWICE.

      June 3, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Stephen Cox

    Surround the site with empty supertankers. They have very powerful pumps. Fill the super tankers with the contaminated water/oil mixture. Separate the oil and water. Keep those super tankers working 24/7 while BP drills that relief well. Pray that the "top kill" works today!!!

    May 26, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donald J. Axel

      I have been asking for your indemnation too, or at least an explanation why it is not done. The oil surfaces slowly and chemical dispersant has been spread deep below surface, so the question is, of course, why the supertanker-solution was not used in order to "vacuum" the deep pockets of oil. Once it surfaces it is more difficult to get hold of.

      May 26, 2010 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. kent hytken

    The gulf oil spill is still gushing, not leaking, because BP is grappling at solutions. One and only vialbele solution if the containment dome is used again is down hole heat generation to break up the crystals.
    I understand that if BP could stop the oil spill, the daily per barrel fines, and large potential claims would be good business for the company and their shareholders. I am sure BP is concerned about the environment, sea turtles and other marine life, oil slick inundating our shorelines and beaches, as well as their company image, and is why they are exploring all technologies. If the "top kill" does not work they should go back to the original idea using the 100,000 containment dome. By delivering heat inside the dome the crystals will break up and prevent the occurrence of buoyancy and the dome floating upward. See the website: http://www.futureenergyllc.com, for more information on a revolutionary subsea down hole heat generation system.

    May 26, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Stephen Cox

    Kent: So True! They knew about the extreeme cold, and yet did not attempt any method to deliver heat inside the dome!!? Blunder after blunder! So sad.

    May 26, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Carl

    59 yr old retiree.....the is like Avatar.....the money gaints will ruin out planet in the name of a dollar and if the tech becomes available they will try to ruin others.....all this greed is disgusting.

    May 26, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carl

    Sorry for the typeO's....I'm a little upset about this situation.

    May 26, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |


    May 26, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      My thoughts exactly. Great minds must think alike.

      June 1, 2010 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ted in portland

    If there is anything good that may come out of this catastrophe it would be a general recognition that the electorate (myself included), was scammed in 2008 by a junior Senator long on chutzpah and media skills, but short on ethics, honesty, and anything close to the maturity and leadership skills necessary to occupy the office of President. I have honestly reached the point where I would be relieved to see President Obama resign and let Joe Biden finish out his term.

    It's worth noting: nobody has yet had the courage to ask the question: what if 'Top Kill' doesn't work? I for one was not aware that "offshore drilling" had progressed to the point where the actual site of the drilling was well beyond the reach of human beings to manage the process "hands on". Now that I understand, I wonder why anyone would think that a massive drilling operation conducted over a mile below the surface of the ocean could be anything but monumentally risky? I wonder why our President, advertised as having a "really big brain", made opening up 167-million acres of new offshore territory his first major energy initiative as President. Would it not have been more prudent to perform the due-diligence which has obviously not been done to verify our ability to manage these risks before taking that step?

    I have come to recognize that our new President is far more expert at qualifying his "talking points" on any given subject, than to spend time doing the grunt-work of actually thinking critically about the substance of the decisions he makes. Worse, even as the reality of what is now at risk in the Gulf of Mexico (and beyond), our President still insists on framing this problem in terms of one oil-company's obligation to fix the problem, and pay the costs of cleaning up the mess once it is fixed. What if they fail? I wonder how many more months will go by before someone in authority steps in and actually takes responsibility for preventing what could become a global environmental disaster?

    May 26, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Daniel

    Revelation 16:

    The second angel poured his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a dead man, and every living thing died that was in the sea.

    May 26, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex Howard

      so true

      June 1, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Architect


      Wow, that is a scary thought! It does seem ominously true at this point. ::shudders::

      For some reason, I thought the bowls of wrath were to happen AFTER the rapture of the church.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BreakingNewsBlog.us

    just a question... if we ("smart" humans) are NOT being able to close a simple leaking pipe after 30+ days... WHAT could happens (or we can do) IF (someday) the Indepedence Days's aliens, or the Deep Impact's comet, will approach the Earth???

    May 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Brenton Wolf

    Exactly- I am sick of living in fear and listening to a bunch of parrotts saying "better get used to it" or "accidents happen" I mean this is really looking at INSANITY I mean really- we might as well sit back and watch the end of the world unfold on tv. everything is for a reason- get ready because here it comes that reason- say good by to planet earth- I hope your happy illuminati because soon there is going to be nothing to lord over

    May 26, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tessa

    The Government always seems to be in everybodys business. For once i wish they'd get more involved in this disaster. Where is our President on this? He needs to stand up for the people of the Gulf Coast (and the rest of our nation). People are losing their llivlihoods and who knows what the long term effects will be. I am appaled that he is not out there speaking more (or at all) about this.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ken in oklahoma

    OK CNN i have had enough. your screen banner asks "will 50,000 lbs of fluid stop the well?" it will not. 50,000 lbs of mud or cement, either of which weighs at least 15 pounds per gallon is approxomately 3300 gallons. at the pumping rate cited by your talking heads, 65 barrels per minute, it would take less than two minutes to pump the amount you asked to kill the well. i think you might have meant 50,000 BARRELS of fluid?

    your other talking head referred to the blowout preventer as a "blowout protector" no less than three times in one segment. i am very sorry, but i just cannot take any more of this nonsense.

    the incompetence continues to amaze us all. i remember when, "pre-global -economy," the united states had our own real oil companies who explored for oil in other countries. now the 7 sisters are gone, our children have no place to work, and we have the relative newcomers from the UK exploring for oil in our gulf. can we no longer do anything for ourselves?

    they were proceding to move off location, ignoring lost circulation and an obvious kick of pressure after an unsuccessful cement job. they continued to ignore the kick and pump more seawater...which is what you do when you are moving off location. what you do when you are taking a kick is build mud and get as much pipe into the hole as possible as fast as possible, because killing a well when you can not circulate is a losing proposition at best. ignoring every fundamental of well control simultaneously will get you in trouble. i realize hindsight is unfair in some respects, but i think that this is what the argument was about between bp and the rig operator. there is NO way i would ever move a rig off of an $800 million well with no tubing or drill pipe in the hole, even if the BOP and susbsea wellhead system was perfect. so bp saved a few million dollar days of repair and prudent operation. now we all have a mess the entire assets of bp will never repay.

    in 1889, after the Johnstown flood, ten miles of railroad track were laid by hand in five days to connect the community to help from Pittsburgh. the residents of Johnstown had done more to organize themselves than we can ever do with cell phones and computers. Presidents can not get bottled water to the super dome when they have marine one helicopters at their beck and call. we rebuild Iraq, but not New Orleans. Wake UP, america.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Architect

      I completely agree with you, Ken. Well said.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. jim

    Take the company execs out and shoot them all, every single one. then start with each government official/worker that had oversight over this rig. seize the assets of the company towards financial satisfaction of the WORST OIL DISASTER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, and note while doing so IT WAS CAUSED BY AN AMERICAN CO., NOT SOME THIRD WORLD COMPANY OR GOVERNMENT.

    May 26, 2010 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • dave

      Ahh, mmkay BP – BRITISH Petroleum. Which might be worse, we let a foreign country drill in our backyard and now we are paying for it. I don't really see how the "Top Kill" was going to work in the first place. From what I read its twice as dense as water...how is this going to stop a oil reservoir under intense pressure? What's going to keep the fluid in place and prevent the oil from just pushing it up or to the side?

      May 27, 2010 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
    • bruce

      the mud is injected under pressure – BP indicated they have been measuring the pressures at various points on the BOP over the last day or two to help determine a good mud injection pressure – they additionally brought in more supprt boats with additional pumping capacity. the up-flowing oil and gas are less dense than the mud so the mud is able to 'block" the lighter material – that is the way it works in any oil/gas well.

      May 27, 2010 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • kevin

      the concrete

      May 27, 2010 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
    • JohnO

      And what do you propose we do about the Chinese drilling in Cuban waters?

      I guess the US should just shut down all oil drilling and leave it to the other countries in the Gulf. Idiots!

      May 27, 2010 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • JustAThought

      The mud is just to slow things down enough so that they can put the cement in.

      May 27, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
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