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."

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

    I am just curious how closely people are looking at the numbers – I see alot of "they said 22,000 barrels here, 100,000 there, and 500 barrels there." It seems like most of the reports have consistently been 5000 barrels. Are people not paying attetion to the difference in gallons and barrels? i.e., 1 barrell = 42 gallons. Most of the high number reports I have seen are in gallons, not barrels. – In any event, it is not good, but lets not try to make it worse just so we can complain more OR fall victim to reporters trying to inflate every issue no matter what it is.

    May 27, 2010 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ronald

    Just Read People Just Read: http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/leaked-spanish-report-obamas-model-green-economy-a-disaster-pjm-exclusive/

    May 27, 2010 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. JohnO

    The amatuer engineers around here make some hilariously ignorant comments.

    Man's gotta know his limitations. How about we leave the engineeing to the professionals?

    " 'Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt."

    May 27, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    Why was there an 11 day gap between the Insertion tube and the "Top Kill"?
    Are they waiting to see if something works before thinking of something else. There should be one plan after another to try. If something does not work, the next plan should be tried the next day.

    May 27, 2010 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      they did a battery of diagnostics on the BOP before attempting the top kill. all the diagnostics and changing the modules of the BOP take 45-60 days in normal times. BP did it pretty fast

      May 27, 2010 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  5. JustAThought

    I think BP is trying the best that they can to solve the problem. its lot like they can just hop on down the to bottom of the ocean and just try things. Each attempt needs careful consideration and time to plan. Even the notion that the goverment could do a better job is redicolous. Its not like oil drilling the deep sea is a core compentency of the masses and there are not 100s of companies the do this line of work. So, the real reason why the goverment hasn't stepped in is, THEY DON"T HAVE ANYONE BETTER TO DO THE JOB. I think the governor LA and other members of the government need to let BP focus 100% of their resources on fixing the problem. Dragging them into congressional meetings and interigations every other day to answer questions isn't helping. It just means that BP needs to take resources away from solving the problem to answer the layman type of questions that the government is asking. Lets investiage after this mess is fixed. Pulling them into these meetings is just going to cause BP to divert focus and resources from the real task.

    May 27, 2010 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Wyatt

      Bravo!! I don't see any reason why BP would want to prolong the leak. It is in nobody's interest to do so. It will lead to stricter regulation for the entire industry, as well as huge liabilities for BP. It harms the Gulf ecosystems, tourism, way of life. It's not US vs. THEM, but rather [US and THEM] vs. LEAK. Deal with blaming people and liability later. For now, focus on stopping the leak and minimizing impacts of what has already leaked.

      May 27, 2010 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      completely agree. we have people like Anderson Cooper demanding that the BP CEO interview with him....am sure the CEO has better things to do than talk to a man who is only going to show bits and pieces of the interview to make him look bad! I wish the media stopped wasting time trying to get attention and instead did something constructive.

      May 27, 2010 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. JustAThought

    dave – We use foreign countries every day to provide oil/gas for the US. If we only relied on US sources we would be really be screwed and gas would be alot more expensive. And the the governemt is the one that provide permits and is supposed to be providing oversight and review of these sites. I find it hard to believe that this problem just came up from no where. It has already been said that the US doesn't require the same type of blow-out prevents that other counties do (e.g., counties in the middle east that perform much more drilling than we do). So in this case the fault is the US goverment for not being stricter on the requirements for companies. Don't expect any company, in any industry that have governemnt oversight to pick a more expensive option for anything if the goverment isn't going to make them do it.

    Ahh, mmkay BP – BRITISH Petroleum. Which might be worse, we let a foreign country drill in our backyard and now we are

    May 27, 2010 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  7. anotherview

    BP had an accident, as we all do in our lives. And they have taken full responsiblity for it. be nice if the Obama Administration woudl do the same for the role Mineral Management Services played in this. After all they issued the permit to drill, and apparenlty did not fully investigate BP's ability to respond to a worse case scenario.

    And shutting down our production is not the answer. Maybe simply doubling up on the work commute would help. That may be asking to much of an American however. Our love of independence offsets our desire to be part of the solution.
    So we will buy even more oil from the MIddle East, and maybe Venezuela and Cuba, So what if that gives them the ability to control our qulaity of lifr and the price we pay for it.

    May 27, 2010 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. Me

    Oil is still gushing because BP is clueless...simple.

    May 27, 2010 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. Brenton Wolf

    I know what the hold up is- they don't want to send the money-they don't want to spend the money! THEY DONT WANT TO SPEND THE MONEY!!!!!!!!!! they are spending weeks looking for the most cost effective solution instead of expending all the resource available tk combat as it comes tk shore as it spreads through the gulf as it gushes unchecked- like I said dump sand bags and mud and sand on hole while allowing the siphon tube to relieve pressure so it doesn't blow- or like the other guy said lift the end that is gushing and put in into a much larger tube or create a large funnel at the end of a tube that could teal a funnel the oil to tanker above ground I mean really guys we need to figure this thing out fast otherwise the entire gulf will be dead if it isn't all ready. And the other thing these officials seem to have no emotion towards this they are like oh well we are doing are best and almost seem smug.- tall about monkey gods – they must relize if they destroy the beaches and lushness of the natural world there will be no great destination places for them to spend there billions- I guess there will always be such fools- we have been conditioned well- we are right where they want us- gripped in fear and more than willing to go into denial-anger and protest will do little- only action will-real intelligent action- god I wish I was somebody who could live up to want I feel- that I could lead the way out of this sad darkness. But I am hardly better than any afraid and selfish grasping at straws- but I tell you this I am closer

    May 27, 2010 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • JustAThought

      Brenton Wolf – up all these attempts are costing BP plenty of money and resources to insiuate that they are just taking their time, trying not to spend to much is redicoluous. They are the ones in most jepordary and they know they need to fix it. This isn't like fixing a leak in your basement or even fixing a leak in a watermain below the streets surface. Unless you are an engineer with a PHD and have experience working on a deep sea oil rig i don't think anyone can come close to understanding what it takes to develop a plan. Infact BP is in the process ofworking on the one sure way to stop the leak, drilling a second hold. However, when you are 1,000s of feet below the surface, you cannot just start drilling and be done tomorrow. If it were that easy we'd all be out in the gulf of mexico drilling. And just exactly how many experts do you think there are in deep sea drilling? There cannot be that many. Being that there are limited experts and a limited amount of time in each day you can only do so much. This isn't like just fixing a car, or a plumbing leak or building a house where you can find alot of resources/experts. I'm pretty sure that EXPERTs working on this are trying their best. They have problaby put their lives on hold to work on fixing this but there is only so much that one can do.

      May 27, 2010 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  10. Robert Wenzlaff

    Someone above insinuated that the reason they hadn't tried the top kill yet was so they could continue selling the 3000 bbls per day the 4" pipe is siphoning off.

    Are you kidding? That's less than $300K worth of crude per day – assuming it ididn't need to be separated from water, which it does. That's not even 1/100th the daily cost of operations to try to plug the leak. It probably doesn't even cover the cost of shipping the oil/water mix to shore and separating it. The only reason they are doing it is because it's cheaper than disposing of 3000 bbl/day of oil/water mix.

    May 27, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  11. Ralph

    To much talk on this disaster we need clean this mess day and nigh now get tankers to soak the oil out.
    The Saudis have same problem and clean a oil spill use tankers and assume they tell oil Co. no clean no oil.

    May 27, 2010 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. Noone

    Well first why are still drilling for oil instead of exploring other options? Expensive? Well how do you like the pricetag of this spill? I cannot imagine how long it will take to clean this up! This is not just U.S problem now, this is a worldwide problem. How can we as people, be so selfish and greedy that we are willing to put wildlife in danger? Highly doubt that BP will do a their job and clean up this mess all the way...

    May 27, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |


    May 27, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. RonJohn


    May 27, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      The pipe is brittle steel that will snap if you try and bend it like a straw.

      May 30, 2010 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      BP IS RUN MY IDIOTS??? Have another beer and let someone literate handle this.

      May 30, 2010 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  15. owg

    I have read that remote shutoff of the valves in the BOP failed. If we have these smart robots down there now, why can't they close the BOP valves locally? Most remote operated valves that I know have local operators (wheels or other means of local operation) that can be turned or usedwhen the remote operator fails. I suppose the answer is the BOP does not have local operation capability. What a shame, it does not sound too expensive.

    May 28, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13