BP says it's collecting 2,000 b/d of 5,000 b/d oil spill

(This story was updated with 2,000 b/d figure, Loop Current details on May 18)

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, May 17 -- A riser insertion tool was estimated to be collecting 2,000 b/d of oil leaking from a deepwater well off Louisiana, which was double the volume that spill response crews had collected the previous day from the estimated 5,000 b/d oil spill.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP Exploration & Production, told reporters during a May 17 news conference from Robert, La., that the tool was collecting 1,000 b/d. Early on May 18, BP updated that figure to 2,000 b/d.

The tool is a 4-in. steel pipe inserted about 5 ft into a 21-in. damaged riser on the seabed. Oil and gas have been leaking out of the end of the damaged riser, which is about 600 ft from the runaway Macondo well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252. A blowout resulted in a fire and explosion on Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig on Apr. 20, leaving 11 crew members missing and presumed dead. BP operates the block.

On May 16, BP successfully started collecting oil and gas from the end of the damaged riser. The hydrocarbons are being transported by a riser to the Transocean Discoverer Enterprise drillship on the surface 5,000 ft above the seabed.

“This remains a new technology, and both its continued operation and its effectiveness in capturing the oil and gas remain uncertain,” BP said.

Meanwhile, Suttles said a “top kill” technique could be used possibly during the weekend to stop the flow from the well. Heavy fluids will be pumped through choke and kill lines on the existing blowout preventer into the well.

The choke and kill lines are two 3-in. lines. Weight of the heavy fluids is much heavier than the oil. The mud will be followed by cement to seal the well.

“We will never produce oil from this well,” Suttles said. “We want to very clear about that.” The well has flowed in an uncontrolled manner, and it cannot be repaired, he said. “The right thing to do is to permanently plug this well.”

Ultimately, a relief well will intersect the well at 18,000 ft where cement will be pumped to permanently seal the bottom of the well.

Work on the first relief well, which began on May 2, was interrupted to test the BOP, Suttles said, adding that the semi is expected to resume drilling soon. The first relief well is being drilled by the Transocean Development Driller III semi.

Transocean’s Development Driller II drilling rig began drilling the second relief well on May 16. A relief well takes 3 months to complete. The second relief well is being drilled as a backup in case of the first relief well encounters problems.

Tip of spill very close to Loop Current
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists said ocean models indicate tar balls leading the southern edge of the surface oil slick could begin moving more to the southwest and potentially into the Loop Current, possibly beginning in the evening of May 18. The Loop Current would pull the slick toward the Florida Keys and the east coast of Florida. 

Suttles said, “There are not large quantities of thick, heavy oil anywhere around the spill. Most of the spill is this thin sheen.”

Speaking at the news conference, NOAA scientist Charlie Henry said information from research vessel R/V Pelican has yet to be analyzed. “Layers of oil are totally untrue,” Henry said of some weekend media reports regarding possible underwater plumes of oil.

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco issued a news release May 17 saying some media reports were, “misleading, premature, and in some cases, inaccurate.”  On May 18, she had a news conference to tell reporters that the leading-edge tip of the sheen was very close to the Loop Current.

"A lot depends on what the ocean currents do and what the winds do," Lubchenco said. "A lot will depend on local surface winds and surface conditions."

Surface spill response
Suttles announced BP has spent more than $500 million on the oil spill response as of May 17.

More than 650 vessels are involved in the response effort on the surface of the sea. Vessels include skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels. Skimming efforts as of May 17 had recovered 151,000 bbl of oily liquid.

The total length of boom deployed as part of efforts to prevent oil reaching the coast was almost 1.7 million ft, including over 400,000 ft of sorbent boom.

More than 19,000 people from BP, other companies, and government agencies were involved in the response as of May 17.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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