Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oil spill: an explosive mix of incompetence and malgovernance

Obama has talked about an unprecedented environmental disaster, and sadly, he might be right. Initially, official sources have reported a leak of about a thousand oil barrels of spillover a day, then they've increased to five thousands.

The good news is that they have found out what has caused the disaster, the bad news is that the leak is now of 10,000 barrels a day just because they have managed to reduce it substantially.

There is a great deal of confusion over the whole incident, and this is mainly due to the high level of censorship applied by BP on all the work before and after the explosion.

The real cause of the leak has been the explosion of a gas bubble in the ocean bottom. Apparently, this bubble was bigger than it seemed like, but here the first doubts arise: Why did BP not predict the size of the bubble?

During the operations of oil production, in fact, the platform has a system for monitoring the bottom of the sea, namely its depth, where exactly the well is and the possible presence of such gas bubbles, scattered all over the ocean bottom.

However, BP, a company that has been operating for decades in oil production in the four continents, despite the huge size of the gas bubble, pressed on drilling and made it explode.

There can be different explanations on why they kept going with the drilling operations, and the most plausible is that the platform was not heavy and equipped enough to work at 1600mt of depth. Unlike in the Northern European Sea, in fact, in the American Continent security matters are much less strict, and this is the tragic result of malgovernance combined with incompetence from greedy companies.

What made the gas bubble explode was the presence, inside the marine riser, of two boring rods (the masts used for drilling), instead of one.

The marine riser is a protection pipe connected to the BOP, or blowout preventer, a large valve placed on the sea bottom at the top of a well, that can be closed if the drilling crew loses control of formation fluids and well pressure.

Although the BOP can be used for oil production, it is mainly employed to check the drilling and the pressure, because keeping a rig only to produce oil through the BOP is too expensive. So, once the BOP has done its security job, there is a system of valves that transfers crude oil to appropriate oil tankers.

In this context, the first thing to do was naturally to reduce the pressure of the well. Why did they not do it? The explosion inevitably damaged the marine riser, and the valve system of the BOP connected to it, making it impossible for the crew to control the well and its fluids.

Also, and more importantly, the drilling rig didn't have the adequate equipment to be working at such depths, so they couldn't prevent the size of the bubble, and consequently reduce the pressure of the well after the explosion.

However, after realising that it wasn't possible to reduce the leak through the BOP, they should have immediately cut the damaged marine riser and started drilling in the same groundwater in order to reduce the pressure of the well out of control.

Now, after almost two months, they have cut the marine riser (managing to reduce the spill to 10,000 barrels a day), and are starting drilling nearby. The wells will be ready in August, which is two months away. If they had started drilling immediately, now they would have been ready, and the oil spill substantially less important.

Apparently, BP wasn't even aware of the presence of two boring rods inside the marine riser, as a subcontracted firm might have been in charge of the operations. Extreme incompetence that has caused the death of 11 rig workers and unprecedented environmental, economic, humanitarian disaster, or sabotage?

Now Obama has ordered massive security checks, and five platforms have been shut. What one might wonder is why these security checks come along only after such disasters.

All photos are courtesy of the owner and may not be used without permission.

1 comment:

Shahrzad said...

The whole story seems so strange from the start.
It seems like they did it fully or to some extent intendedly.. Otherwise with what you said, they must be better informed to what they had to do before it causes so much damage..

Let's investigate and see who will benefit the most from the oil spill..

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