What are BP's Options to Stop the Oil Leaks? What are the Chances of Success?
Photo: USCG, CC
The Blowout Preventer and Containment Dome Failed, What Now?
Now that the 100-ton containment dome has failed to stop one of the oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is looking at its other options to try to stop the flow of oil and limit the size of this catastrophe. What are those options? Read on to find out.
Photo: USCG, CC
First, BP is drilling a relief well, and that's has a very good chance of working (unless something really unexpected happens while drilling, such are terrible weather on the surface or something wrong with the equipment or rock formation under the seabed). The problem with it is that it is estimated that it will take three months for the well to be completed; with leaks of at least 5,000 barrels a day, maybe more, that's an amount of time that we can't afford.
Smaller Containment Dome, aka Top Hat
The first containment dome failed because of ice-like crystals, called hydrates, formed at the top, clogging the pipe that was supposed to allow the oil to be siphoned up to the surfance, and also making the dome too buoyant to form an effective seal around the leak. BP now thinks that a smaller containment dome/box might be more effective, but once again, there's no guarantee of success, and it could take a while to deploy this second containment dome (minimum 3 days).
Capping the leak with a smaller box would ensure the oil and seawater mixture inside the container is warm enough to prevent the formation of a slush that had clogged the larger container, according to geochemist David Valentine of UC Santa Barbara. Gas mixing with cold water near the sea floor can form a matrix similar to crystal. (source)
Cutting the Riser Pipe
Another option would be to cut the riser pipe (the long pipe that was attached to both the rig on the surface and the wellhead at the bottom of the sea) and connect it to a larger pipe that would bring the oil to ships on the surface. This is a dangerous move because if they cut the pipe and something goes wrong (and at a depth of 5,000ft, a lot can go wrong), the oil flow-rate will have been increased and more oil will end up in the sea.
Junk Shot + Cement
Also on the table is what is called a 'junk shot': "This would involve injecting solid rubbery and fibrous material into the broken mechanism at the well head to stop it up temporarily, like a clogged toilet. The temporary clog would allow engineers time to use heavy fluids and cement to create a more permanent barrier. (source)"
This isn't certain to work either, but unlike cutting the riser, at least if it doesn't work the flow of oil won't have been increased.
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