Slicked and Slabbed

In just a few months, the slabbed will mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the spin of the scheme that transformed the hurricane into “the Great New Orleans Flood”:

“The word game started with water – lots and lots of water – lifted by Katrina’s powerful winds, waves became walls of water – collapsing with such force water went further inland than shown on any flood map. New Orleans, the Big Easy, became the only bowl it never wanted and, those playing the word game began calling Katrina, the windstorm, the Great New Orleans Flood.”

The slabbed have now been slicked but spin is spin, even when it’s  the “big drill down spin” – and just as the best place to hide a needle is a haystack of needles, the best place to hide a leak is in an oil rig that’s bleeding like a stuck pig.

The Sunday Times (London) sets the stage for the “big drill down spin” with BP warned of rig fault ten years ago:

BP faces fresh questions over the cause of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill after it emerged that problems with the type of equipment that led to the disaster were first reported a decade ago.

In June 2000, the oil giant issued a “notice of default” to Transocean, the operator of the rig that blew up last month. The dispute was over problems with a blowout preventer, a set of iron slabs that should close out-of-control wells. It failed on the Gulf of Mexico rig, triggering the explosion and oil spill.

Transocean acknowledged at the time that the preventer did “not work exactly right”. The rig in question, the Discover Enterprise, was unable to operate for extended periods while the problem was fixed.  The preventer was made by Hydril, now owned by GE’s oil and gas arm, and Cameron International, a Houston company. Cameron also made the preventer on the Deepwater Horizon, the rig that exploded. Its preventer was fitted at about the same time BP was complaining of problems with its sister vessel.

BP’s past problems with the preventer emerged as a giant oil slick, fed by the uncapped well, began lapping the coast of Louisiana…

Notice the way the Sunday Times (New York) slips in the mention of three leaks as it does the BP spin in BP Describes Race to Fix Well as Obama Warns of Oil Damage:

BP was leasing the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded on April 20. Two days later, it collapsed into the gulf, and the oil began leaking. BP, working with an array of government agencies and private companies, has been unable to stop the flow of crude from the well.

Bob Fryar, the company’s senior vice president for operations in Angola, who was brought to a command center in Houston for the engineering effort, said that on Monday, BP hoped to install a shut-off valve on one of the three leaks. That may stop some of the oil flow, Mr. Fryar said.

But the biggest leak, at the end of the riser pipe, which Mr. Fryar said was the source of most of the spewing oil, cannot be shut off this way. The company intends to address that leak by lowering a containment dome over it and then pumping the oil to the surface. That effort is still at least six days away, Mr. Fryar said. Another containment dome, for the third leak, which is on the riser near the wellhead, would follow two to four days after the first.

Crooks and Liars puts all together and reveals the “big drill down spin” in BP Exec: Who Could Have Known? It’s Not Our Rig! Etc. IT’S NOT OUR FAULT!

Lamar McKay…[Chairman and President, BP America]… on This Week with Jake Tapper is practically a textbook case of public-relations crisis management: It wasn’t our rig! No one could have known!

TAPPER: Your company, BP, has a spotty safety record, most horrifically in 2005, an explosion at a refinery in Texas that killed 15 workers; other incidents involving leaks have been blamed on cutting corners on financial reasons. How confident are you that this accident had nothing to do with cutting back on safety to save a buck?

MCKAY: Well, the investigations are going to show the cause of this accident, and we want those investigations to be done. My belief that is that that does not have anything to do with it. I believe we’ve got a failed piece of equipment. We don’t know why it failed yet in this contracted rig, and BOP system will figure that out.

Even though you were warned about these rigs ten years ago? Already I’m smelling a rat!

But let me just tell you, our focus, our focus right now is dealing with the source of the oil, dealing with it on the surface, and dealing with it on the beach or the marsh if it occurs.

TAPPER: Your initial filing to the government, to the Mineral Management Service for 2009 before you drilled on this spot made this assessment, quote, “An accidental oil spill could cause impact to the beaches. However, due to the distance to shore, 48 miles, and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected. BP Exploration and Production Incorporated has the capability to respond to the maximum extent practicable to a worst-case discharge,” which you estimated at 300,000 gallons. It’s less than that, it’s estimated to be 210,000, and yet BP does not seem to have the capability to respond. How can the public trust BP’s assessments of risk and how can the public trust anything you guys say?

MCKAY: Well, I think we are responding very, very aggressively. As you may know, we had a response planned, filed for the drilling of this well that incorporates various capability around the Gulf Coast. That spill response plan was activated as soon as this event occurred. It has been extremely aggressive. It will continue to be extremely aggressive, and I believe the response — this is, you know, we must understand, this is — this is a very low likelihood but very high impact response — sorry, incident — and the response is matching that incident.

TAPPER: I just have a couple more questions. Just a few months ago, a BP executive protested proposed new safety regulations for oil rigs, writing to the government that quote, “while BP is supportive of companies having a system in place to reduce risks, accidents, injuries and spills, we are not supportive of extensive proscriptive regulations.” Will BP continue to fight and lobby against safety regulations?

MCKAY: Well, I would characterize the letter you’re talking about slightly differently. That letter was in response to the government’s request for input on safety regulations that the MMS was looking at. The rest of the letter actually recommends improvements and specific recommendations around safety regulations should they choose to change them. So we’re not fighting anything about safety. Safety is the number one priority. We’re going to figure out what happened here, and that is going to help the MMS and help ourselves and help the industry get safer, so we’re not fighting anything about safety.

TAPPER: All right, last question, Mr. McKay. You had several fail/safe mechanisms on this rig, and they all failed. Since you don’t yet know what caused this accident, will you stop all operations until you know? How can the American people trust that there won’t be another explosion at another BP facility?

MCKAY: Well, we’re working in conjunction with the government on understanding everything we can understand as quickly as we can. We’re not going to do anything that we think is unsafe. We’re doing extra tests on various pieces of equipment to make absolutely sure they will work in the condition they’re intended to work in.

We won’t do any work if we don’t think it can be carried out safely and without impact. But we are working very closely with the government in trying to understand this and see if there should be any changes quickly.

Wow. I feel so much better now. Thanks, BP!

“Big oil” is definitely “big news”.  Regional MSM outlets have centralized on-line coverage:  Clarion-Ledger, Biloxi Sun-Herald, Pascagoula-Mobile Press Register, Times PicayunePensacola News Journal.

The Press Register reports “leaking news on the leaking oil – Leaked report: Government fears Deepwater Horizon well could become unchecked gusher.

The Press-Register obtained the emergency report from a government official. The White House, NOAA, the Coast Guard and BP Plc did not immediately return calls for comment made early this morning.A confidential government report on the unfolding spill disaster in the Gulf makes clear the Coast Guard now fears the well could become an unchecked gusher shooting millions of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf…

“The following is not public,” reads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Response document dated April 28. “Two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought.”

Asked Friday to comment on the document, NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen said that the additional leaks described were reported to the public late Wednesday night. Regarding the possibility of the spill becoming an order of magnitude larger, Smullen said, “I’m letting the document you have speak for itself.”

In scientific circles, an order of magnitude means something is 10 times larger. In this case, an order of magnitude higher would mean the volume of oil coming from the well could be 10 times higher than the 5,000 barrels a day coming out now. That would mean 50,000 barrels a day, or 2.1 million gallons a day. It appears the new leaks mentioned in the Wednesday release are the leaks reported to the public late Wednesday night.

“There is no official change in the volume released but the USCG is no longer stating that the release rate is 1,000 barrels a day,” continues the document, referred to as report No. 12. “Instead they are saying that they are preparing for a worst-case release and bringing all assets to bear.”

The emergency document also states that the spill has grown in size so quickly that only 1 to 2 percent of it has been sprayed with dispersants.

The worst-case scenario for the broken and leaking well pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico would be the loss of the wellhead and kinked piping currently restricting the flow to 5,000 barrels — or 210,000 gallons — per day.

The Press Register linked a later report and updated the story earlier this evening “to add response from NOAA spokesman”.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration video, shot as officials coordinated response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, shows that federal officials almost immediately worried that the oil well could leak up to 110,000 barrels per day, or 4.6 million gallons.

If the wellhead is lost, oil could leave the well at a much greater rate.

“Typically, a very good well in the Gulf can produce 30,000 barrels a day, but that’s under control. I have no idea what an uncontrolled release could be,” said Stephen Sears, chairman of the petroleum engineering department at Louisiana State University.

On Thursday, federal officials said they were preparing for the worst-case scenario but didn’t elaborate.

Kinks in the piping created as the rig sank to the seafloor may be all that is preventing the Deepwater Horizon well from releasing its maximum flow. BP is now drilling a relief well as the ultimate fix. The company said Thursday that process would take up to 3 months.

“I’m not sure what’s happening down there right now. I have heard there is a kink in what’s called the riser. The riser is a long pipe that connects the wellhead to the rig. I really don’t know if that kink is a big restriction. Is that really a big restriction? There could be another restriction further down,” said LSU’s Sears.

“An analogy would be if you have a kink in a garden hose. You suspect that kink is restricting the flow, but there could be another restriction or kink somewhere else closer to the faucet.

BP Plc executive Doug Suttles said Thursday the company was worried about “erosion” of the pipe at the wellhead.

Sand is an integral part of the formations that hold oil under the Gulf. That sand, carried in the oil as it shoots through the piping, is blamed for the ongoing erosion described by BP.

“The pipe could disintegrate. You’ve got sand getting into the pipe, it’s eroding the pipe all the time, like a sandblaster,” said Ron Gouget, a former oil spill response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“When the oil is removed normally, it comes out at a controlled rate. You can still have abrasive particles in that. Well, now, at this well, its coming out at fairly high velocity,” Gouget continued. “Any erosive grains are abrading the inside of the pipe and all the steel that comes in contact with the liquid. It’s essentially sanding away the pipe.”

Gouget said the loss of a wellhead is totally unprecedented.

“How bad it could get from that, you will have a tremendous volume of oil that is going to be offgassing on the coast. Depending on how much wind is there, and how those gases build up, that’s a significant health concern,” he said.

The formation that was being drilled by Deepwater Horizon when it exploded and sank last week is reported to have tens of millions of barrels of oil. A barrel contains 42 gallons.

Smullen described the NOAA document as a regular daily briefing. “Your report makes it sound pretty dire. It’s a scenario,” he said, “It’s a regular daily briefing sheet that considered different scenarios much like any first responder would.”

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