Gulf Oil Crisis – Facts from Fiction, Part 2 of 3

Gulf Oil Crisis – Facts from Fiction, Part 2 of 3

The True Story of the Deepwater Horizon Tragedy

See part 1 here: Gulf Oil Crisis – Facts from Fiction, Part 1 of 3

What Do We Know?:

Some combination of failures took place. 

That some quantity of methane gas, in a compressed liquid state, gained entry into the “drilling system”. That at depths below 3000 feet, methane gas will remain in a  liquid form and does not expand rapidly.

As the liquid gas rises up the well and the psi reduces, the gas will expand and transition from a liquid into a gaseous state, expanding in volume as it does so.

One “expert” claimed that as the gas moves up a well pipe, from 3000 feet below the surface to 600 feet below the surface, the gas expands at least 300%. Between 600 feet and the surface the gas expands again, by 1000%.

http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4315&page=5 

Other “experts” report that “methane” will remain in liquid form at any pressure above 2362 psi.

http://www.xpsimworld.com/Samples/Phasen/phasenv.htm

Another “expert” stated that 1 cubic foot of gas at a 5000 foot depth will expand to 700 feet of gas at the surface. This would mean that the amount of gas you would fit into an empty gallon container of milk would expand to fill the average two car garage at the surface.   http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=6

Another drilling expert described the “gas expansion” this way; 6 barrels of gas entering the pipe at  12,500 psi will expand to 5200 hundred barrels at the surface. Every 1 barrel at 12,500 psi equals 866 barrels at the surface. 1 gallon at 12,500 psi equals 20 barrels at the surface.

Common “theories” or Common “speculation”

There are “experts” who believe the liquid gas gained entry to the “drilling system” through a displaced “bottom plug” or through channels in the cement between the well casing and the well pipe (which would require that the “channels” match up on the 9 separate “cementing jobs”) , others believe the liquid gas gained entry through a “defect” in the casing or well pipes and still others who think the liquid gas was absorbed in the drilling mud and later, after the mud became saturated with the liquid gas, that the liquid gas percolated out of the mud and up the well pipe.

The gas, in whatever quantity, and from whatever source, once it gained entry to the drilling system, began an upward migration in the well pipe.

You can note that the BOP was located on the floor of the Gulf, nearly 5000 feet below the surface. The gas would, at that depth, be in liquid form.

The most common speculation, a speculation so common and so sensible, that I’m ready to accept it as fact,  is that the drill crew’s action of  “displacing the drilling fluid” or “mud” with sea water acted to “imbalance” the well flow and speed a “gas bubble” on its way to the surface. As the bubble moved closer to the surface it expanded at an ever increasing rate, forcing the mud, oil and other fluids above it in the pipe out onto the drilling platform. Once the gas bubble breached the top of the well it ignited and caused the fire if not the explosion.

As the fluid flowed out of the top quarter of the well, the hydrostatic pressure at the wellhead dropped from about 2300psi to approximately 500psi in an instant, creating a siphon like suction, drawing additional oil and gas up through the well pipe.

The rig was equipped with all manner of warning and alarm systems to alert the crew of the impending disaster. At least some of these alarms or warnings were triggered. Of the 126 individuals on board, 115 were saved.

This is not speculation: these 11 crewman lost their life’s in the disaster:

Jason Anderson – Tourpusher
Dewey Reveete – Driller
Roy Wyatt Kemp – Derrickman
Donald Clark – Asst Driller
Karl Kleppinger- Shakerhand
Shane Roshoto – Floorhand
Adam Weise – Floorhand
Stephen Curtis – Deck Foreman
Aaron Dale Burkeen – Crane Operator
Gordon Jones – MI Service Hand
Blair Manuel – MI Service Hand

Myth # 6 – BP used substandard “drilling fluid” or “drilling mud” to cut costs and it was BP’s “cheap” approach that resulted in this accident. That this is another example of BP’s shoddy business practices.

In fact, BP is an industry leader in research and “computer modeling” for “drilling fluids” or “drilling mud“. BP has participated in industry leading research in “kicks” generated by the use of water and oil based muds. BP International, in partnership with Schlumberger Cambridge (SCR), developed a computerized modeling program for the UK Department of Energy.

“This paper describes the philosophy behind the code structure, the solution techniques and modes of operation. The capabilities of the simulator are summarized; the coding considerations discussed and comparisons between kicks in oil- and water-based muds are illustrated. Some details of the validation of the code against field and experimental data are given. The code structure is designed for maximum portability and is highly modular, allowing ease of maintenance and upgrade. The full mass and momentum equations are solved in a core algorithm using an implicit finite difference scheme. An equation of state developed by BP is used to describe the density of gas-cut drilling mud at conditions of up to 15,000 psi and 350 deg F. The temperature dependence of the drilling mud and the rise velocity of gas bubbles in non-Newtonian fluids are described by new experimental work from SCR.”

http://www.onepetro.org/mslib/servlet/onepetropreview?id=00019975&soc=SPE

http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=22

It is possible that the rig hands working with the “drill mud” missed the gas buildup in the mud. It is possible that the Transocean crew member responsible for overseeing the “drilling mud” missed the gas buildup. It is also possible that the BP “company man” assigned to “clear” this work failed to run the computer model or simulator that BP invented, however, given this rigs reputation for excellence, I find that unlikely.

It is possible that an improper level of gas built up in the “drilling mud” and in combination with other “human errors” led to this tragedy. All things considered, absent some specific evidence in support of such a claim, I am not willing to accept that BP declined any request to “switch out the mud” or for that matter that any such request was actually presented and then declined.

Myth #7  – The well pipe and casing was substandard – the well was doomed to fail by design.   

The Large Bore 2M (LB-2M) Wellhead System is an extension of the LB wellhead. The LB-2M features casing hangers and running tools designed to carry additional casing loads at the systems working pressure. The 16″ sub-mud-line casing hanger, with a 2M lbs. high capacity hanger system has a 10,000 psi working pressure rating. The 2M lbs. high capacity 13-5/8″ casing hanger lands inside the high pressure housing and is rated for 15,000 psi working pressure.

The system used to drill the Macundo well is one of the “Cadillac” systems available for “deepwater” well drilling. The system has been used to successfully produce wells at depths greater than the Macundo’s. This unsubstantiated slander, repeated by two Congress people during the Congressional Hearings, is simply unsupported by any facts whatsoever.

http://www.fmctechnologies.com/en/Subsea….5Wellhead.a spx  – see the description under “large bore” on this page. This system was designed and approved over a deceade ago … what woould motivate someone to imply that this “system” was unique and uniquely dangerous … 

http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=28

The well pipe and well casing did not fail until after the Deepwater Horizon capsized and sank.  The force exerted on the pipe while the rig sank, twisting and bending the well pipe and casing as the rig settled to the floor of the gulf, resulted in the structural disruption and failure. The well blowout did not destroy structural integrity of the well pipe.

Myth #8 – The explosion

This event involved a huge underwater explosion that occurred; A). at the bottom of the well when the drill bit entered the oil reservoir and ignited an oil and gas pocket. This is complete speculation and has no basis in scientific fact. B). a giant gas bubble developed beneath the BOP and above the oil reservoir, that the BOP was “shut” and refused to open. That the gas bubble expanded until it finally exploded. The explosion blew out the top and bottom of the well, destroying the well’s integrity and creating a large crack in the crust of the earth.  Again this is wild speculation. As we know the methane gas would remain in a liquid form at that depth and would not expand or grow. (It is possible, however, for the density of the liquid gas in the mud to increase). There is no evidence of an explosion in the well casing, above or below the sea floor. C). that an explosion occurred in the lower marine riser package and the BOP. That the explosion damaged or destroyed the BOP and LMRP. This is a matter of unsupported speculation. None of the video broadcast to date support that type of damage being done to either the LMRP or BOP. D). That an explosion took place in the well pipe between the LMRP and the Deepwater Horizon Rig.  Again there has been no evidence of such an event. After the “event” and prior to the rig capsizing and sinking the rig remained tethered by the well pipe to the LMRP below.

The only explosion that took place, took place above the Deepwater Horizon Rig and on its drilling deck. The explosion and subsequent fire were related to the ignition of the escaping gas and oil from the well.

The explosion on and above the rig was not of sufficient force, 5000 feet above the ocean floor, to create a massive enough shock wave to substantially disturb the LMRP and well head below. It is true that a substantial “kick” was felt on the rig as the well “blew out”, the rig and the LMRP below are engineered to withstand such pressure. There has been no sign of oil leaking from the seals of the LMRP or BOP or from any area around the bottom of the LMRP. While there may have been some type of damage sustained in these areas, that damage, if it did occur, has not been manifested to date.

An explosion on the sea floor at the LMRP (one did not take place) would have had no effect on the geologic structure of the oil reservoir some 13,000 feet below. The actual explosion above the Deepwater Horizon would have had no effect on the geologic structure of the oil reservoir below.  A nuclear explosion at the site of the LMRP would not disturb the geologic structure 13,000 feet below. An explosion above sea level, with an additional 5,000 feet of ocean water acting as a buffer, would have no impact on the oil reservoir 18,000 feet below.  NORADS Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center is only 2000 feet underground but considered “nuke proof”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheyenne_Mountain A “well blowout explosion” separated from the geological structure of an oil reservoir by 13,000 feet of earth and an additional 5,000 feet of water, will have no impact, what so ever, on the underlying geology. 

Yes, a shock wave could travel down the well pipe to the LMRP, however, LMRP’s are designed to withstand that type of vibration. You could fire a high velocity projectile down the center of the well pipe into the upward rushing fluid and that projectile would never reach the bottom of the well.

The Spill Response  

The Deepwater Horizon capsized and sank at 1030 AM local time on April 22, 2010, 36 hours after the initial fire and explosion.

Within 72 hours the fact that the oil was leaking into the Gulf of Mexico was well known.

The three leaks;  the first at the top end of the riser where it had separated from the drilling platform, the second in mid riser, somewhere between the top end and the LMRP on the Gulf floor and the third leak just above the location where the “riser” was “kinked” above the LMRP at an almost 90 degree angle.

By the morning of April 26th, 2010 the “Unified Command Center” announced that “BP” was considering three different ‘repairs” to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf. 

The three repairs announced April 26, 2010:

1)      A containment dome or “coffer dam”. The domes were a multi story fabrication to be dropped over the top of the leaks and were intended to funnel the oil to a surface ship where it would collected.

2)      The “Top Kill”. Pumping heavy mud into the top of the well to “plug” and seal the LMRP and BOP.

3)      The “Junk Shot”, pumping shredded tires and tennis balls or some such thing into the top of the well to “plug” and “seal” it.

As I’ve said in other posts, I am not a deep sea oil expert; however, my initial reaction was this, “That is it? That’s the plan? Are they kidding? What’s the back-up plan”.

That evening I searched the web a bit and discovered the following.

The Containment Dome

The “containment dome” was not greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm in the “professional oil industry” blogs. There were many posts noting that the same approach had been tried unsuccessfully after the well blow out at the Itox I well in June 1979. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ixtoc_I_oil_spill   

We now know that the two containment domes tried at the Macondo well failed due to the formation of ice like crystals under the “collection hoods”. This is the same reason the “domes” failed at Itox I.

While I am not an “oil expert”, I do wonder about the volume of methane gas being produced by this reservoir.

While there was little enthusiasm for the Containment Dome in the “Professional Blogs”, it was, by far, the best received of the three suggestions.    

The: “Top Kill” and “Junk Shot”

I’d like to take a minute to review one of the technical differences between the “Top Kill” and the “Junk Shot” on one hand and the “Containment Dome” on the other. The “Containment Dome”, had it succeeded, would not have “shut the well in” or “stopped the flow of oil”. It would have placed a “cap” over the oil leaks and funneled the oil to the surface and the waiting surface vessels. The well would not have been “shut off” or “shut in”.

The “Top Kill” and “Junk Shots” were directed at a different type of resolution. A successful “Top Kill” or “Junk Shot” would have “sealed” the well, would have “shut the well in”, or “shut the well off”. Successful “Top Kill” or “Junk Shots” would have stopped the flow of oil into the Gulf.

With a successful “Junk Shot” or “Top Kill”, pressure would build within the well. Strangely, this  possibility, that “pressure might build” in the well after the well was successfully shut in, was never mentioned before either the “Top Kill” or “Junk Shot”, however, this “possibility” has been mentioned, as a cause of “dire concern” when other “repair solutions” are suggested … my reason for mentioning this is to alert the reader, when they visit other blogs, to be alert to this issue … noting the differences is a reliable way to identify those rooting for a procedure versus an outcome… 

By the evening of April 26th speculation concerning these proposals was running rampant.

As I previously noted, a significant number of bloggers at the “Professional” oil workers sites expressed their skepticism at the proposed “containment dome” noting the failures of similar devices at the Itox I well blow out in 1979.

A rather vocal group of “bloggers” who supported the “containment dome” solution expressed their concern that trying either the “junk shot” or the “Top Kill” could prove catastrophic. This group for some reason believed that the floor around the LMRP had been damaged by the blow out and that there may have been some type of well pipe collapse. There was no visual evidence to suggest that had happened nor was there any supporting scientific proof. The “live videos” from the site did not show any “oil” leaking from the LMRP nor was there oil seeping up out of the ground at the base of the LMRP.

The persistent opinions from this group were politely tolerated but not necessarily accepted in the “professional blogs”.

The “professional bloggers were less kind to the “Junk Shot” and “Top Kill” solutions. While there were very few of the “Professional Bloggers” who thought the “containment dome” would succeed, there were a few. There were no champions for the “top kill” or “junk shot” solutions among the “professional oil field workers”.

If you visit the sites I’ve linked to this article you’ll note very little time was spent discussing “solutions” to the ongoing leak during the final week of April, the first week after the event. Those discussions would heat up a month later.

During the last week of April, most of the Professional Oil Workers were intent on finding an explanation for how this terrible event had come about. Most had no interest in assigning blame, only a desire to identify the questions, find some answers and develop some solutions. As a group they appeared to be deeply intent on improving the survivability of their chosen professions.

April 26th, 2010

On the evening of April 26th, 2010 this writer decided he would chip in his 2 cents worth.

I emailed my suggestion for a “well repair” to the “Unified Command”.

I sent the same “suggestion” twice more before posting it on my Blog in June 2010. As you read on, you’ll understand why I waited to post the suggestion… 

As you’ll note later, my suggestion was, in fact, utilized as the recent and successful well repair.

I don’t mention this because I crave attention or admiration. I mention it because it provides us an opportunity to learn a lesson about the Obama Administration.

A lesson about truthfulness, deception and trustworthiness. A lesson about competence.

My repair suggestion was, from my perspective, straight forward.

I noticed that there was a flange assembly, a coupling joining the top of the Lower Marine Riser Package (LMRP) to the bottom section of the “riser” that had previously extended upward to the oil rig. The coupling was just below the 90 degree kink in the riser.

I noted that despite the fact that the 90 degree kink in the riser was just feet above the top of the LMRP and BOP, there was no sign that oil was leaking out of either of these “parts”. Nor was there any sign of oil leaking up from the gulf floor around the LMRP. The “90 degree” plus kink in the riser would obvious act to restrict oil flow and cause pressure to “backup” into the well, in much the same way a kinked garden hose forces water back away from the open end of the hose towards the house. While far from a “true” pressure test, no one had to that time, or to the present time, presented any scientific evidence to confirm that the well bore, well pipe or well casing was damaged by the blow out. A substantial number of the professional bloggers shared my opinion that the well bore, well hole, well pipe and well casing (there appears to be quite a bit of overlap in the use of these terms) retained structural integrity until after the blowout, explosion and fire and only “lost” structural integrity when the rig sank, twisting and kinking the riser on the way down.

It is from this standpoint that I suggested, “why not consider cutting the riser off above the last 90 degree kink, to preserve the restricted flow of oil coming out of the riser from the well, then obtain and position a new “shutoff valve” on the sea floor, uncouple or take apart the flange connection, dispose of the flange attached to the cut riser pipe and attach the new “flanged shutoff valve” to the top of the assembly. I noted that a “combination” shut off valve and production valve could obviously be considered, as I have nothing against continued oil production, but for simplicity sake, I was just trying to target a solution to stop the flow of oil into the gulf. I didn’t want to have my idea discarded because I was so “politically incorrect” to suggest continued oil production from the well.

Fast Forward July 12, 2010.

The riser pipe was, in fact, finally cut. The cut took place almost 12 weeks after I first submitted my suggestion. The pipe was not cut “above” the 90 degree kink, but was, cut below that kink. Immediately after the riser pipe was cut, the flow of oil from the well increased substantially. This fact provides support to the theory that the well pipe and casing were not damaged and that oil flowed freely through the well, the BOP and the LMRP.  After the riser cut was completed a “Top Hat”, a modification of the “Containment Dome” solution, was lowered into the gulf and “loosely attached” to the LMRP. America watched for weeks as oil flowed steadily around the “Top Hat” and into the gulf. Flowing at the rate of over a million gallons a day into the Gulf.

http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=16

This situation continued for weeks, hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, millions of gallons of oil, flowing into the Gulf, until July 12, 2010, when the Unified Command and BP removed the “Top Hat”, took the last flange assembly apart and connected a new “combination shutoff and production valve” to the top of the well. What was the specific type of “shutoff and production valve” that was attached?  They attached a new BOP to the top of the well”.

Today is July 18th, 2010 and the flow of oil into the Gulf has been stopped.

I acknowledged weeks ago that while I submitted this idea to the Unified Command, that is was probable that similar ideas must have been submitted by others.

That however, does not excuse the outright falsehoods currently being told by the Obama Administration.

In response to various questions concerning this repair several members of the Obama Administration have made the following false statements;

1). That the suggestion to attempt this repair was received anonymously, from a plumber, through  some unidentified staff member at the University of California, and

2) That the “mystery plumber” had submitted his “sketch” of a “device” which was designed to “repair” or “shut in” the well” on 07/12/2010.

Again, the purpose of my making this observation is not an attempt to “correct” some perceived injustice to myself, to seek credit for coming up with the solution first. My purpose is this: At the time I made the original suggestion my intent was very simple, a good faith offer of assistance in a time of great national emergency. I don’t support this Administration or it’s policies, but I love my Country and have a great sympathy for the people of the Gulf.

“Containment Dome”, “Top Kill”, “Junk Shot” and “Top Hat”, are they kidding me, this is the best they can come up with?

By the time I posted my “repair suggestion” on my blog, I was astonished, almost 8 weeks had passed since I had submitted my suggested to the Command Center … but more on that later. An additional 159 million gallons of oil had passed through the LMRP/BOP and into the Gulf between the day I emailed my suggestion and my posting it on my blog. 

Was the Administration really content to sit on the results of the incredibly dishonest “Congressional Hearings” and wait for the relief wells to be completed in late August? No back-up plan? What would they do if they could not obtain a solid seal from the “relief wells”, what next?

Remember these things, an anonymous “plumber” and a “sketch of a “sealing device”.

May 2010

You can imagine my surprise on May 02, 2010 when I came across the following, just 6 days after my email:

May  1st 2010 Conference Call  (Day 10 of The Spill)

ADMIRAL ALLEN:  One of the real problems we’re having working in that area is what I would call the tyranny of distance and the tyranny of depth…

Trying to use some of these technologies at that depth with remotely operated vehicles is proving to be somewhat of a challenge.  The riser is already crimped about two feet above what they call the stack … There was already a crimp in that pipe.  What we don’t know is whether or not that is what’s reducing the flow to what we have right now, or a much larger flow would be expected if there was a total wellhead failure[By well head failure, I believe the Admiral means a loss of all “containment ability” – a free and unchecked flow of oil, not a “collapsed or destroyed well pipe” as some in the press have assumed – obstructions from displaced casing and the like would impede the flow of oil, just like a “kink”] There are some plans in place that are being evaluated where the pipe could be crimped or potentially just cut it off another blowout preventer just placed above it.  The real problem is the engineering associated with that and how to mechanically accomplish that 5,000 feet down. 

http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/doc/2931/535447/

http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=8

The next question in the interview came from an Attorney representing some company with a variation on the “Containment Dome” or “Coffer Dam”.

You can imagine my excitement: “Wow, that is great. Sounds like they have someone on the ball now. Cut the riser, replace the BOP with another one above it. I think they are on their way now, if the Gulf can just hold this may be over in a week “Remember the date, May 1st, 2010. The spill was in its 10th day. The Governors of the Gulf States were calling for assistance and asking the Bureaucrats to get out of the way ….

May 2, 2010

One week since I had first submitted my suggestion… Then this bit of confusion … from the New York Times of all places, “The company intends to address the leak by lowering a containment dome [coffer dam] over it and then pumping the oil to the surface. [Referring to the mid riser kink & rupture]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”. [That would mean a 10 day delay before the “two” containment domes were in place and this is already Day 11 … seems like we lack some urgency here… and what happened to my idea …]

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/03/us/03spill.html?_r=1

My first reaction upon reading these proposals was this: They are not thinking things through, these are political not scientific decisions … First, if you cut the riser just above the kink at the LMRP, you know the kink about 5 feet above the LMRP or “stack”, if you cut the riser there, you’ll only have 1 leak to deal with not three … the other two leaks are upstream from there and will be eliminated. you won’t need 2 “containment domes”. Is there any possible reason you want to “keep” the two extra leaks …. “frequent leaker miles” or something? How much does a containment dome cost anyway?

This is day 11 and you are talking about another 6 to 10 day delay … why not do what you can do now and if doesn’t work … try something else later …

Then, later that day, in a  New York Times update, I read, “The root of the problem appears to be a towering stack of heavy equipment 5,000 feet below the surface of the gulf known as a blowout preventer.” … “Mr. Fryar and Charlie Holt, BP’s drilling operations manager for the gulf, described an audacious plan to confront the blowout preventer problem. In this approach, they would seal the well by 1). cutting the riser at the wellhead, 2). sliding a huge piece of equipment called the riser package out of the way and 3). bolting a second blowout preventer atop the first one”…. “Mr. Fryar said a pressure gauge would be installed soon to determine if it was safe to attempt the operation.”

 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/03/us/03spill.html?_r=1

My thought, “YES!, Not quite my idea, I didn’t call for sliding the LMRP out of the way, just cutting away the riser and “bolting” a new “shutoff valve/BOP” to the top of the well. This would not be the first time I would have thought of an audacious plan nor would it be the first time one of my “plans” would succeeded. I wondered, will they attempt this while they wait for the Containment Domes – the second containment dome is 10 days away… they should be able to get a BOP to the well pronto… helicopter one in if need be…

The NYT article ended by noting the President’s comments that day, “The oil that is still leaking from the well could seriously damage the economy and the environment of our gulf states and it could extend for a long time,” … “It could jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of Americans who call this place home.”

So, doesn’t that mean we should try the BOP now and not wait 10 days for the Containment Domes?

May 03, 2010

Imagine my surprise on May 03, 2010, Day 12 of the spill when I came across this:

“BP said it spud the first of two planned relief wells to intervene in the Macondo exploration well” … “The company said yesterday it is expanding efforts to cap the Macondo well, including a plan to stack an additional blowout preventer (BOP) on the bore… The company is also investigating installing a valve on the end of the ruptured drill pipe to shut off oil leaking from there….”  [the top end of the pipe that had been attached to the drilling rig. While this should be the easiest repair to make, if the riser was cut just above the 90 degree kink, one wouldn’t need to even consider this end of the pipe, you’d only have 1 leak, not three. The second reason this seems to be a strange repair is this; What, exactly does this “capping” accomplish? It eliminates the “oil leaking” from the “open end” of the pipe, but it does not stop the flow of oil, it simply builds pressure in the riser and forces oil back towards the other two “leaks”, it will just change the location where the oil exits the riser, it won’t stop the oil from exiting the riser. What is the “net gain”? Again, why not “cut the riser” and eliminate the “top end leak” and the “mid-riser leak” all together? One last observation: What do you do with a “Containment Dome” in bad weather? You can close the BOP and move off … Are they going to attach the “Containment Dome to a “new production rig”?]

http://www.upstreamonline.com/live/article213922.ece;.upstream.dinar

Then to my amazement, I read this, “BP is looking at installing a new BOP on top of the existing well, which could then be used to shut the well, BP executive Bob Fryar said” , “.If pressures are not too high, Fryar said crews could 1). shear off the broken riser and LMRP unit and 2). then “stab” or stack a second BOP unit on top of the original BOP.” I nearly fell of my chair when I read this,

The new BOP is already on board the Transocean drillship Discoverer Enterprise, which is believed to be on location.”

 http://www.upstreamonline.com/live/article213922.ece;.upstream.dinar

 http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=12

What, the BOP is already on site? Why wait for three days to get a “pressure gage” installed, why not do it today … have someone helicopter in a pressure gage you’ve already got the BOP, get a submersible on it immediately and get it attached … pressure test 12 hours and get that new BOP installed tomorrow … Why wait 10 days to try the “Containment Dome”, the professionals on the Industry Blogs doubt it will work and they point to the Itox I well in 1979. Come on guys … get with it … lets go. If the BOP doesn’t work, you’ll have the ‘Containment Domes” in 10 days as back ups. Not proceeding with the BOP sounds like a “political” rather than “scientific” decision.

If the concern is that the new BOP isn’t going to work [pressure is to high] the “containment dome” will be a waste of time because if the pressure is too high for a BOP the pressure will just push the “Containment Dome off the leak …. With a “Containment Dome” you can expect “ice like crystals” like the Professionals say, but not necessarily the reverse …. The BOP will work when the “Containment Dome” will not… if the BOP won’t work, the “Dome” has little to no chance…

Part 1 Here: Gulf Oil Crisis – Facts from Fiction, Part 1 of 3

Part 3 Here: Gulf Oil Crisis – Facts from Fiction, Part 3 of 3

Gulf Oil Crisis – Facts from Fiction, Part 1 of 3

Gulf Oil Crisis – Facts from Fiction, Part 1 of 3

The True Story of the Deepwater Horizon Tragedy 

The intent of this “post” is to provide as accurate an account of the facts leading up to the April 20th 2010 catastrophe in the Gulf as is possible at this time and to recount, accurately, the repair or recovery  activities between April 22, 2010 and today.

I’ve tried to identify and differentiate “speculation” from “rumor” and fact…

I hope this post refutes some widely accepted “myths” about the catastrophe and will direct a bright light on the frequently repeated, “politically” convenient, misrepresentations presented by the Obama Administration and our politicians in Washington.

Prologue:

The oil well in question is located in the Gulf of Mexico in what is referred to as the Mississippi Cannon Block 252. The well was referred to as the Macondo Prospect.

The well is located 40 plus miles off the coast of Louisiana under 4,993 feet of water.

http://www.subseaiq.com/(S(tsnxfs55xtv3eiyc10zqzqno))/data/PrintProject.aspx?project_id=562&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

A regional shallow hazards survey and study was carried out at the Macondo Reserve area by KC Offshore in 1998. High resolution, 2D seismic data along with 3D exploration seismic data of the MC 252 was collected by Fugro Geoservices in 2003. BP purchased the mineral rights to drill for oil in the Macondo Prospect at the Minerals Management Service‘s lease sale in March 2008. Mapping of the block was carried out by BP America in 2008 and 2009.

BP secured approval to drill the Macondo Prospect from MMS in March 2009. An exploration well was scheduled to be drilled in 2009.

The Macondo Prospect is estimated to hold 100,000,000 (100 million) barrels of oil. http://www.drillingahead.com/forum/topics/transocean-deepwater-horizon-1?commentId=3116006%3AComment%3A111280&xg_source=activity 

As there are 42 U.S. gallons to a barrel of oil, the preliminary estimates would indicate that the Macondo Prospect is expected to hold 4,400,000,000 (4.4 billion) gallons of oil.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrel_(volume)

The Macondo well has been projected to have “leaked” 92,000,000 (92 million) gallons of oil. This represents an average leak of nearly 1.5 million gallons of oil a day.

 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126475680

Based on the “average daily leak rate” it would take roughly 2900 days or 8 years, for all of the oil to move out of the Macondo Reserve and into the Gulf of Mexico. The well leak could go on for 8 years.      

Drilling Begins On The “Nightmare Well”

Sometime between October 7 and October 21, 2009 the Transocean Marianas semi-submersible rig commenced drilling the well. On November 29, 2009 operations were halted when the rig was damaged by Hurricane Ida. Transocean‘s Deepwater Horizon rig resumed the drilling operation in February 2010.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macondo_Prospect

http://www.subseaiq.com/(S(tsnxfs55xtv3eiyc10zqzqno))/data/PrintProject.aspx?project_id=562&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

You’ve probably heard many of our politicians quote a BP memo that referred to the Macondo well as a “nightmare”. Yes, that term, “nightmare”, has been used to describe the well. The use of the term started after hurricane Ida damaged the first drilling rig. Strange, isn’t it, when you are given the information necessary to put things into an honest perspective? “That Macondo well has been a real nightmare, Hurricane Ida damaged the first rig…”  

Myth #1: The Macondo well is the deepest well ever drilled. The Macondo well represents an unusually deep drilling operation… this is a “Star Trek” well … “going where no man has gone before”.

This widely believed myth is false. For some inexplicable reason the Macondo well is frequently mistaken for the Tiber Reservoir, a 3 billion barrel oil reserve located and drilled in 2009. The reason people may get confused is because the Transocean Deepwater Horizon, the oil rig destroyed in this  catastrophe, successfully drilled the Tiber well.

The Tiber Reservoir is located in the Keathley Canyon block 102, approximately 250 miles south east of Houston, not 40 plus miles off the coast of Louisiana. The well is located in approximately 4,132 feet of water. The Tiber well was drilled to a total depth of approximately 35,000 feet.

The Macondo well, while certainly a “deepwater” exploration, is a “shallow well” in terms of “deepwater” exploration with a total depth of just over 18.000 feet. The Macondo well is roughly half the depth of the Tiber well.

http://www.bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=2012968&contentId=7055818

http://rigzone.com/news/article.asp?a_id=85042   

http://www.emptyplatestomorrow.com/ 

Myth # 2: The Deepwater Horizon was “recklessly” drilling in water deeper than it was designed for.

This widely believed myth is false. The successful drilling of the Tiber Well would provide proof of that, however, you can note the following:

The DEEPWATER HORIZON is a Reading & Bates Falcon RBS8D design semi-submersible drilling unit capable of operating in harsh environments and water depths up to 8,000 ft (upgradeable to 10,000 ft) using 18¾in 15,000 psi BOP and 21in OD marine riser. The rig measures 396 feet by 256 feet, 100 feet longer than a football field and almost twice as wide.

Deepwater Horizon BOP Control Panel

Rig Type: 5th Generation Deepwater / Design Reading & Bates Falcon RBS-8D
Builder Hyundai Heavy Industries Shipyard, Ulsan, South Korea / Year Built 2001

The Macondo well, as previously noted, was in 4,993 of water, slightly less than half of the Deepwater Horizon’s maximum working depth.

 http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=wellcontrol&thread=4837&page=1  http://www.drillingahead.com/forum/topics/transocean-deepwater-horizon-1?commentId=3116006%3AComment%3A111280&xg_source=activity

America’s Main Stream Media and many of our elected officials continue to mistake the Macondo well for the Tiber Reserve. How and why this continues to happen is beyond me. How can we, the American People, trust a Media or Government that can’t bother to get the basic facts correct?

This single error permits or leads to all sorts of additional “misstatements” or “falsehoods” being presented about this catastrophe.

The Final Days

In February 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon resumed work on the well, BP was the “operator” of the well and had a 65% ownership interest. BP’s partners in “ownership” include Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (25%) and Japan’s Mitsui & Co. Inc. (10%).

Four primary contractors—Transocean – the owner operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, Halliburton – the cement contractor , Cameron International Corp., one of the premiere  equipment manufacturers in the industry and Smith International Inc., the 60% partner in the M-I SWACO joint venture—provided personnel or equipment for drilling the Macondo well.

http://www.ogj.com/index/article-display.articles.oil-gas-journal.general-interest-2.economics-markets.2010.05.bp-likely_to_pay_most.QP129867.dcmp=rss.page=1.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

The Catastrophic Event

The following report required only a few corrections;

“Transocean’s semi-submersible drilling vessel Deepwater Horizon was finishing work on a wellbore that had found oil 18,000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, in mile-deep water fifty miles off the Louisiana coast. Supervisors in the control cabin overlooking the drilling operations area were directing routine procedures to cement, plug and seal the borehole, replace heavy drilling fluids (mud) with seawater and extract the drill stem and bit through the riser (outer containment pipe) that connected the vessel to the blowout preventer (BOP) and the well on the seafloor.

Suddenly, a thump, shudder and hiss were followed by a towering eruption of seawater, drilling mud, cement, oil and natural gas. The BOP and backup systems had failed to work as designed, to control the massive amounts of unexpectedly high-pressure gas that were roaring up 18,000 feet of wellbore and riser. [The gas may not have been travelling all of 18,000 feet, it may have travelled a 1000 feet or less. The gas originated from 18,000 feet below, but it may have taken its time migrating up the well]

Gas enveloped the area and ignited, engulfing the Horizon in a 200-foot high inferno that instantly killed eleven workers. Surviving crewmen abandoned ship in covered lifeboats or jumped 80 feet to the water.

The supply boat Tidewater Damon Bankston rushed to the scene and helped crewmen get their burned and injured colleagues aboard. Shore-based Coast Guard helicopters tore through the night sky to brave the flames and take critically injured men to hospitals.

Thirty-six hours later, the Deepwater Horizon capsized and sank at 1030 AM local time (April 22) with the unburned portion of an estimated 700,000 gallons of #2 diesel fuel onboard. The 21-inch diameter riser twisted and buckled as the rig sank. The riser finally broke away from the rig deck as it sank and the two continued, independently, to the floor of the gulf.”

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/05/09/lessons-from-the-gulf-blowout/

http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=wellcontrol&thread=4837&page=1

The BOP or “blow out protector” was only the “last line” of rig’s defense to fail in this catastrophe. The BOP is a significant part of the “safety process” intended to safeguard a rig from this type of catastrophe, however, at least one other “safety precaution” must have failed before the BOP failed to function or this incident would not have happened.

As the massive rig sank, the “riser” or “pipe” connecting the rig to the Gulf Floor was stressed and twisted like a pretzel, kinking as it twisted back and forth as the rig came to rest 1500 feet from the well and Lower Marine Riser Package on the Gulf Floor.

http://www.drillingahead.com/forum/topics/transocean-deepwater-horizon-1?commentId=3116006%3AComment%3A111280&xg_source=activity

Myth # 3: The Deepwater Horizon Rig did not sink and land on top of the well and Lower Marine Riser Package at the bottom of the Gulf. The rig did not land on and collapse the LMRP, the rig did not drive the LMRP into the floor of the Gulf and the rig’s landing on the Gulf floor did not cause a massive fracture of the seabed in the Gulf.

Where did the Oil Leaks Come From?

At some point during the rigs descent to the Gulf floor, the “riser” or “pipes” separated or broke off from the bottom of the rig and proceeded to the Gulf floor separately. The “riser”, while “kinked” severely, still remained attached to the Lower Marine Riser Package (LMRP)and stretched across the floor of the Gulf and up into the Gulf waters for over 1500 feet , where the riser kinked again and then returned back down to the Gulf floor.

Oil leaked from the “top end” of the “riser” or “pipe”, the end originally attached to the drilling rig. Oil leaked from a second “ruptured kink” in the “riser” some distance between the “top end” of the riser and the “lower marine riser package”.  I’ll refer to this second “leak” as the “mid riser leak”. A third and final oil leak was found at a “ruptured kink” in the riser just feet above the LMRP.

What caused the disaster?

When Congress and President Obama ask this question they are really asking, “who can I blame this “catastrophe” on”, because I won’t accept any of the responsibility. I’m willing to accept any credit I can claim, but as to blame, who can I point my finger at.

How productive.

It will be sometime yet before we can determine how and why this incident occurred.

My purpose in posting this material is not to allocate blame between the various companies or to put any of the companies or corporations in a favorable light. I’m simply trying to present the facts.

I’m also trying to dispel the myths and to blame the politicians, blame the politicians for their shameless actions of demonizing industries and individuals to score political points, points that are not based on the truth or fact.

Last Known Activities On Deepwater Horizon

Multiple sources confirm that the “blow out” occurred while the rig workers were,” in the process of displacing the “drilling fluid” or “drilling mud” in the riser or “well bore” with seawater. Reports indicate that the rig crew were preparing to set a “surface plug” when the rig fell victim to a blowout.

http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=wellcontrol&thread=4837&page=1

Several accounts indicate that the Deepwater Horizon crew were finishing their work on the site and would have “moved off” the well site within 24 hours. This account is confirmed by the fact that the necessary paper work to “quit the well” had already been filed with the Mineral Management Service (MMS).

The Deepwater Horizon was a “drilling rig” and was preparing to leave the well site so that a “production rig” could replace it and begin the lengthy task of “oil production” on the site.

Cementing the Well

There are many commentators who speculate that this incident is due to a failure of the “cementing job” completed on this project.

To date that speculation has not been confirmed.

Halliburton, the cement contractor on this job, completed the final part of a 9 part cement job just 20 hours prior to the well “blowout”.  The last of the 9 “jobs” involved cementing the “final production casing string”, located between 17,168 feet and 18,330 feet below the surface of the gulf. A cement plug was placed at the foot of the wellbore, tests demonstrating the integrity of the production casing string were completed successfully prior to the well blow out.

Both Transocean and BP “signed off” on the cement job, indicating acceptance of the quality of the work.

Transocean and BP have agreed with Halliburton’s statement that, “At the time of the incident, well operations had not yet reached the point requiring the placement of the final cement plug which would enable the planned temporary abandonment of the well, consistent with normal oilfield practice.”

http://www.halliburton.com/public/news/pubsdata/press_release/2010/corpnws_043010.html

Myth # 4 – Cheap and substandard cement was used along with “grossly negligent” cementing practices.

I enjoy reading the professional blogs, whether they be “professional drilling” blogs or blogs for other industries. The “professionals” quickly identify the “trolls” in their midst’s. The attorney looking to structure their pleading, the journalist looking to formulate their nightly spin and the Congressional Staffers and Washington Researches, looking for that snappy sound bite that will allow their Congressperson, Senator or Washington bureaucrat to demonize and blame just about anyone else in their self serving attempt to avoid criticism.

The “cement” used in this project was a special light weight cement, infused with nitrogen. The cementing on the Macondo Well involved the use of a “Zone Seal Isolation Process”, an award winning process specially designed for “deep sea well” work. The engineered process is noted to, “help optimize the annular seal not only for a good bond log, but also for years of withstanding temperature and pressure changes in the wellbore.”  Added benefits claimed by the manufacturer include, “The field process is achieved by full automation of the blending, pumping and injection actions for greater control.  Additionally, the equipment (cement pumping unit, nitrogen unit and injection unit) is integrated, providing precision in shearing the slurry to create stable foam. “The nitrogen foamed cement is said to provide lower thermal conductivity with enhanced mechanical properties. A low thermal conductivity cement sheath allows for less or slower heat transfer/heat loss in the wellbore.

The use of specialized cement, produced and applied by an automated system, does not eliminate the possibility that an error occurred. What this type of process should do, however, is eliminate unsupported claims that the “cement process” was substandard, cheap or could be even remotely referred to as “corner cutting”.   

http://www.halliburton.com/ps/Default.aspx?navid=204&pageid=3797&prodid=MSE%3a%3a1055359811197917

 http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=23

There has been additional speculation that the “assembly seal” was not set or not properly set inside of the well.  At least three different accounts confirm that the “seal assembly” was installed without issue and “tested”.  This seal may have, in fact, failed or been improperly installed, however, by all accounts it was installed and properly tested. http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=46

The production liner seal assembly and locking ring are qualified to 15k. Provided it was set and tested displacing to sea water is not problematic. Subsea Multiplex (MUX) Electro-Hydraulic BOP Control System The Cameron MUX control system combines the reliability of the Cameron subsea hydraulic control …

http://www.c-a-m.com/content/products/product_detail.cfm?pid=2887

 “Approximately 20 hours prior to the catastrophic loss of well control, Halliburton had completed the cementing of the ninth and final production casing string in accordance with the well program.
 Following the placement of 51 barrels of cement slurry, the casing seal assembly was set in the casing hanger. In accordance with accepted industry practice, as required by MMS and as directed by the well owner, a positive pressure test was then conducted to demonstrate the integrity of the production casing string. The results of the positive test were reviewed by the well owner and the decision was made to proceed with the well program.”

It was after the completion of this test that the “drilling contractor”, Transocean, moved on to “displace” the “drilling fluid” (mud) with seawater.

http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=46

http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=23

Some portion of the cementing process may have failed and contributed to this incident, however, the “cement logs” do not support any claim that “corners were cut’, that the “process” was implemented to “save money or time” or that “cheap or substandard cement” was  used. Those who have implied as much are simply wrong.

Transocean and BP both signed off on each and every of the 9 step cementing process completed by Halliburton. All documents indicate that the appropriate industry tests were performed and passed.

Myth # 5  BP recklessly cut corners by using only 8 “rings” within this well rather than using the “normal” 24 “rings”. This “recklessness” is just another example of BP’s horrendous safety record!

Where do I begin? These accusations, repeated over and over at the Congressional Hearings, are simply not truthful.

The well being constructed at the Macondo site was “specially designed” and the “design” was approved in advance by the MMS.

The well plan, as reflected in diagram above, was segmented into 9 sections, requiring 8 rings. This well was not designed for 24 rings, other wells maybe designed that way, but that does not make the other well designs superior to, or safer than, this one, as has been so wrongfully claimed.

Listening to the dishonest Congressional chatter at the hearings could make one wonder. Question: Why did you only use 8 rings and not 24 in this well”? Answer: You’d need to ask the well engineers, the professional who designed the well.  Allegation: You are evading, you are not answering our questions. Answer: No I’ m answering truthfully. I didn’t participate in the well design, but I can tell you this, it won a well design award. (At that point they hold you in contempt of Congress and bring on the next witness).

Had questioning been about an automobile rather than a deepwater rig, it may have sounded something like this; Question: This vehicle only has 4 spark plugs, not 8. Why did you cut corners, you cheap bastards, and not use 8 spark plugs? Answer: Well, you’ll need to ask the engineers that designed this auto why they made it a 4 cylinder auto not an 8 cylinder auto, I didn’t work on that design team. But I’d like to point out that the engine only has 4 “spark plug ports” and that is how the engine was designed you twit, and there is nothing inherently safer about 8 cylinder engines rather than 4 cylinder engines and it was this Congress that passed the CAFÉ standards mandating fuel efficiency levels. Where do you suggest we put the extra 4 spark plus, in the glove compartment? At which point you’d be found in contempt of Congress again, a condition I find myself in frequently. These days I have a great deal of contempt for Congress.

As to BP’s “horrendous” safety record, I just don’t know what to say. I find this particular part of the “demonization” of BP and all involved on the Horizon Rig to be the most scurrilous attack on the industry. BP was, after all, a “finalist” in the MMS Award program for Safety and Innovation, Deepwater Drilling, in 2009. Strangely, the MMS “revised” its Web site on 07/08/2010 to remove any mention of BP in this section, however, the site did not remove the sections noting BP’s awards for “Off Shore Leadership”  advancements in Medical Care on Deepwater Rigs, won by Harlan King and Virgil Russell or the award presented to Darryl Luoma, BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc., for outstanding leadership in the innovative and visionary approach to developing the use of extended-reach drilling technology for the Liberty Development Project.  http://www.mms.gov/awards/2009OLAwinners.htm   

It is true that BP owns or operates a number of “refineries” with less than stellar safety records, however, this disaster did not occur at a refinery, it occurred on a deep sea rig. A deep sea rig with an exemplary safety record, a rig which was recognized by OSHA two years in a row for its outstanding safety record. A rig that had a total of 7 BP employees on board, 7 BP employees out of a total of 126 rig workers.

Exactly what was gained by demonizing the workers on this rig, the majority of whom were not BP employees. What was gained by demonizing the 7 BP employees on this rig, when the rig was one of the safest in the Gulf of Mexico? Did the demonization of this issue do anything to make future of oil exploration safer for the crews, their families or the public?

There have been unconfirmed reports, reports actually denied by BP, that there were 7 additional BP employees on the rig when the “bow out” occurred. The report indicates that the purpose of the visit was a ceremony to acknowledge the new “safety award”. This writer wonders if this rumor was started by surviving crew members, who were not BP employees, who resent the fact that their outstanding safety record has been so badly mischaracterized.

 http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/U….EMPLATE=DEFAULT

The demonization of BP’s safety record should have been expected from this Administration.  The Obama Administration has spent it entire time in the White House demonizing one group after another. The shouts condemning BP’s safety record were still echoing in the halls of Washington when the Administration turned to demonizing an entire drilling industry over this one event… demanding a “moratorium” that the Federal Courts have now rejected twice… not that this Administration has heeded the instructions of the Federal Courts on the issue …

The BOP

The BOP (blow out protector) and the LMRP (lower marine riser package) were supplied by Cameron International Corporation.

BOP: 2 x Cameron Type TL 18¾in 15K double preventers; 1 x Cameron Type TL 18¾in 15K single preventer; 1 x Cameron DWHC 18¾in 15K wellhead connector
LMRP: 2 x Cameron DL 18¾in 10K annular; 1 x Cameron HC 18¾in 10K connector
Diverter Hydril 60 with 21¼in max bore size, 500 psi WP and 18in flowline and two outlets
Control System: Cameron Multiplex Control System [MUX]

Cameron International 2 Stack BOP / 15,000 PSI

Cameron enjoys such an extraordinary reputation in the industry that a Cameron BOP is being used as the “replacement” BOP on site at this very moment. Yes, the failed Cameron BOP was replaced with a new Cameron BOP. The two have now been “bolted together”.  The “well repair” which was completed on 07/14/2010, appears to be “holding”, oil is not flowing into the Gulf at present.

The Cameron Company is the Godfather of BOPs, having invented the BOP in the 1920’s, 90 years ago.

http://zionistgoldreport.blogspot.com/2010/05/cameron-bop-activated-by-crew.html

At this time we know that despite having redundant safety systems the BOP failed to close off the well. It has not been established that the failure was due a mechanical defect in the BOP. The BOP may have been overwhelmed by pressure significantly higher than it was engineered to withstand. This is a matter of pure speculation as none of the other equipment on the rig noted such a “surge” in well pressure. The BOP may have been “blocked” by material that ”migrated” into the BOP from other locations in the well pipe, be it well casing, parts of the assembly seal … or a host of other speculations. We may not know, definitively, what happened to the BOP until it is examined, either through direct visual examination or though imaging or ultrasound.

It is reported that the BOP worked properly just minutes before the blowout. There are three confirmed reports that the BOP was “opened” just before the blowout occurred.  That it, the BOP, was opened as part of a sequence of events to “displace” the drilling fluid (mud) with seawater. http://drillingclub.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=wellcontrol&action=display&thread=4837&page=22

The BOP had passed a complete “system check” and “evaluation” just 10 days before the incident.

Part 2 Here: Gulf Oil Crisis – Facts from Fiction, Part 2 of 3

Part 3 Here: Gulf Oil Crisis – Facts from Fiction, Part 3 of 3

Cartel Gunman Kill 17 At Private Party – Cartel Violence Continues Unabated

The gunmen did not say a word as they jumped from their cars and stormed the private party. They simply opened fire. When they were done, 17 people lay dead and 18 wounded.

Sunday’s massacre in the city of Torreon was ghastly, but no longer unprecedented in northern Mexico, a region that is slammed day after day by gruesome slayings that authorities attribute to an increasingly brutal battle between drug gangs feuding over territory.

Investigators had no suspects or information on a possible motive in the attack, but Coahuila, where Torreon is located, is among several northern Mexican states that have seen a spike in drug-related violence as the Gulf cartel and its former enforcers, the Zetas, fight for control of drug-trafficking routes.

The attack on the party came just three days after a car bomb killed several people in the northern city of Ciudad Juarez — and a little more than a month after assailants raided a drug-rehab center in the northern city of Chihuahua, killing 19 people in cold blood.

Television footage showed the patio of the house in Torreon streaked with bloodstains and white plastic chairs overturned beneath a party tent decorated with pictures of snowmen.

Several of the victims were young and some were women, police said, but their identities and ages had not yet been determined.

The assailants arrived in a convoy of vehicles, the Coahuila state Attorney General’s Office said in a statement. Police found more than 120 bullet casings at the scene, most of them from .223-caliber weapons.

Torreon is no stranger to violence.

In May, gunmen killed eight people at a bar in the city, while later that month a television station and the offices of a local newspaper came under fire. A pregnant woman was wounded in the attack on the offices of Noticias de El Sol de la Laguna.

Across northern Mexico, there have been increasing reports of mass shootings at parties, bars and rehab clinics.

In January, gunmen barged into a private party in the border city of Ciudad Juarez and killed 15, many of them high school or university students. Relatives say that attack was a case of mistaken identity, while state officials claim someone at the party was targeted, although they have not said who it was.

On Thursday, drug-gang members set off their first successful car bomb. They lured federal police and paramedics to an intersection in Ciudad Juarez by calling in a false report of a wounded police officer, and when the authorities were in place at the scene, they detonated the explosive. Three people were killed, including a federal officer and a private doctor who had rushed to help.

The FBI has sent a small team to the crime scene to offer technical assistance to the Mexican investigators, FBI spokeswoman Andrea Simmons said. She did not immediately offer more details. Mexican investigators have not said what type of explosive was used.

Officials say 24,800 people have been killed in drug-gang violence since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in December 2006, deploying soldiers and federal police to fight traffickers.

On Saturday, four municipal police officers were ambushed and killed in the Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco, state police said.

The government attributes much of the rise in violence to infighting among drug gangs, whose leadership has been splintered after the arrest of kingpins.

Federal police said in a statement Sunday they have arrested 1,626 people suspected of belonging to the command structures of Mexico’s drug gangs since Calderon launched his offensive. They said 622 of the detainees belong to the Gulf cartel and 304 to the Sinaloa cartel.

On Sunday, a judge formally charged an alleged leader of the Beltran Leyva cartel, Jose Gerardo Alvarez, with organized crime. Alvarez, who had a $2 million U.S. bounty on his head, was captured in April in a wealthy neighborhood on the outskirts of Mexico City.

The federal government has steadily wiped out the leadership of the once-powerful Beltran Leyva cartel. In December, cartel boss Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed in a gunbattle. Two of his brothers are behind bars.

A fourth brother, Hector Beltran Leyva, remains at large and is believed to be battling for control of the cartel against Edgar Valdez Villareal, a U.S.-born suspect known as “La Barbie.”

Mexican authorities say Alvarez partnered with Valdez in his quest for control of the gang.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/07/15/international/i162557D96.DTL#ixzz0u8cei3te

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