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.


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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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”.

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.

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 …

 “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.

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.   

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.….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 (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.

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.

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

One Response

  1. […] the rest of this great post here Comments (0)    Posted in Oil Spill   […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: