BP Well Casing Likely Breached

There is mounting concern the ongoing flow of oil from the damaged BP Deepwater Horizon well in the Macondo field may be the result of one or more serious structural breaches in the cement well casing below the sea bed. Statements made on 7 June by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, suggest the well casing has ruptured, there are multiple points of seepage across the surrounding sea bed, and the well can likely only be closed from below, if or when the two relief wells connect with the damaged well.

The news is gravely important, because it would mean that 1) efforts to seal or cap the well from above will not work and 2) the cement lining of the well itself may have been structurally flawed from the outset. Firedoglake has been reporting on this issue, in an effort to bring to light information that has apparently been included in private briefings to members of Congress but never disclosed to the public.

A breach in the well casing means the leak will be far more technologically challenging to close than what was thought until now. While it is premature to talk of the “death of the Gulf of Mexico”, it does now look likely this will be the most cataclysmic environmental disaster experienced in or around North America in recorded history, with no clear solution in sight. A breach of the well casing would also mean any future attempts to close the well from above could be even more disastrous and could ultimately prevent the safe, secure closing of the well.

It is also of serious concern that BP’s stock value dropped again by 9% in one day, even as the directors contemplate freezing dividend payments in order to meet their obligations in paying for containment and clean-up across the Gulf region. The rapid deterioration of BP’s stick value has raised concerns the company will be taken over by a rival or forced into bankruptcy, so the US government is reported to be exploring ways to legally bar either of those from happening.

According to Firedoglake’s reporting, Sen. Nelson sent the following letter to BP earlier this month:

June 2, 2010

Mr. Lamar McKay
Chairman and president, BP America, Inc.

501 Westlake Park Boulevard
Houston, Texas 77079

Dear Mr. McKay: I understand the priority of your company right now is capping the Deepwater Horizon well. But new information about the accident has come to light in two recently published accounts that raise serious questions I hope you can promptly address.

Specifically, a recent Wall Street Journal account indicates that BP altered the design of the Deepwater Horizon well even up to five or six days before the rig exploded. And one of these design decisions, according to drilling experts cited in the Journal, could have left the well more vulnerable to the blowout that occurred April 20.

Also, a Washington Post report cites sources including a BP official saying that sometime during or after the recent abortive top kill operation, new damage was discovered inside the underground well. Some of the drilling mud that was forced into the well was moving sidewise into rock formations, sources told the newspaper.

If the sourced information is accurate and mud leaked out the side of the well casing, oil and gas likely are leaking beneath the seafloor as well, according to Professor Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanography expert at Florida State University who advised my staff.

Both of the published accounts, then, raise serious questions. Please address these accounts and provide my staff with any and all information and documents regarding the following:

· The discovery of breaks or leaks in the well casing beneath the seafloor;
· Records of any monitoring BP is undertaking of the Deepwater Horizon wellbore for structural integrity;
· Records of any monitoring of the seafloor surrounding the Deepwater Horizon well, including any geological or geophysical information showing changes in the formations within the proximity of the Deepwater Horizon well;
· Records reflecting whether any oil, natural gas, or residual drilling mud might be migrating to the seafloor beyond the boundaries of the casing, including any analysis of how this might impact the drilling of two relief wells or other methods to mitigate the flow of oil;
· All documents related to BP’s casing strategies for wells in the Macondo prospect. Thank you in advance for your prompt response.

Sincerely, Bill Nelson

There are now serious doubts about the real scale of the disaster, with news from BP suggesting the most severe official estimates to date of how much oil is gushing from the blown-out Macondo well may be a gross underestimate. BP has announced it intends to be able to collect as much as 80,000 barrels per day from the gushing well within a few weeks, despite the most severe official estimate, only just released, setting the worst case at 40,000 barrels per day.

At 80,000 barrels per day, which is 3.2 million gallons, of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, just four days would equal the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Exxon Valdez was 11 million gallons spilled into the pristine waters of the Sound, devastating the marine and coastal environments, killing wildlife and imposing chronic harm on local communities. Today is day 57 of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

– – –

Originally published June 14, 2010, at TheHotSpring.net

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