Offshore permits should be tied to better flow rate detection: report
Washington (Platts)--4Dec2012/527 pm EST/2227 GMT
Future offshore drilling permits should be conditioned on a company
having mechanisms in place to accurately and rapidly determine well flow in
the case of a blowout, a report from top US government scientists concludes.
The report, a collection of 15 articles, was published Monday in the new
issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Determining the rate at which oil was gushing from BP's Macondo well in
the days and weeks following the April 2010 blowout was one of the biggest
challenges facing government scientists and a key area to be resolved going
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The recommendation for better flow rate monitoring, as well as the need
for new research on the impact of dispersants on the environment, was
contained in a series of articles written by officials involved in the BP
blowout response, including Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The issue of flow rates was not only a key issue in determining how to
cap the Macondo well, but became the focus of a criminal investigation into
the spill. The US Justice Department on November 15 charged a BP employee
with lying to Congress by lowballing the flow rate when he had evidence to
show that oil was leaking at a much faster and voluminous rate.
The collection of articles written by government scientists, including
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, concludes that determining the flow rate was
difficult for everyone because of the multiple points of oil leakage and the
lack of any agreed-on procedures.
"The lack of reasonable flow rates early on was problematic from the
perspectives of both communication and response, but the lack was caused by
real uncertainty rather than any attempt to hide information or underestimate
numbers" one report states.
FLOW RATES AND THE FAILED 'TOP KILL' EFFORT
Determining flow rate quickly was key to determining the best method to
plug the well. Attempts to force heavy drilling mud and various rubber items,
including golf balls, down the well -- the so-called "top kill" -- was
unsuccessful because more hydrocarbons were flowing at a faster rate up the
well than estimated.
The failure of such early fixes, and the inability to determine
accurately where the spilled oil was going and how best to collect, disperse
or burn it, caused a lack of public confidence in BP's early relief efforts,
one paper states. But the cooperation of the company was essential to
understanding the dynamics of the blowout and how best to respond, the report
"Some political leaders had suggested that the government take over
responsibility for stopping the oil spill after the failure of the Top Kill,"
the report states. "Given BP's skill at executing exceptionally difficult and
complex operations in extreme environments, it would have been a mistake to
remove BP from the response effort."
The 15 articles published together, including several that had been
previously published online, are an attempt, scientists said, to evaluate the
accuracy of information given to the public during the crisis.
"While the federal family was well versed in oil response and
remediation, and we brought many resources to bear, the scale and complexity
of Deepwater Horizon taxed our organizations in unprecedented ways,"
Lubchenco said in a statement. "We learned much during this extraordinary
disaster and we hope the lessons learned will be implemented before and used
during any future events."
--Gary Gentile, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Robert DiNardo, email@example.com