Will Rogers once said about the third Tuesday in November that the promising season was over and the excuse making season had begun. BP, of course went into the low-balling season in a tentavive way almost from the beginning, claiming that only about a thousand barrels a day (that's forty-two thousand gallons a day for those who like more familiar terms) and they got away with it because it probably sounded like quite a lot. Let me try to illustrate just how ridiculous such a claim was right from square one.
Any time you are testing the potential of a new field, you start by drilling right into what you have identified as the center of the reservior. Today's methods give a much clearer picture of what the reservior looks like, but you still don't know for sure how fast the well will flow to the surface until you punch a hole into it and see how fast it flows to the surface, and how steady the pressure remains at the bottom hole. If the rock formation is real tight, the pressure will fall off fast, as the oil rushes to the surface, and will be slow to recover if oil from the rest of the formation has a hard time in getting to the escape path you have created. Every well you drill will be a different case, but the first one is usually drilled to find the best case scenario. If a thousand barrels a day was all they were going to get from such an expensive, cutting edge well in such deep water, a whole bunch of geologists should be looking for a new job.
I've been out of the oil business for five years now, and a few details have become fuzzy, but I never heard of a well in the Santa Barbara Channel with tubing (the center of several concentric pipes, and the one that goes all the way to the oil) that was bigger than three and a half inches. Any well we drilled, even when exploring the edges of the formation, would be considered a disappointment if it flowed only a thousand barrels a day. We had a few that maintained eight to ten thousand barrels a day, for a short time, through three and a half inch tubing.
BP was using seven inch tubing. If you remember your high school math, the area of a circle is Pi times the radius squared. A seven inch tubing therefore has FOUR times the volume of a three and a half inch tubing. The reason this is so important is that BP's fine will be assessed according to how much oil was spilled. They started lying right from day one. I remember that independant sources of information, including the government, seemed to have difficulties in getting an accurate picture of what was going on down there for what seemed like an awfully long time. According to today's newspaper, the govt estimates approximately 4.9 million barrels flowed out of the well from the time it blew out until they got it more or less stopped.
If you divide that by approximately one hundred days, you get a rate of forty-nine thousand barrels a day. That sounds about right to me, though I think I would be prepared to wager that BP will claim it was much, much less. Maybe more worrisome in the long run are the conditions that BP is putting on compensation, such as putting a time limit on claims for damages. The damage really doesn't stop the day the well is killed. Apparently, about eight hundred thousand barrels of oil were skimmed, leaving about 4.1 million barrels.
BP was criticized for using too much of the wrong kind of dispersant, and I am as ignorant as everyone else about what long term effects that will have. The part of the oil that washes up on shore somewhere or was skimmed before it did so is what occupies most of us, because the effects are easy to see. The stuff that does neither of these things might be the real cost. Dispersants were recently determined to be no more toxic than the oil itself, which sounds ok superficially, but they make the oil behave differently, perhaps not rise to the surface at all. It makes for a better visual, but that oil is still going somewhere.
I remember seeing an Australian Monty Pythonesque skit referring to a tanker that "lost it's bow" to "totally unprecidented waves" washing over the ship to which it was attached. The company representative assured the interviewer that the remains of the ship, still leaking oil, was being towed "out of the enviornment" into the vast spaces of the South Pacific, where "there's nothing but birds and fish" I think that's where a good part of that 'other' 4.1 million barrels went.
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