Deep Water Engineer explains how to Stop the Gushers — Updated with BP info

(8PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR yesterday,

when I heard this Oil Rig Engineer call in

and explain a “common sense” way to put a halt to the Oil Gusher in the Gulf.

He was a shocked by BP’s incompetent, “shotgun” approach —

to contain the mess, as most of us have been.

Here’s the eye-opening clip, with my transcript of Engineer Henry’s simple advice to BP.

The Gulf Coast Oil Spill and the Future of Offshore Drilling

May 13, 2010

Diane Rehm Show Audio

“Oil Rig Henry” starts his Engineering lesson, at Time Mark 40:20

My transcript of the his Engineering insights, and simple containment and shut-off recommendations, follows next:

Diane Rehm:

To Norman OK

Good morning, Henry, you’re on the air.


Good morning, Diane.

One of my concerns, is what I see here,

is an appalling lack of technical expertise by British Petroleum.

And their sort of shotgun approach to try to solve this problem,

when WE as engineers, in this industry, HAVE technology,

that we know, have worked in Kuwait and the Timor Sea —


Such as?



Well this is a Flow Problem to anyone, who knows anything about it.

There’s 3 breaks in the pipeline riser that’s on the floor.

There’s NO reason to be fighting 3 breaks in the pipeline,

If they cut that pipeline just 20 feet above the Blowout Preventer,

with an explosive charge, which can be done in 3 seconds —

they’ll have a nice clean cut, on top of which they can put —

a “Hydra” — it’s like a connection, that has a pad, that can clamp onto it.

They’ll now, have, one single point of oil productionthat they can control!

This idea of having a “Box” or a “Tophat” is SO incongruent.

A sophomore student in engineering KNOWS that hydrates will form

at that pressure and temperature.



Send Henry to Houston !

He makes a very good point.



Let me explain. The industry is built on Pipes and Tubes.

We can handle anything that’s a cylinder.

We can’t handle boxes.

IF we got in there with what’s called

a “casing cutter” — it’s a device

that cuts a piece of pipe, in seconds!

It’s done all the time in pipelines, and well drilling, and you name it.

They CAN do this — and, have, one nice clean cut,

that’s available for any device that they want to put on top of it:

A secondary Blowout Preventer,

or even just a Valve, which can connect to the surface.

It’s really very easy!


Ok Henry, I going to put you on hold. I want to get a number from you,

and I want Neil King to talk to you, after the program. OK?

Neil King, is with the Wall Street Journal and was a guest on the show.


Here’s a pretty good animation of the rig failure, showing the fallen riser pipe, and its 3 different leaks.

It DOES really make sense to try to cap it at or near its source, like Henry said.


Here is my layman attempt to find the equipment Oil Rig Henry was talking about.  


Prepared by AME Limited

for the Health and Safety Executive

[pg 21-22]

Casing cutters are operated from the drilling rig and run inside the oil-string on the end of a drill string. The cutter is placed at the desired depth usually at some weak point, normally where pieces of drill pipe have been joined and a set of three cutting blades are hydraulically lifted out of the blade holder. These are then rotated at at 60 – 90 rpm by a drive at the surface via the drill string. The upper curved cutting edges of the blades which are billets of steel dressed with tungsten carbide inserts and crushed tungsten carbide particles make the cut. […]

The cutting blades function in a similar fashion to a lathe and mill away the casings (and any grout between casings) until the cut is complete. The blade holder is held centrally by a free wheeling stabilizer located above the holder and the blades are set up in such a way so as to permit maximum penetration with least torque.

A hydraulic pressure reduction signal is used by some types of tool to indicate when the blades have fully extended. Provided the correct size of cutter has been selected this indicates that the casing string has been severed. The cut casing string is held in position by heavy duty spiders, slips and safety clamps on the surface whilst the blades are hinged back into the holder and the cutter withdrawn. The casing string may then be lifted by a casing spear, a holder containing rams which are driven out into the inner casing wall and which grip the string as it is raised. Modern equipment has the spear equipment combined with the casing cutter to allow the casing string to be cut and lifted in one deployment.

as pdf

Hydra-StrokeĀ® Bumper Sub

The Hydra-Stroke Bumper Sub is a key drillstem component for deepwater drilling operations where drillstring oscillation can be a problem. This tool provides six feet of reliable telescopic movement without placing any limitations on drillstring torque capacity, tensile strength or hydraulic capability. The Hydra-Stroke Bumper Sub is fully balanced to the annulus and the mud pumps, making it completely reliable at any depth and in any drilling environment.

Features and Benefits

Delivers up to six feet of stroke to compensate for drillstring oscillation in offshore operations

Temperature rated to 500 degrees F

Seals rated to 20,000 psi differential

Circulation rated to 10,000 psi

Closed drive system to prevent ingress of wellbore fluid into the drive section, improving reliability

Fully balanced feature to eliminate pump-open effect caused by internal pressure

If I can find it, WHY can’t BP Engineers?

Could it be they’d rather “salvage” the crude, than Cap it?

If you had a garden hose with 3 different major tears in it, would you keep trying to use boxes and duct tape to patch each leak?  Wouldn’t it make much more sense to try Stop the gushing Water, upstream, at its Source?

If Engineer Henry, could fix it, Why can’t BP?


Update Note 2:

Many thanks to Fishgrease (on dkos)

for pointing out:

There IS no 20 feet above the blowout preventer.

Perhaps if BP was more forthcoming with public disclosures like this, Engineers like Henry wouldn’t propose solutions, will little chance of working. And Bloggers such as myself would not, repeat those proposed solutions.

My apologies for promoting any sort of false hope, that this oil gusher will end anytime soon. I wish BP luck in whatever solutions they are pursuing.


Update Note:

The “plan” from the BP response site, in detail

Top kill procedure (pdf, 11KB)


BP is preparing to begin its attempt to stop the flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon well site using a “top kill” procedure that basically chokes off the flow of hydrocarbons in the well. The procedure begins with the “junk shot” that is a scientifically-designed recipe of various materials that will create a plug in the blow out preventer and choke off the flow of hydrocarbons. Heavy drilling mud is next pumped in to kill the well then followed with cement to permanently plug the well.

The materials used, in a “junk shot” will include well-known materials such as pieces of tires, golf balls, pieces of rope, etc. Each of these has been proven to fill various sized spaces in the blowout preventer until the flow is stopped. While there is no known perfect “recipe,” a number of combinations of materials will be used. This procedure will be pursued until it is successful or deemed to be ineffective.

It seems they have “some confidence” in the residual strength of the BOP, to “act like a dam” full of junk, and stop the flow.  Let’s hope this works.

Note: my goal with this diary, is to spur Engineers, to put their best ideas forward.  When was the last time, the News Media actually interviewed any Engineers, either from BP or Academia?

Thanks all for reading, and your comments.


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    • jamess on May 14, 2010 at 13:58

    Leaked report: Government fears Deepwater Horizon well could become unchecked gusher

    By Ben Raines – April 30, 2010

    The pipe could disintegrate. You’ve got sand getting into the pipe, it’s eroding the pipe all the time, like a sandblaster,” said Ron Gouguet, a former oil spill response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

    “When the oil is removed normally, it comes out at a controlled rate. You can still have abrasive particles in that. Well, now, at this well, its coming out at fairly high velocity,” Gouguet continued. “Any erosive grains are abrading the inside of the pipe and all the steel that comes in contact with the liquid. It’s essentially sanding away the pipe.”

    Gouguet said the loss of a wellhead is totally unprecedented.

  1. these folks could use a good asskicking.

    • RiaD on May 14, 2010 at 15:49

    i’m not usually a mean person but……

    i really Really REALLY hope that everyone responsible for this is destitute from paying the citizens of the world back for the impact this will have. i hope BP goes under, bankrupt from the lawsuits of not only regular people-like fishermen, but nations for their sheer incompetence & greed. and then slowly tortured like all the oil is doing to the ocean life.

    gha! can you imagine slowly dying from breathing oil laced air??

    the worldwide effects of this many have not even thought about….

    those bastards at BP are pouring dispersants directly into the gusher so that the degree of magnitude of this will not be seen on the surface. so not only is the oil poisoning our waters but now we have toxic chemicals too!

    an exxon valdeez worth of oil every 4 days!

    this will impact not only the gulf, the caribbean & the eastern seaboard but may well cause huge die-offs in the oceans worldwide.

  2. No. Obama and Salazar have by and large followed the lead of their predecessors.

    The Obama administration joined BP in quashing environmental challenges to Gulf drilling in 2009 legal actions by Ken Salazar, Obama’s Secretary of Interior.  They asked the federal court of appeals in Washington, DC to overturn their decision that blocked new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico’s outer continental shelf, referring to the same area where the explosion later occurred.

  3. …. work in this situation.

    That BOP (blow out preventer)  is totally fvcked up at the top.

    And you are correct that BP has been rather reticent to admit how totally effed up the entire underwater hardware rig situation is.  They do have schematics on their website, which the technogeeks at the Oil Drum have been pulling up and going over in great detail.

    I love the spirit of enterprise that so many are throwing at the situation, even if the proposed “solutions” are sort of implausibly silly in the real world, because I think some of these solutions that BP has been proposing are not feasible, either.

    This “junk shot” thing is really straining my credulity, in this situation given the working conditions.  If they do manage to clog this thing somewhere, any other weak points will be tending to burst and cause problems elsewhere.  And to get the drilling mud and then cement into and down the well far enough to do any good, they must be able to latch on to those pipes on the BOP somewhere to inject it, at pressure sufficient to shoot it down the well, and are assuming that the BOP is going to stay intact AND be able to receive said mud and cement in sufficient quantities.  Remember that they were pumping mud before, literally, when they lost control of the pressure balance and the whole thing blew up. A big frozen methane gas bubble, accidently coming up to a ship on the top which is pumping sticky goo into the BOP, suddenly is going to expand rapidly and be ….  really flammable when it reaches the surface…. and  

    BOOM ! goes the mud/cement pump vessel, again.

    If they are just planning to gum up the interior pipes first with junk and then with cement, why don’t they put some sort of strainer basket device or metal latticework over the areas first to catch the junk, so it clogs up slowly.  

    (We irrigate in the summer so I have some experience with clogged up water pipes, so I’m thinking, if I wanted to screw up my line, what would I do ? I would put a too small nozzle on the sprinkler head, and then drop the intake into the pond too low, after somebody had dumped some sand and pebbles and weed trash into the muck on the bottom.  Vroom, vroom, suck, suck… rattle rattle….  This will eventually clog that sprinkler head and nearly shut it off,  BUT then another head blows off somewhere else, or better, another whole little riser pipe and sprinkler comes flying out of the ground when the glue fails, with a nice big fat geyser WHOOSH. )

    If I wanted to fix this new and exciting result, (which we like to call “field flooding” irrigation )  I would have to either turn off the pump, turn off the electricity, kill the box at the breaker switch, drain the pond and ruin the pump, have the pump off and drain the pond, stop the water from coming into the pond by going out and opening the valves to the neighbor’s water full bore and then watching the water go to them instead of ours, clog our intake at the box if I couldn’t shut it off there, put in a new little intake gate, but all of this assumes I have someplace else to put the liquid and a way to control it.  Or I have to turn on every other row and drain it all out somewhere else until the water is gone.    Oh, and I guess I could call the fire department on a hot dry day and ask if they could come over with a helicopter bucket and scoop it out !

    BP has no way of doing this, currently.  They have no place to decoy the pressurized, liquid and gas contents of this formation, while they fix the banged up metal crap on the sea floor.  They know that the only way to control the contents of the oil and gas reservoir is to drain it, and I think most of this response is that they all along planned to just drill into it with another well and release the pressure that way.  

    I don’t know if they are trying to be evil so much as they just assumed that they could blame an act of God, for not being really ready technically to deal with it, and get away with it.  I am assuming that they are greedy enough that they don’t like seeing all that nice hydrocarbon go to waste, not to mention their reputations.

    I bet that when they first got a look underwater of what they had left, they all thought,  “We are soooo screwed.”

    Because the pipes are so crimped they are assuming that some of the oil and gas flow is being impeded by not totally destroying what is there already.   I think it’s pretty amazing that the BOP is still there and hasn’t broken off, and the pipes are still there, albeit sort of sad looking, like spaghetti.  Because it must have been really something when that rig up top tipped over and fell, with that big of a lever effect from nearly a mile of pipe and riser.  The well pipe/casing under the BOP, in the sea floor, can also be damaged, cracked, or broken, and we don’t know.   We could have them plug the pipes we see leaking, and then it starts blowing oil and gas out of that area under the BOP. I could even, in my imagination, see the BOP taking off underwater, like that picture of the flying red outhouse rocket.

    This doesn’t mean that they cannot “fix it.”  It means that it is going to be very risky to attempt to do anything that does not have the potential to make it worse.    If you think that’s bad, you haven’t had to hire somebody to dig up leaking shit underground, to replace broken pipes and failed fittings, which made other leaks to the surface, and that was merely water.  We can’t send digging equipment down there to merrily start excavating the sea floor, should the hole breach, and then cement in the new hole with a new pipe and nice little shut off valves, when we’re done. Everything assumes there is a well drill hole, a casing, a pipe inside to work with already.  

    I’m not making excuses, just trying to show that they were not prepared to deal with this, underwater, at zero degrees, at thousands of pounds of pressure per square inch. It’s insane.


    I think it’s criminal to do this deepwater drilling off the coastline of Alaska or anywhere else where the weather is even worse, given the consequences of what happens when it fails.  



    The riser (outer pipe) and drill pipe (inner) apparatus was leaking in 3 places but one small end has been capped and it is now leaking in two places.

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