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Apocalypse in the Gulf: Could a Sinkhole Swallow the Deepwater Horizon Well -- And BP?

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posted on Jun, 30 2010 @ 11:38 AM

BP has confirmed that the failed blowout preventer (BOP) on its Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico is tilting sideways at an acute angle 12 to 15 degrees from perpendicular. Geologists and petroleum engineers are now debating the worst case scenario: growing evidence that the Macondo discovery well’s casings beneath the ocean floor have been irreversibly damaged, possibly to such an extent that it may be impossible to cap the well.

The Deepwater Horizon had recently completed promising exploratory drilling — to a vertical depth of about 18,000 feet (3.4 miles as measured from the rig floor), not including vertical depth to canyon floor (about 5,000 feet) — when it exploded as the rig crew prepped a temporary seal for the well on April 20.

BP spokesperson Toby Odone acknowledged to reporters last week that the 45-ton BOP was tilting, which the company attributed to a shift in the collapsed riser piping (from the rig accident).

Since the failure of last month’s “top-kill” effort to stem the flow, knowledgeable scientists have argued about the potential significance of BP’s inability to maintain enough topside pressure — to “squash” the column of superheated fluids erupting upward — during the plugging efforts. One popular hypothesis making the rounds online is that the underground well casing is fractured beyond repair. Some geologists and petroleum engineers argue that the top-kill failure could have resulted from too much “kill mud” leaking out of cracked pipe casings into the surrounding rock formation instead of flowing deeper into the well.

BP cites a broken disk inside the well as the cause of the top-kill failure. Admiral Thad Allen, the incident commander for the BP oil spill response, has confirmed on recent conference call updates that structural problems in the well casing of the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig cannot be ruled out. Commenting on BP’s decision to halt the top-kill contingency, Allen — President Obama’s point person — said:

There was some discussion at that point about the uncertainty of the — of the condition of the casings in the wellbore which you would want to do is drive so much mud down there and such a pressure that you might cause a problem and the problem was they (scientific summit that included Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu) didn’t know and they still don’t know the condition of the wellbore. For that reason, they erred on the side of safety on how much pressure they would exert, and when they got near those pressures without having success in killing the well — killing the well, that’s when they backed off.

We know little about the underlying geology of the spill site since BP has held that information close, claiming that it’s “proprietary” data. Scientists are clamoring for BP to publicly release geological survey data on the underlying “Lower Teriary” formations (rock layer formed 65 million to 250 million years ago). Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are streaming video feeds of high pressure columns of oil and gas bubbling up from fissures in the sea floor — flowing from likely stress fractures in the underground piping.

A much talk-about anonymous posting at The Oil Drum, a blog often frequented by petroleum engineers and other oil-industry specialists, captures the fears of many scientists and environmentalists alike:

That the system below the sea floor has serious failures of varying magnitude in the complicated chain, and it is breaking down and it will continue to.

What does this mean? It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot…the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop [blowout preventer]?…the more it will transfer to the leaks below. Just like a leaky garden hose with a nozzle on it.

Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of geoscience programs at University of Houston, told New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Rebecca Mowbray that BP ran out of casing sections before it hit the reservoir of oil, so it switched to an inferior material — something called liner — for the remainder of the well. Consequently, the BP well has several weak spots that the highly pressurized oil could exploit. Specifically, the joints between two sections of liner pipe and the joint where the liner pipe meets the casing could be weak, said Van Nieuwenhuise.

Nieuwenhuise added that efforts by BP to try to stop the oil or gain control of it have been tantamount to repeatedly hitting the well with a hammer and sending shock waves down the pipe. “I don’t think people realize how delicate it is,” he told the paper. Nonetheless, Van Nieuwenhuise believes oil from a blown out well rupturing the casing and bubbling up through the ocean floor is unlikely — a worst-case scenario — as he ’s never actually heard of such an occurrence.

Weak joints, shock waves down the pipe, cracks and fissures in the sea bed – does a down-hole blowout seem such a remote “worst-case scenario?” Oh, and let’s not forget the incessant, abrasive-mixed plume of oil, natural gas, and “itty-bitty” grains of sediment surging through the drill piping at incredible pressures. Anyone care to wager the integrity of the pipe liner ain’t what it used to be after having been effectively sandblasted for the last 70 days?

The late Larry Flak, an engineer recognized the world over for his acumen in containing deepwater well blowouts, presciently warned back in 1997 (before drilling at depths of 30,000+ feet was feasible) of the dangers ultra-deepwater blowouts might pose:

Underground blowout risk is substantial in ultra deepwater wells…. Blowout control options in ultra-deepwater are very limited. Blowout prevention is of paramount importance.

Accusations are flying that BP has shifted its efforts from plugging the leak to outflow capture specifically in order to relieve hydrostatic pressure in the reservoir below the piping. The reservoir drive pressure, however, shows no signs of abating, as an estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil continue billowing daily through the wellbore.

Flak does admit that nature could intervene — if the strata above the reservoir is layered with more hard rock than permeable carbonate, the weight of thousands of feet of ocean and rock buckling under tremendous top-down pressure could create a “natural bridge” that plugs ruptured fissures in the reservoir rock.

Bob Bea, prominent petroleum engineering professor at UC Berkeley and an expert in offshore drilling and government advisor on causes of manmade disasters (like Hurricane Katrina), believes a worst-case scenario is not that far-fetched. In response to a question posed by Mowbray, Bea said, “Yes” — there is reason to think that oil is leaking from the well outside the containment cap.

The likelihood of failure is extremely high. We could have multiple losses of containment, and that’s going to provide much more difficult time of trying to capture this [oil].


I live on the MS gulf coast and I can honestly tell you guys this cares the hell out of me. Could this possible 'sink hole' lead to Edgar Casey's prediction?

Edit to move photo and correct other errors.

[edit on 30-6-2010 by SWCCFAN]

posted on Jun, 30 2010 @ 11:48 AM
First off lets look at the statement

floor have been irreversibly damaged, possibly to such an extent that it may be impossible to cap the well.

what that really means is to close a valve or replace the damaged ones... simply put it looks like that's not an option... but they quickly abandoned that option before this story...

I haven't really been keeping up but days after the blowout I read they had dispatched another drilling unit out there... what they will do is attempt to drill into the casing, (Existing well) then pump kill fluids (Cement is one of those) and in essence kill that well... meaning it could never be used for pumping purposes... They said at the time this kill well process was going to take a few months (Maybe 3) so I'm kind of thinking someone released this story to grab a few headlines while this is still a hot topic... it's not going to be one after they kill this well ya know

[edit on 30-6-2010 by DaddyBare]

posted on Jun, 30 2010 @ 12:58 PM
reply to post by DaddyBare

Cement is not a "kill Fluid" They mus pump the well boar with Liquid Mud and have the mud weight high enough to over come the pressure of the well. Once that is accomplished can they cement the well casing and kill the well. I personally don't think the releif wells are going to work.

Here is why:

Several sources outside BP estimate the pressure at the BOP of the Oil and Gas is arround 80,000 - 100,000 PSI. The depth to the BOP from the surface is about 5000'. If you were to figure that the casing they will use for the releif well is 7 1/4" and the intercept is @ 16,000' Using 17lb Mud you would have a pressure at that depth of 137,000 PSI. Now while that exceeds the pressure measured remember that its is a dynamic pressure because the well is flowing at a very high rate, 41 Barrles per minute. Which is about 1,750 Gallons per minute. You will have to pump about 4 times that rate to over come the fluid loss. Which is not possible with the current technoligy according to a Petrolium Engineer I just spoke with and that is where the numbers come from. They may be able to get that rate with both Releif wells, but lets not forget that the casing on the main well is damaged and will not hold that pressure.

So I pray that I am wong but the fact is this well may not be able to be stopped anytime soon.

posted on Jun, 30 2010 @ 01:01 PM
From what I've read a collapse of the seafloor wouldn't be much of a deal.

The "slip" would likely only be a few inches. The well may be miles wide but they are generally only inches deep.

I found this info weeks ago in documents unrelated to BP and this crisis. I'll see if I can dig up the link.


Here's the link...

There would be no perceptible sinking of the earth, because the holes are too small. They might be more than 4 miles long, but are only a few inches in diameter. They are wider at the top (up to a foot or more in diameter), so if they weren't plugged properly a local depression could form over the hole. Such a depression would probably be only inches deep and inches to feet across.

What happens to dry oil wells?

Maybe someone could contact Mr. David Kopaska-Merkel, see what his take on the situation would be.

[edit on 6/30/2010 by ThaLoccster]

[edit on 6/30/2010 by ThaLoccster]

posted on Jun, 30 2010 @ 01:12 PM
"Apocalypse in the Gulf"

Do you not find that statement a bit OTT or what.

They are not fixing the leak as they want to introduce a personal carbon tax and they could mop it up in no time if they want to.

Apocalypse of the pay packet maybe but i think i'll be alive tomorrow.

posted on Jun, 30 2010 @ 03:13 PM
reply to post by LieBuster

"Apocalypse in the Gulf"

That was the title of the article I got the information from I didn't post it in BAN beacause its Oil Spill related.

Sorry for the confusion.

posted on Jun, 30 2010 @ 06:46 PM
I guess I should have waited to post this .... Hardly anyone was on ATS when I posted this.

What are your thoughts? Could this actually happen?

I pray is doesn't.

posted on Jun, 30 2010 @ 07:43 PM
reply to post by ThaLoccster

That's not the sort of collapse that any of the scientists I've read have been worried about. If a collapse occurs with this well it will most likely collapse upwards rather than downwards, releasing a tremendous amount of gas. The concern is that the srata they drilled through is weak and fractured already. If you look at the geologic reports on the Mississippi Canyon area, you'll find that slides are fairly common due to instability.

BP was NOT after oil. They were after a multi-trillion cubic foot source of natural gas: methane, in other words. It's obvious if you dig through the background. But they severely underestimated the pressures involved and overestimated their tech skills. If the wellbore goes, the outflow could easily double in volume when it does, and things just get swiftly worse from there.

The mud logs are crucial here: they tell the story of what was drilled through, and BP is keeping them secret the last I heard.

posted on Jun, 30 2010 @ 09:22 PM
reply to post by apacheman

I haven't heard of a collapse anywhere but on ATS.

What you would be talking about wouldn't be a collapse, it would be an explosion or expulsion.

Reports vary on how deep the well is, I've heard 10,000-30,000ft. The rig was able to drill to 35,000. But, there would have to be a tremendous expulsion/explosion to penetrate 10,000ft of earth.

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