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Why Didn’t BP Implement “Top Kill” Three Weeks Ago?

May 20th, 2010

It’s been a freaking month since that Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, and oil is still pouring into the gulf at an alarming rate. Although BP initially claimed that 5,000 BBLs per day were flowing into the gulf, some independent scients have estimated that the true volume may be nearly twenty times that much — 95,000 BBLs per day.

According to CBS News, The “top kill” method of plugging the leak (which “involves directing heavy mud into crippled equipment on top of the well, then aiming cement at it to permanently keep down the oil”) may be implemented on Sunday, May 23, although it may take a few weeks for it to work its magic.

According to BP:

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.

Top Kill Diagram (via BP)
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.

I get that this is an almost incomprehensibly enormous problem. It’s really uncharted territory, the first of its kind, and so developing and implementing a solution is going to take time, involve a great deal of uncertainty, etc. But you’ve got no business drilling oil if you don’t have a contingency plan, and a backup plan, and a backup-backup plan which can be implemented in a matter of days (not weeks), all of which have either been proven to work under same circumstances, or have been independently analyzed and demonstrated to have an extremely high probability of success.

I don’t care if it’s leaking 5,000 BBLs or 95,000 BBLs or 10 BBLs per day.  If the “top kill” method is the solution which is most likely to work, it should’ve been the very first thing they did after clearing the debris and extinguishing the flaming rig.

No. Questions. Asked. BP should simply not have an option to sit and let things play out, to take their time, to delay in order to salvage the well. If it means that BP has to junk the entire well, then that’s just too damn bad.

Comments

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  • Don says on: May 20, 2010 at 9:39 am

     

    What they need, and is most likely sitting in the yard right now, is a precast concrete caisson. Invert it, lower it into the water, fill with argon, then lower it over the pipe. Then 20 concrete pump trucks on barges clockworked around the site will pump a thousand cubic yards of hydraulic cement around the perimeter of the junction of the caisson with the ocean floor.

    You see, whats going on here is BP has removed from the table choices that will limit their access to the well in the future. They believe that its OK to lose some of the oil now as long as they get to reap some oil in the future. That is the wrong way to look at it. They should be looking at it like they have to stop the flow, right now, no matter what it takes. As long as the positive consequences to what they are currently doing outweigh the negative they will continue on this path, while the environment suffers.

    If the negative outweighed the positive they’d plug that hole today.
    Meanwhile the media whips the public into another frenzy and politicians fan the flames.

  • halfgroundbeans says on: May 20, 2010 at 10:25 am

     

    Some BP execs looked at it like this: “what are the factors involved here (in no particular order). First, there is the PR nightmare. Second there is our liability. Third there is the loss of future revenue from the well.” To the first, they just apologize a ton, and then keep on keeping on, since they are one of the largest oil producers in the world – it’s not like they are going out of business. To the second, since the government has limited their liability to 73 million dollars, they laugh about that part and light more cigars with 100 dollar bills while their balls get rubbed by their private indentured servants. To the third, they think “well, we’ll just keep apologizing and trying new things until it looks like we’re gonna get sued, then we’ll write the well off if we need to, but only as a last resort”.

    Now, if they DIDN’T have limited liability from the Corporate States of America, and they were actually going to be paying for the actual cost of damage — I guarantee you they would have done this from the start.

    Fed limits their liability to what amounts to one months profits for them, so they don’t see any real urgency, and only see gain in trying to salvage what they can.

  • Don says on: May 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

     

    If what halfgroundbeans says is true in #3 surely no one is surprised that the gov’t is at the root of this disaster. As I’ve said before, everything this gov’t has ever done has been a disaster in all ways. Not one sigle success in all of it’s entire history.

    FWIW: I was looking at this: ( http://247wallst.com/2010/05/17/the-net-worth-of-the-american-presidents-washington-to-obama/2/ ) and determined that most american presidents, 1) were already wealthy when they took office, 2) married into, or inherited their wealth, 3) became much wealthier after attaining office, 4) are lawyers, 5) many died impoverished. Just goes to show that a certain caliber of person can have it all given to him from one end to the other and yet he still squanders it to his own peril. This is the long fucked up story of american politics.

    • David Z says on: May 20, 2010 at 7:43 pm

       

      i believe what he says above is most likely true.

  • JC Hewitt says on: May 22, 2010 at 12:04 am

     

    It’s clear the BP has allowed its engineering culture to deteriorate.

    It’s easy to forget that BP used to be a nationally-owned company. It still behaves like one.

    The tax code, labor laws, federal reserve policy, etc. have made it fiscally irresponsible to maintain vertical integration, provide training to employees, and maintain a sane corporate culture.

    Sure, you can outsource engineering solutions, but I think there’s a major social aspect that’s often overlooked in economic analyses of why companies falter. There’s altogether too much of a glorification of outsourcing in corporate culture, as if it’s something to be happy about.

    The dilution of culture is just one reason as to why a company like BP – which is supposedly a world leader – can allow such a catastrophe to occur in the first place. These problems go much deeper than mere engineering issues.

    I hope that the glaring reality of this leak (and the destruction of Nashville, which hasn’t received any media attention) clarifies to everyone that these aren’t issues that can be resolved by some magical president or new legislation.

  • Don says on: May 22, 2010 at 11:47 am

     

    Oursourcing is only as good as the people onboard that are checking the end result.
    If they can’t take the time to do the whole thing themselves then how in the hell are they gonna do even more with even less by outsourcing and then fixing the mistakes?

    I had a job in the late 70’s designing large scale commercial steel buildings, then I got good at it and was promoted to *checker*. I had to check over all of the billions of parts, materials, and methods of design and construction for these buildings. Talk about mundane and meticulous. My thought on the whole thing was if it was designed properly in the first place employing steadfast methods from the bottom up by designers that were held accountable for their work none of this checking nonsense would be necessary. Those in charge looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested such a thing. Clearly I was not the team player they were hoping for.

    In todays world where mistakes are expected and accountability is nonexistent *checking* is paramount to the quality of the end result of just about everything because of the nature of how things are done in most places..

    In 1986 I had had enough and started my own firm employing the methods indicated above, do it right the first time and take responsibility for any mistakes that do occur and fix them immediately no matter the cost or effort. period. I have clients to this day that will claim right out loud that my designs were the most well designed plans they have ever seen anywhere and I believe that is because of the unfaltering principles I implemented from day one.

    My dad, rest in peace, said that one day I’d wake up and find myself to be an extinct dinosaur in a foreign land. The older I get the smarter my dad becomes.

    • JC Hewitt says on: May 22, 2010 at 10:57 pm

       

      Sounds like a sound philosophy.

      I’m unsure how much of outsourcing is due to labor / tax regulation issues, inflation, or the culture as a whole.

  • gilliganscorner says on: May 23, 2010 at 11:46 am

     

    A press conference is being held with State and BP shills. A reporter, deciding he wants to end his career as a reporter, breaks script with his permitted question, carefully screened by handlers.

    The reporter knows that if he asks this question, his employer will fire him as to appease those who organize such press conferences, for if the employer does not, no employee of his will ever be permitted to enter the press conference again, denying the employer of fodder to wrap around the advertisements.

    Q) “Why the fuck are you guys permitted to hurt and keep hurting people?”

    A gasp and schock go through the room. The BP and State shills, forget themselves and blurt out the truth:

    BP droid) “Limited liability!”
    State droid) “Sovereign immunity!”

    All other reporters in the room jot this down. As it makes its way back to each of their motherships, the above statements are omitted, due to expediency.

  • Kaja says on: May 23, 2010 at 11:56 am

     

    This is a dumb post. The slightest bit of googling would’ve taught you that one of the hazards of ‘top kill’ is to possibly destroy the partly-functional blowout preventer, letting the well gush full-force into the ocean, at a far higher BPD rate than its current output.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/25359/

    Don’t be dumb, and don’t post about things where you clearly know nothing.

    • David Z says on: May 23, 2010 at 7:31 pm

       

      a little bit of civility goes a long way, Kaja. Now, I’m not an engineer of any sort and I don’t pretend to be. But all that aside, what part of an “if-then” statement don’t you understand?

      If the “top kill” method is the solution which is most likely to work, it should’ve been the very first thing they did after clearing the debris and extinguishing the flaming rig.

      It’s pretty cut and dry. I said IF it’s the best option, THEN they shouldn’t have other options. You are simply arguing that it’s not the best option (I didn’t say that it was…). So, I’ll admit that I’m unqualified to weigh those alternatives— according to you, I’m “dumb”—nevertheless, my qualification remains in full force:

      you’ve got no business drilling oil if you don’t have a contingency plan, and a backup plan, and a backup-backup plan which can be implemented in a matter of days (not weeks), all of which have either been proven to work under same circumstances, or have been independently analyzed and demonstrated to have an extremely high probability of success.

      Sounds to me like they didn’t have their bases covered.

    • Don says on: May 24, 2010 at 9:43 am

       

      Perhaps Kaja has all this dumb stuff outlined on his own blog and if he posted a link to it we’d all be as smart as he is.

      • David Z says on: May 28, 2010 at 1:20 am

         

        doubtful :)

no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics