NewsHammer Exclusive If anything is clear 51 days into the BP Spill, the battle for the Gulf is turning into a war on the Gulf States, with surprise, even more oil releasing from BP's latest fix.
BP's cloudy crystal ball forecast of 60% to 70% success for the Top Kill, turned out to be a perfect 0% along with its first big idea, cofferdam containment that took 2 weeks to build and a day to fail while the slick spread from manageable to catastrophic. Now the new Top Cap from Cut And Cap that was supposed to capture most of the oil from the leaking BOP a mile under the Gulf, may have increased the escape of oil.
If BP says the new Cap or LMRP is working and latest numbers show 15,000 barrels of crude are being recovered daily by the Cap and riser assembly to a surface ship, a huge gain over the earlier 2,000 barrels a day recovery, spill cams don't show the expected improvement. A UC Santa Barbara researcher, Dr Ira Leifer, part of the government's new response team to estimate flow, thinks the release is much worse than before. Dr Leifer told The New York Times yesterday:
“The well pipe clearly is fluxing way more than it did before. By way more, I don’t mean 20 percent, I mean multiple factors.”
BP had said it expected only a 20% increase in flux or flow when the old damaged riser was cut off from the BOP to install the Cap. But now it seems the mile-long tangle of bent riser pipe that fell down to the sea floor from the destroyed Deepwater Horizon rig but still attached to the Blow Out Preventer, was producing much more back pressure that substantially limited the flow of oil into the Gulf. Now the Cap has to take way more pressure and oil.
The problem is the Cap to ship recovery is already working at about maximum 15,000 barrels a day capacity and still more oil seems to be escaping. Within a week BP will employ yet another system to capture 5,000 more barrels a day. A ship connected to a sea floor manifold, lowered earlier to inject 30,000 barrels of mud and some Junk Shot for the failed Top Kill, will be used to recover more oil. BP could be containing a total of 20,000 barrels a day by next week. Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander, says new estimates bump total capacity even higher, to 28,000 by next week.
It might not be enough if Dr Leifer is right. The earlier government maximum spill estimate before Cut and Cap was 25,000 barrels per day. As discussed in NewsHammer, BP Top Kill And The Oily Bottom Line, the actual spill could have been 50,000 barrels a day. BP originally said the Deepwater spill was only about 1,000 barrels a day.
There's still no accurate assessment, but Dr Leifer's government team is working on it. Their latest high end figure is about 43,000 barrels a day. In any case the government has decided that a quicker turnaround and more capacity should be on site just in case. Due to arrive in a few days, an oil barge on the way from the North Sea is being brought in to transfer oil to the mainland. The big news for extra capacity is the deployment of a new oil/gas burner to be installed on a rig by mid-June. The EverGreen Burner is designed to vaporize the oil/gas for a smokeless burn and could process another 13,000 barrels a day. If everything goes right, by mid-June BP could capture about 41,000 barrels a day from the leaking Deepwater well. In part, that seems to depend on another better sealing replacement Cap now in the works to maximize oil and gas capture. Knowing BP I'd say that's tempting fate. BP should know by now that BP Science has been shown to have limits.
Even so, there are other major holes in the damaged BOP itself and they will continue to leak though at a reduced rate, even if all the flow from the 21 inch cut-off riser is captured by the new improved Cap.
The real solution is the Bottom Kill, when BP drills way down into the well itself and plugs it permanently with mud and cement, hopefully in August. That won't be easy. Not even with a backup relief well also being drilled now.
The Top Kill failed because the pressure from the well was so great the heavy drill mud wouldn't stay down. When pumping stopped, the 30,000 barrels of mud shot up and out of the well into the Gulf. Pumping in still more mud was considered, then abandoned by BP. It could have ruptured the well pipe and casing, which was not a standard BP design according to BP's drilling engineer, Mark Hafle, during USCG/MMS Joint Hearings on the BP spill May 28.
Try more mud deeper down?
It's going to be a long hot sticky summer.
In an update June 9, Dr Ira Leifer interviewed by Democracy Now! (alternate video link and transcript) ballparks his estimate on total oil flow to over 100,000 barrels a day. He goes on to say that earlier government estimates of 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day were only low-end in any case, and there was no upper-end as data was too poor for evaluation. Yet somehow or other those figures were misconstrued and reported by the media as the full range of the spill.
Like the other unsubstantiated 5,000 barrels a day that was reported for weeks, all we've been hearing since then are more wrong numbers.
With just about everything going wrong with the BP Spill, now including the numbers, you begin to wonder if there's a conspiracy theory to cover it? Why didn't BP or Admiral Thad Allen or President Obama or Robert Gibbs at the White House brief the Press that this was clearly the low end, 12-25,000 barrels a day? Is fudging the numbers the only way to minimize the spill? Or is this the best we can do? Win the PR war? Everything is being done, is it? Not exactly.
This is what Dr Leifer says about the level of science going on, again worse than you would expect, and what the real potential of the BP Spill could be:
"During the event of a spill, typically, as we’re seeing now, the scientists are kept away. We have to stop the spill right away; we don’t have time to let the scientists come in and take a look. We scientists will come in after the fact, much later. There’s government support for a few years, and then it completely dries up. And little bits of research still continue, and new developments are made; however, these tend not to be implemented. . . .
"This reservoir is massive, and it could easily flow that kind of oil for the next twenty or thirty years, if it was left to go unattended. So the amount of oil that could end up in the environment if measures are not successful is at what I would call unimaginable. . . ."
See the US Government's Ongoing Response Timeline since the Deepwater Horizon Explosion and Fire, April 20, 2010.
More news and updates from Deepwater Horizon Unified Command.