It’s Official: Gulf “Top Kill” Fails

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From the Washington Post, as foretold earlier by George Washington:

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said the company determined the “top kill” method had failed after studying it for three days. The method involved pumping heavy drilling mud into a crippled well 5,000 feet underwater.

“We have not been able to stop the flow,” Suttles said. “We have made the decision to move onto the next option.”…..

BP says it’s already preparing for the next attempt to stop the leak. Under the new plan, BP would use robot submarines to cut off the damaged riser from which the oil is leaking, and then try to cap it with a containment valve. The new attempt would take four days to complete.

“We’re confident the job will work but obviously we can’t guarantee success,” Suttles said of the new plan.

Um, didn’t BP peg the odds of success of the top kill at 60% to 70%? I don’t have much confidence in their “confidence”.

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    1. liberal

      Thanks. Those links were informative. I’d seen the annulus reference in a comment at the Oil Drum and was wondering what it meant.

  1. lambert strether

    Back in the great days of the Bush administration, we had a concept called “The 5:00 Horror,” because the administration had a habit of releasing really bad news at some point after 5:00, on a Friday, with the added bonus that they could plan to dominate the spin cycle on Saturday before the Sunday morning talk shows.

    Now, far be it from me to be cynical about BP’s public relations efforts, but announcing the top kill fail (1) the day after Obama’s photo op, and (2) on the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend reminds me of the Bush administration playbook.

    Look, just kidding. I’m sure the drivers on this are technical. Like, totally.

    1. alex

      Obama has got Bush like totally beat when it comes to the 5:00 horror. Remember when they announced they were lifting the cap (from $100B to infinity) on gov’t assistance to Fannie/Freddie? It was Christmas Eve.

    2. Keenan

      “We have made the decision to move onto the next option.”…..

      The “extend & pretend” game is not limited to financial crises.

  2. steve from virginia

    The whole thing was a PR stunt from the get- go.

    The relief well(s) will take months to complete and what to do in the interim (that doesn’t cost a lot of BP’s money since nothing but the relief wells is going to work, anyway.)

    As usual, the US government plays along with the scam.

    1. Ignim Brites

      Gotta love your cynicism Steve. Plus, it sounds a little bit like you know what you’re talking about.

      1. John L

        Uhhh, wait, now I’m confused. Isn’t this a situation where the FREE MARKET is supposed to handle it, and big government is supposed to stay out? Or is this comment a call for more big government (regulations, inspections, etc)?

        The Oil Pollution Act makes it clear that BP is the lead and responsible agency, tasked with coordinating the cleanup of the oil and fully obligated for all costs. The US government in this situation is to provide oversight and assistance, not take it over 100%.

        However, I’m wondering why Jindal hasn’t mobilized the LA NG to start cleaning beaches, building berms, or laying out oil booms. He’s been yelling that the Federal government hasn’t done enough, what about his own state resources?

    2. nmewn

      Ya know I really hate to point this out again…BUT…

      An oil spill on land rarely results in oil washing up on a beach or into a marsh…and ALL the regulation’s, forms and bureaucratic apparatchik PERMITTED this???

      If it cannot be done safely it should not have been permitted at all. Period.

      Firing people after the fact for watching porn at work and taking bribes will not restore the eleven lives lost or the damage done to the coast.

      And voting present, attending fundraisers, vacationing in North Carolina, playing golf and busing in temp workers for photo ops yesterday is NOT getting the job done Barry.

      Thank you BIG GOVERNMENT for watching our backsides…we’ll return the favor in Nov.

        1. nmewn

          At least you phrased it correctly…Big Money…then Big Oil.

          Tell me…where would Big Money be located…Wall Street or Bourbon Street???

      1. carol

        nmewn: “If it cannot be done safely it should not have been permitted at all. Period.”

        Spot on!!

        It appears as if BP is abusing the Gulf as a lab for their experiments. BP executives try to hide behind the ‘this is like high tech surgery; a rescue like this has never been done before; we’re applying shallow water techniques at great depth, etc. and-so-on’.

        Just as the banksters abused the financial markets and real economy with their untested ‘innovations’!!

        Just as the banksters have declared that they did not know how CDO’s, CDO-squared, CDS, etc. would blow up, and how to solve the mess, BP seems to not have the right methods to solve this mess. US taxpayers to the rescue, once again?!

      2. ITDog09

        @nmewn: “Thank you BIG GOVERNMENT for watching our backsides…we’ll return the favor in Nov.”

        Really? “BIG GOVERNMENT”, what the Hell does that mean? But let’s get to the real meat, “we’ll return the favor in Nov.”

        Really? So is your plan to vote for the even more oil/corporate loving Republicans? That’ll do the trick, right? Or how about some pseudo-libertarian Tea-party racist who thinks capitalism is a religion and corporations are akin to deities? To paraphrase, whatever ills our society can be solved by the free market. Oh ya, that will be the fix, right?

        The SCOTUS has made it abundantly clear, and now legal, that corporation control our “democracy”. Come November, you’ll have the “freedom” to choose between corporate candidate A or corporate candidate B, each bought and paid for by one of the two corporate owned political parties. One will no doubt be the clear lesser of two evils.

        Enjoy your freedom, and this weekend let’s remember and honor those who bravely gave their lives to actually give us freedom, but unfortunately this is all we got.

        1. nmewn

          @ carol & dog,

          What else could you expect but another failed social experiment after raping poor & middle class citizens with subprime loans then levered to infinity…why let’s PERMIT an oil rig to go where no man has gone before…better yet, let’s do it at the beginning of the gulf stream for maximum affect should we screw up AGAIN!!!…for maximum effect.

          Where’s the Government Sponsored Enterprise of FNM & FRE at now on the Keynesian list of famous social accomplishment’s, 600 billion and counting???…Barney Frank got anything to say about that???…Schumer???…Carter???…ZERO investigation of FNM offering preferred stock right before they went tit’s up leaving “investors” in the GSE high and dry???(NO…I didn’t “invest” in the ponzi)…but many did.

          Who the hell are we kidding here…California, ANWR, shale, coal, nuclear etc were taken off the table long ago by politically connected interest groups driving around in their Volvo’s;

  3. john personna

    Aw, I’m sure you know %60-70 percent could be a good prediction. It still means failure %30-40 percent of the time. We may have just got wrong end of the stick. We’ll never know of course, but the outcome does not disprove the prediction.

    1. Gary Anderson

      This just gives the illusion that BP is trying stuff. That is my opinion based upon the knowledge that they had no plan in place at the beginning. It is likely that they are just thinking things up that they know really have little likelihood of succeeding.

  4. pat b

    a new cutoff valve won’t work.

    if they do a fast shutdown the fluid inertia will rip the casing out of the ground, think, water hammer.

    if they slowly close it’s likely to cut through the valve body.

    this well tore up 4 Rams on the BOP

    1. John L

      We don’t know if the rams even fully engaged in the original BOP, but I’m not really thrilled about their next plan. Every account says it will increase the flow of oil at least 15% once the top of the old BOP is cut off; what if they can’t attach a new BOP to the top after they do that? The oil is jetting out at high pressure, which is why all their earlier attempts to shut it down have failed. What’s to say that the pressure will foil trying to add a 2nd BOP?

  5. pete elliott

    Not sure why BP doesn’t insert a large balloon catheter
    into the well, blow it up, filling it with Epoxy.

    1. sam hamster

      Like Pat B said, anything that stops it quickly would cause and explosion; anything that stops it slowly would get shredded.

  6. pete elliott

    I understand the water hammer thing, however,
    they could always do a dual balloon using the end balloon
    to slow the flow then when stopped the second balloon to
    close the flow completely with concrete or some derivative of epoxy.

    1. sam hamster

      Yes, the water hammer concept is clear on a quick shutoff. On a slow shutoff, the pressure could exceed 100,000 psi (I imagine)as the flow is pinched. That psi can cut through steel.

      1. ian

        But this is exactly how a blowout preventer shuts it off, when it is functioning correctly.

  7. pete elliott

    of course we could call the Russians, ask for help,
    and tell them they owe us since we found the Red October.

  8. Justin

    I’m guessing it’s too far along to build a parallel distributed shutoff.

    20 shutoff valves with central synchronized closure to divide hydraulic pressure by 20, if that’s even how hydraulic pressure is distributed (forgetting my fluid physics).

    I would imagine most oil rig equipment is very standardized and custom made equipment takes time.

  9. Abhishek

    The whole BP Oil Spill story has been one long list of failures,lies and ineptitude by all the major stakeholders involved.The Obama administration,BP and the Oil Regulator have all been guilty of incompetence,procrastination,finger pointing and cover-ups.BP had given a “60-70% success” to the “top kill” effort despite never having tested this kind of technique at such a depth.Another case of rosy projections without basis in fact.

  10. Hugh

    I remember seeing an estimate over at the Oil Drum that under “normal” conditions it should have taken about 75 minutes to fill in the well. These were far from normal conditions and the initial mud flow rates were surprisingly low. So they upped the time to around 6 hours. Just eyeballing the video feeds it was clear it wasn’t working. And as has been clear from the beginning BP wasn’t really giving us timely and pertinent information.

    But what really irritates me is that when we look at the mud flow rates it was clear from the beginning that this was not going to work. If you take a middle figure of some 15,000 bbls/day of oil leaking from the well and that the oil comprised only about 25% of the flow, then you are talking about a oil-gas flow rate of just over 40 bbls/min. As I recall BP started with a mud pumping rate rate around this. But this does not take into account the relatively low pressure holes, those in the BOP and the riser itself. I have likened the problem to pushing a heavy car on a very icy street. You can’t get any traction. We have the same problem here. BP couldn’t get any traction (build sufficient pressure) because its mud was just pushed out the holes. It needed to pump mud at rates that would compensate not only for the holes, and the pressure from the oil-gas flow, but the increased flow rates through the holes produced by the mud itself. This means that BP needed to pump mud at much higher rates than it was. The pipes it was using only had interior diameters of something like 2.7 inches and clamp connections. They may simply have been too small and the connections too weak to pump at the rates needed. (BTW this is a pretty good reason why the junk shot didn’t work either. The pipe diameter was too narrow to send down sufficiently large pieces.) It is also unclear if the damaged top of the BOP could have withstood the pressures needed to push against the oil-gas flow. But what we do know is that the mud pumping rates were never close to what was needed to fill the well.

    In retrospect, the top kill seems to have been a distraction, something to occupy our attention, and make it look like BP was actually doing something. It was never going to work. BP must have known this.

    1. LJ

      Getting news from the Oil Drum is probably the best idea. Some of the experts over there were saying the low chances of this from being successful a couple of days ago. I think “Hugh” has got it right. This is theater, folks. The relief well is most likely the only real answer — and that will take a lot of skill and some luck.

  11. Paul Repstock

    Ok Folks: Time perhaps for a different perspective.
    When an oil company drills a well costing between $20-$50 million dollars (just a guess)They are very careful to assess the production potential of that well. Therefore, if the gulf well at this late date is still spewing 11,000 bbl/day, then they had drilled a “monster well”. Wells of that magnitude are extremely rare. Even BP would stand up and salute for a well which yielded a million dollars per day.

    All kinds of questions come to mind: Who would be careless or in a hurry with that type of asset? Why would they be capping the well instead of putting it into production asap?

    I don’t have answers, only many questions. Obviously there is no shortage of “X-Spurts” old pipefitter friend explained that definition to me years ago..:)

    I do wonder why Mr. Obama was so adamant that ‘He’ was Johnny on the spot and that like President Ike; “the buck stops here”???? Mr. Obama was in no way culpable in the well failure. Even his party was in the clear on the regulatory failures??? Is this oilspill something on a scale that can be dealt with? As opposed to the catastrophic wealth destruction which is still running out beyond any apparent government control.

    Normally I would be suggesting that this blog has gone off the rails or topic. However, I’m not persuaded that there is no link between Econned and the Oil Spill. The only two things I’m reasonably sure of are A) That the oil spill will further someone’s adgenda! And B) That the people who brought us the Subprime Meltdown and it’s attendant horrors, could care less if the Gulf of Mexico became a Dead Zone for the next thousand years!

    Just mark me down as another incompetent undereducated conspiracy nutter….

  12. purple

    60 to 70 % was a meaningless number. It was an intuitive guess, not science. Had 6 of 10 past occurrences succeeded ? No, because it never had been tried before.

  13. debra

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful…
    if THIS crisis, and the oil GUSHING up from the bottom of the sea could induce us to question little assumptions like..
    TRICKLE DOWN economics…
    You wanna understand how our society works ?
    Look at, and closely… the words we are deploying to talk about what we talk about. (Most of the time we think that WE control them, but that is not true, my friends…)
    And… where they come from, and where they go.
    These days, they are gushing about as much as all that oil in the Gulf, now, aren’t they ?
    Wonder why ?
    What could THAT mean ?

  14. middyfeek

    @Paul Repstock

    “The buck stops here” was a sign on Truman’s desk, not Eisenhower’s.

  15. Coldcall

    What i dont understand is why a national emergency has not been announced.

    US government could kill two birds with one stone: offer every unemployed person in the effected states a job on the coast clearing up the oil, and send the full bill to BP.

    Help the economy and clean the spill. Obama would get major kudos for doing so, i reckon his rating would shoot up.

    Honestly this whitehouse is as full of dummies as the last one, they just have different jobs now.

    1. The Rage

      You could use a chill pill. Mobilization Nationally overnight doesn’t just happen. Regionally, they have been cleaning up for weeks.

      I suspect a WPA of type program for this mess will be created and probably soon once the entire gulf coast is flooded.

      1. aet

        Such a program would be an excellent way toget someincome support to people who need it.
        Put them all to work: every one who wants a job, at minimum wage (assuming that there even is such along the gulf Coast).

  16. george moreno

    Dear Sir:s
    I tried to contact BP with a solution in capping the well simple but do able but got no responds. May be you reach them but here goes. if they can build a collar over the broken pipe that is appx 42” in circumference with a channel 4”deep where a new and larger pipe twice the diameter of the existing pipe slowing the head pressure down by displacement with a pipe of 100′ in length with a shut off gate valve operational with hydraulic control leaving open, of course welding the new collar first. Repeating the new 100′ section winth the second pcs for a total of 3 hundred feet or more each with gate valves.

    Closing each section of gate valve by 33 1/3 reducing head pressure as they go. I believe this approach will require minimal effort now if this works I will be happy to receive any just compensation they deem fair. but most of all they need to factor new control designs that they at will can shut down the well at any level with more options in the design,for safety and determent.
    I hope that they receive this information as a starting point as food for thought.

    George H. Moreno PS. I do not want to be mentioned in any Editorial if the use this approuch.

  17. Ryan

    I’m sure they have some of the brightest minds working on this issue… well… anyways, from my experiences I find that a lot of people, smart or otherwise, try to over-engineer solutions to simple problems. Can someone explain to me why the following would not work: lowering a large, heavy, & dense plug in the shape of an inverse cone directly into and on top of the source. Now I’m not sure what material it should be made of, but it should be extremely strong and heavy. The object could be made above the surface so there would be no issues with it setting incorrectly.

    1. Paul Repstock

      Ryan; I’m all for “simple solutions”. They are geneally the best, However, they don’t sound elegant or make any engineers a lot of money.

      There is one problem with your type of solution given what we have been told about the blow out: Apparently the Blow Out Preventer was partially activated. Therefore, the leak is not coming from a single symetrical opening. Also, even if it were a symetrical opening the presures are so great that the cone would need to have a very flat taper to avoid being pushed out of the opening. Perhaps if they were able to insert a plug tapering from zero to 21 inches over a length of a thousand or more feet it might have worked, However, that would nessesitate opening all the shutoff valves on the BOP and I suspect they are damaged or frozen.

  18. sam hamster

    Breaking news on CNN: Clean up workers too stupid not to buy their own respirators, despite acrid smell on-site and news stories of hospitalized, fellow workers. Situation is not expected to change, but complaining and lawsuits are expected to follow.

  19. The Rage

    The leak can’t be stopped, there is to much pressure.

    All efforts are on cleanup and containment and have for awhile.

    This is why “laws”(aka regulations) exist about saftey exist. If BP had followed them, we wouldn’t be having this conservation.

    1. aet

      The relief wells should work: but they may take many months.
      That’s why there need to be regs stipulating that they be drilled simultaneously to the main well.

      That’s for the future, as is any discussion of why the regulations were inadequate – which they indisputably were.

      But they won’t be, or should not be, for long.

  20. avatar singh

    british media has been absolving brietish petroleum on one pretext or another first saying that law limits BP liabalitliy and that bp is doing the best and now saying that itis not the fault of bp but other contractors ! british ride on back of americans till itis not conveneient then they blame pamericans! british petroleum has been a parasite company and evil company for a long time..

    It is a little-known slice of history that in the countdown to the Anglo-American coup in Tehran against Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953, the US Central Intelligence Agency lost nerve just as the Tehran street protests – eerily similar to the recent unrest – were about to be staged, but the British intelligence outpost in Cyprus which coordinated the entire operation held firm, forced the pace and ultimately created a fait accompli for Washington.

    At any rate, Tehran is going after Britain – “the most treacherous of foreign powers”, to use Khamenei’s words.

    “Blowback” is a CIA term that means retaliation, or payback. It was first used in the after-action report on our first clandestine overthrow of a foreign government, the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, when, for the sake of the British Petroleum Company, we claimed he was a Communist when he just didn’t want the British to keep stealing Iranian resources. In the report, which was finally declassifi ed in 2000, the CIA says, “We should expect some blowback from what we have done here.” This was the first model clandestine operation.

    the Corporation of the City of London, is virtually a self regulating and selfserving parasitic organisation so called this financial center has turned into into a self-regulating state like the Vatican.(ofocurse for the anglosaxon protestants only God is money and nothing else.).
    The ruthless advantage-seeking was racheted up around 1980 and it may have been inspired by the fact that insiders in Lloyd’s of London were facing bankruptcy, conspired to offload their losses onto 34,000 foreigners and women and got away with it.


    A perfect example…I watched the show “Reaper” this last year. In one episode the devil is running a company whose business is the corruption of souls. When explaining to his son how his business works, this is his exact quote…
    “Did you know, beginning in the late 19th century, corporations were granted all the rights of the individual, but none of the annoying responsibilities. They lack, almost by design, any kind of moral compass, conscience, or compassion. Basically, corporations are a way to enact sociopathic behavior on a grand scale. In short, they’re what makes this country so damn great.” this is what is called so called democracy in entgland-a corportocracy which has been exported all over to the benefit of parasitic english race.

    In the USA, sociopathology is a prevalent cultural, economic and political value; it has long been one. It’s a “hereditary trait” from Mother England.

  21. Ronald

    Technology has limits and I hope that is one lesson that come from this experience. The other is the limit of PR in modern life both by government and corporate to control the flow of information to the public as a method to defuse the crowd. Large scale media PR by BP and the government in order to show that something positive is/was being done will continue but PR also is losing its appeal in this process. Maybe honestly by BP and Obama regarding offshore drilling and the real risks involved are finally in order.

    Also Hats off to Oil Drum and its longtime bloggers a great relief from MSM.

  22. spill baby spill

    Doesn’t toxicity have a more-or-less linear volumetric relationship, so that as the release and dispersant use continues we can tot up so many Amazons a month of plankton destruction and reduced carbon-fixing capacity? Heuristic, of course, and only potential until diffusion takes its course but kind of useful in fudging the global-warming models. It would be nice to know when Venice is going to disappear beneath the waves so we can see it one more time.

  23. RueTheDay

    The article neglected to mention that there are significant risks associated with disconnecting the riser from the BOP and attempting to install a new valve and riser. While it’s disconnected, the oil flow will increase greatly, and if they can’t connect the new valve…….

  24. Ricardo Coelho

    BP has no clue as to how to stop the leak. But they’re not worried; in the end, they’ll pay a modest fine (compared to their profits) and, thanks to Obama, they can continue to open more offshore drilling platforms.
    That’s how free market works! Ain’t it great?

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