Guest Post: Is the New Oil Cap Succeeding or Failing?

Washington’s Blog

[Videos embedded at version posted on my blog.]

Don Van Nieuwenhuise – director of geosciences programs at the University of Houston – gives the best summary of what is happening with BP’s new effort to stop the oil gusher.

Van Nieuwenhuise points out:

  • There is probably damage to the well bore under the sea floor
  • BP is performing acoustic tests (bouncing sound waves down beneath the seafloor) to try to detect any leaks in the subsurface
  • BP will gradually close more and more vents to gradually increase the pressure within the well bore (like gradually covering more and more of your garden hose, so that more pressure builds up in the hose)

BP will perform a “well integrity test”, shutting off the oil flow out of the cap, and then seeing how much pressure builds up below.

The more pressure the better … because that would mean that there are no major leaks beneath the seafloor. By way of analogy, a good way to see if you have any leaks in your garden hose is to cover up the nozzle and see if water goes shooting out someplace else.

The government official in charge of the response to the oil spill – Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen – confirmed today that:

  • A 1.5 mile “seismic run” was conducted to detect “anything that might happen with the sea floor” from the well integrity test
  • You “could make the case that there’s some structural integrity issues with the casing of the wellbore”

Oil industry expert Rob Cavner – who previously explained that there is damage in the oil well beneath the seafloor, and that BP has to let the oil spill keep on gushing to avoid further damage to the well bore until the well can be killed with relief wells (subsequently confirmed by BP) – says that he is worried that the well integrity test could further damage the well bore and could blow out the entire well:

So how are things going so far?

BP has delayed the well integrity test.

As the Wall Street Journal notes:

The start of BP PLC’s (BP) crucial integrity test of the leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well has been delayed until at least Wednesday, the U.S. official leading the disaster response said.

Adm. Thad Allen, the former U.S. Coast Guard chief, said he had taken the decision to delay the test after meetings with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and other top experts.

“As a result of these discussions, we decided that the process may benefit from additional analysis that will be performed tonight and tomorrow,” Allen said in as statement.

AP points out:

BP and federal officials did not say what prompted the decision or when the testing would begin on a new, tighter-fitting cap it had just installed on the blown-out well.


It was unclear whether there was something in the results of the mapping that prompted officials to delay.

AP also notes that engineers are mapping subsurface dangers like gas pockets.

Time will tell how big a setback this is. Hopefully, it is a brief, trivial 1-day delay.

Hopefully, today’s delay does not mean that substantial leaks have been found below the level of the seafloor, and hopefully Cavner’s fears that the tests will blow out the well bore are unfounded.

But because BP has consistently suppressed information as long as possible, we won’t know for some time. Remember, BP suspended the “top kill” operation for 16 hours – because, according to numerous experts, it was creating more damage to the well bore – without even telling the media, local officials or the public that it had even delayed the effort until long afterwards.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Guest Post on by .

About George Washington

George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander…


  1. doc holiday

    In the dark again…

    The team working on the well doesn’t know what condition it’s in, BP’s senior vice president, Kent Wells, said this morning in a technical briefing. If there’s a weakness in the underground pipe, “the integrity loss could be in numerous different places,” Wells said, and they’d have little way of knowing exactly where pressure was being relieved.

    If the problems are far below the ocean floor, that’s less of problem than if there’s pressure higher up in the well, more toward the ocean floor. Their fear is that if it is higher up in the well, Wells said, it could put pressure in a place that allows oil to breach the pipe and leak oil to the surface.

    Read more:

    The administration official said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, U.S. Geological Survey chief Marcia McNutt and other government scientists met with BP Tuesday in Houston and had a number of questions about the plan to test the integrity of the well. Chu and other officials want to ensure that putting downward pressure on the well will not cause further leaks, the official said.

    “Our basic position was, if you can give us the answers we need … then go ahead,” the official said. Until then, “they can’t go forward.”

    The official stressed that the government was acting out of “an abundance of caution” and still hopes the temporary cap can be placed on the well.

  2. K Ackermann

    I doubt they will run the test. It’s too dangerous. They will start produce from the choke line, and maybe a flex hose from the cap. The hose may or may not produce up to the surface as you can be sure they will not impede the flow. Not when they are this close to a relief well.

    It would be a stupid risk to take.

  3. chad

    Are they concerned that the condition of the well bore has degraded since top kill or did they not do an integrity test when they tried top kill?

  4. doc holiday

    oil spill perspective from 19% to 35%

    May 18, 2010

    The closure measures 45,728 sq mi (118,435 sq km), which is approximately 19 percent of the Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone.

    June 16, 2010

    The closure measures 80,806 sq mi (209,286 sq km), or about 33% of the Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone. The majority of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico are open to commercial and recreational fishing.

    July 13, 2010

    The new closure measures 83,927 sq mi (217,371 sq km) and covers about 35% of the Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone.

    1. doc holiday

      “The government is aiding and abetting the cover-up”

      Why does this BP/Obama criminal conspiracy and collusion remind me of Bush-Paulson-TARP, SEC, Treasury, FASB, FDIC, FTC, DOJ, Homeland Security/SS … great place to be a fascist???

  5. steve from virginia

    If the well casing is damaged it is likely where the casing sections are joined together with threaded couplings.

    The well casing sections are all 40′ long and more or less extend downward 40′ from the BOP/mudline. A failure of one coupling would likely mean failure at all couplings at the same point. The couplings could have been compromised by the riser torquing as the Deepwater Horizon drifted then sank. The 450 ton BOP plus the riser would be a powerful lever against the various casing joints and the weakest areas would be couplings hundreds of feet below the mudline.

    A clue is BP stacking heavy riser packages atop the BOP assy. BP is hoping the weight of the equipment will force the sections of riser together and allow sufficient head so that the relief well kill mud weight is not too high. Too high mud weight fracs the formation and increases the flow. Too low and the blowout cannot be overpressured with the weight of mud.

  6. doc holiday

    Almost went silent, but amazing that we still seem to have a pro-BP oil-spill news mentality, along with a media blackout going on after 86 days, and as we have gone from a general theme of all is well and contained, and heck of a job BP — to the ugly reality of the fishing area in the GOM being annihilated.

    From May 18, the spill closure area was reported to be the size of Pennsylvania and now the closure area is the size of Utah, which implies that this leak and the resulting contaiminated closure area will be the size of California, or 70% of Uncle Sam’s fising hole by mid September — then the size of Texas and then … hmm.

    We know folks down there wanna start drilling and fishing as much as possible, but is there any chance that the fishing folks will see any conflict between dead fish zones and drilling? I imagine as more oxygen is lost in the GOM, more and more intellectual issues like this will not be debated, after all the difference between reckless fishing and drilling is a fine line that no wants to get crossed up in….. it doesn’t matter if your chanting drill baby drill, or fish baby fish …. I was going somewhere with this, but my tank is running low….

    NOAA said more than 1 billion pounds of seafood was commercially harvested in 2008, the latest period for which figures are available.

    Section 304(1) of the Coastal Zone Management Act defines the seaward extent of a state’s coastal zone as “to the outer limit of state title and ownership under the Submerged Lands Act (43 U.S.C. 1301 et. seq.)….” Under the Submerged Lands Act, Florida’s title and ownership extends three miles into the Atlantic Ocean and, in accordance with United States vs. Louisiana, et. al., 364 U.S. 502 (1960), three marine leagues (approximately nine miles) into the Gulf of Mexico. Texas’ title and ownership extends nine nautical miles. NOAA

    Oh well, WTF?

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: Oh well, WTF?

      And, really, does it matter when you’ve got high-speed internet, 4G iPhones, and all the porn sports and (theoretical) shopping-opportunities you can handle (as long as the credit cards still work).

      Naa.. It’s all good. Don’t worry, be happy. Life is good. I’m optimistic Americans will continue to be optimistically optimistic.

      1. dh

        I wonder what that billion pounds of seafood is worth in terms of retail sales and how that might nudge GDP, once it isn’t factored in next year?

  7. dh

    Oil spill muddies bank M&A in U.S. Gulf

    The worst offshore spill in U.S. history is likely to have a broad impact on banks serving communities in the region, hurting consumer credit and real estate values, both residential and commercial. Every Gulf state — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas — has been soiled by the spill.

    This could add to problems at banks like Columbus, Georgia-based Synovus Financial Corp (SNV.N), which also has exposure to Florida

  8. Butter Puppy

    Beware Fish and Shellfish Price Rises After BP Gulf Oil Spill

    But even as the disaster continues to unfold, American consumers could be understandably confused about just how much of a pocketbook difference the Gulf oil disaster may have on the cost of day-to-day fish consumption. The media don’t seem to have the story straight about how much of the US fish supply comes from the Gulf. USA Today suggests is as little as five percent, whereas CNN suggests as much as forty percent of the nation’s seafood comes from the Gulf area. Specifically:

    * The Wall St. Journal states that “Louisiana has a $3 billion fishing industry—the source of a third of the seafood consumed in the US,” citing the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Agency.
    * BusinessWeek and both state that the Gulf Coast oil spill “threatens 25 % of the US fresh fish haul.” Almost as an afterthought, the article notes that the 25% statistic excludes fish caught in Hawaii and Alaska.
    * CNN states, “Depending on the season, about 40 percent of the nation’s commercial seafood harvests come from the Gulf Coast, according to NOAA data from 2008.”

    Meanwhile, on the low-ball end of the spectrum, USA Today states. “Gulf products account for about 5% of the seafood consumed in the United States,” in an article titled “Seafood Testing from Gulf Oil Disaster Could Last Years.”

  9. exclusive escort

    It is extremely interesting for me to read this post. Thank you for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more soon. By the way, rather good design you have here, but don’t you think design should be changed once in a few months?

    Alex Swingfield

  10. dh

    Place BP Oil Spill In Perspective to Exxon Valdez!

    The oil, originally extracted at the Prudhoe Bay oil field, eventually covered 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of coastline,[5] and 11,000 square miles (28,000 km2) of ocean.

    Then, take a look at the current fishing closure area for BP:

    July 13, 2010

    The new closure measures 83,927 sq mi (217,371 sq km) and covers about 35% of the Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone.

    Yee Haw!

    July 13, 2010

    The new closure measures 83,927 sq mi (217,371 sq km) and covers about 35% of the Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone.

    Yee Haw!

  11. Tax Lawyer

    Your link to Nick Turse, American War Versus Real War Tom Engelhardt just really moved me, and wowed me. It is spot-on, you never hear of the suffering of the civilians trapped in war-torn countries who have no way to avoid the tragedy.

    Still, even given the difficulty of living in such a place, it should be remembered that our soldiers face death every day, while Afghan civilians might be powerless, but might face a problem once a year. The number of days of conflict does really take a toll on our teenagers over there. The suicide rate for our soldiers likely tops the Afghan population by a large margin.

    But after all is said and done, I think we would likely pull out after Bin Laden is captured and killed. Why haven’t the Afghans turned him in after all this suffering? I can’t believe that SOMEBODY doesn’t know where he is, and can end this mess by giving him up.

Comments are closed.