Stormy Weather Again Delays Operations at BP Well Site

HOUSTON, Texas, August 30, 2010 (ENS) – Locally turbulent weather at the BP/Deepwater Horizon well site has put on hold operations to bring up equipment that will become evidence in several ongoing investigations. The heavy sets of valves, one as tall as a five-story building – must be brought up from 5,000 feet below the surface, a tricky maneuver in the best weather conditions.

Briefing reporters from the Development Driller III rig out on the well site, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen said BP’s efforts to remove the equipment have been delayed by local weather – not by Atlantic hurricanes or tropical storms.

Admiral Allen has directed BP to bring up the blowout preventer that failed to prevent the April 20 explosion that damaged the wellhead, releasing 4.9 million barrels of oil, and the capping stack that shut in the flow of oil July 15.

“We are in a weather hold right now,” said Admiral Allen. “The conditions I am seeing out here, the seas are six to eight feet. Normally that’s not prohibited to do a lot of activities. But anticipation of raising the capping stack and the blowout preventer which will be suspended at some point 5,000 feet below these vessels,” is too far over the safety margin, he said.

Deepwater Horizon spill site in the Gulf of Mexico during a rain storm, August 27, 2010. Seas were more turbulent today. (Photo by Daniel Beltra courtesy Greenpeace)

“There are two concerns that the BP engineers and the science team have,” Allen explained. “One is the lifting up and down of the wave action on the lifting pipes and mechanisms themselves, and what we would call dynamic loading.”

“When these capping stacks and blowout preventers are suspended, they are suspended from a very long piece of pipe,” he explained. “The distance of the time between the swells actually creates a pendulum type action. So you have two forces acting on these lifting mechanisms, whether there is a riser pipe or a drill stream. And it is the dynamic loading as the rigs themselves move up and down. The second is the forces that are generated by having these things swing around like a pendulum underneath it.”

“Once they get up to a little less than 2,000 feet, that pendulum action is reduced, and they can actually operate in a heavier sea state,” said the admiral. “But for now we are in a hold pending further calming of the weather out here.”

A “fishing” operation that was supposed to bring up about 3,500 feet of drill pipe last week has not been successful.

“These pipes are being subjected to a lot of different forces in there,” Admiral Allen said. “If you remember, we’ve had the dynamic kill and the static kill. There have been a lot of different fluids that have been forced through the blowout preventer or the capping stack, and the Lower Marine Riser Package.”

“We have concluded that the pipe is of extreme fragility,” he said. “And while we could try and recover it, the pipe that we can get to right now is not connected to any pipe that is on the center line. It could extend out into the blowout preventer. So for that reason we just foregone any more fishing experiments, and have gone directly to remove the blowout preventer.”

Once the failed blowout preventer and capping stack are brought to the surface, another blowout preventer from the rig Development Driller II will be installed.

Meanwhile, BP and the Coast Guard do not expect any new oil to enter the Gulf of Mexico because the damaged well was sealed in with mud and cement pumped in from the top on July 15 – the so-called top kill.

Still, until the relief well that the Development Driller III has been working on since May intersects the damaged well and pumps mud and cement in from the bottom, the job will not be done, all parties have said.

On Friday, more of the Gulf of Mexico was opened to commercial and recreational fishing. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reopened 4,281 square miles of Gulf waters off western Louisiana.

On July 18, NOAA data showed no oil in the area. Light sheen was observed on July 29, but none since. Trajectory models show the area is at a low risk for future exposure to oil, and fish caught in the area and tested by NOAA experts have shown no signs of contamination.

“Scientists, food safety experts, members of the fishing industry and local, state, federal officials, are working together every day to ensure that seafood from the gulf is safe to eat,” said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. “We will remain vigilant and continue to monitor and test seafood in reopened waters.”

Between July 26 and July 29, NOAA sampled the area for both shrimp and finfish, including mackerel and snapper. Sensory analyses of 41 samples and chemical analyses of 125 specimens that were composited into 14 samples followed the methodology and procedures in the re-opening protocol, with sensory analysis finding no detectable oil or dispersant odors or flavors, and results of chemical analysis well below the levels of concern.

At its closest point, the area being reopened is about 185 miles west of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead. The entire area is heavily fished by fishermen targeting reef fish, menhaden and shrimp.

“Because of our strict adherence to the reopening protocol agreed to by the states and the federal government we have confidence that seafood harvested from this area is free from harmful oil residues and can be enjoyed by consumers around the nation,” said Margaret Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

On July 22, NOAA reopened 26,388 square miles of gulf waters off of the Florida Peninsula, and on August 10 opened 5,144 square miles off the Florida Panhandle.

The closed area now covers 48,114 square miles, or about 20 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf. The closures covered 37 percent of the gulf at the height of the spill.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.