Thursday, July 8, 2010

Warning to BP: Stop the Relief Wells Or Expect a Much Bigger Catastrophe!

I issue a serious warning to BP: Stop it right now, do NOT drill the last few feet of the relief wells. Do NOT punch that hole through. Think everything through very carefully! If BP proceeds to puncture the hole through to the original blowout well, it opens up a Pandora's Box which may lead to a much bigger catastrophe than any one has ever bargained for!

BP must halt now and invite all experts for a good debate on exactly what could happen. Build a computer model and test all scenaries. Build a physical model and run tests on it. BP is foolhardy to just proceed and pray/gamble for a success. Because what could happen is not just another failure, but rather a much bigger catastrophe!

BP explains how a relief well works. You drill another well nearby which intercepts and punches a hole through the casing of the original well, at 18000 feet below sea level, or 135,000 feet below the sea floor. Then heavy mud is injected through the relief well into the original blowout well, filing it up from near the bottom. Since the density of the mud is heavy, the gravity of the mud column generates a pressure enough to counters the pressure of the oil and gas from the reservoir, hence the oil/gas flowis stopped. Once the oil/gas flow is stopped the well can then be sealed off using cement.

It sounds simple. But due the the extreme depth of the well and the extreme pressure from the reservoir, some technical details makes the plan virtually impossible to work. Let me explain.

For the plan to work. BP needs to ensure several things:
1. The mud must have a density heavy enough to counter the pressure of the oil from the reservoir and to stop the flow of oil from the reservoir.

2. The mud must be pumped into the junction point fast enough to prevent it from being diluted by oil and gas coming from the reservoir. See condition 1.

3. The mud must not be too heavy that it seeps down into the fracture of rocks, damaging the rock formation, fracturing the sea floor which releases oil and gas in an uncontrolable way.

4. BP must have enough mud at hand. If it ever runs out of mud it's game over for BP. But not so much mud that it all go down into the rock fractures and causes the sea floor to rupture. See condition 3 again.

I don't see how BP can pull it off.

For the discussion below, let's keep one thing in mind, when liquid flows thorugh a path, pressure drops the further you go alone the path. Part of the pressure is lost to overcome the resistance to the flow. The higher the viscosity (sticker) is, the narrower the flow path is, the more pressure drops along the path. On the other hand, if the liquid is not flowing, then there is no pressure drop due to liquid flowing.

In the first phase of operation, mud is injected from the relief well through the junction point into the blowout well, expelling the oil and gas originally in the blowout well out of the exit point, while stopping the flow of oil and gas from the reservoir below.

When the oil from reservoir is to seep through the rock fractures and then gush out of the blow out well, the pressure at the junction point is way much lower than the reservoir pressure, because it is much harder for the oil to seep through the rock fractures then to flow through the blowout well. Hence more pressure is lost at the rock fractures, than the pressure loss needed to push the oil up through the well. What it means is once the oil below the junction point stops, the pressure at the junction point quickly raises to a much higher level. And BP needs to be able to counter this much higher junction pressure and still be able to push the mud in.

Now consider the path of the mud. It is pushed down the relief well and then it pushes the oil and gas up the blowout well. Note the exit point is free flowing. The pressure of the mud must be high enough that while the mud is flowing at very high rate, it still generate high enough pressure at the junction point to fight the static pressure from the oil in the reservoir. That goal is extremely hard to achieve, because most of the mud pressure is lost in pushing the mud through the resistance of the relief well.

Likewise, the original oil and gas must be pushed to gush out of the blowout well even faster than the free flowing rate, to generate enough back pressure to push back the oil coming from the reservoir. Failing that, the oil will continue to flow from below to mix with the mud, hence diluting the mud entering the blowout well. This, again, is virtually impossible for BP to achieve. We are talking about pushing the mud in at more than twice the rate how free flowing oil and gas gushes out of the blowout well.

To put things into formulas, let's call the pressure at the junction point Pj:

Formula One, Junction Pressure from the Relief Well:
(1) Pj = P(Pump) + P(Mud Column) - Q2(Mud Flow) * Rm(Mud Resistance in Relief Well)

Formula TWO, Junction Pressure from the Blowout Well:
(2) Pj = P(Sea Floor) + P(Oil Column) + Q2(Oil Flow) * Ro(Oil Resistance in Blowout Well)

Formula THREE, Junction Pressure from the oil from the Reservoir:
(3) Pj = P(Reservoir) - P(Oil Below) - Zero (Oil below not flowing)

Let's define net pressures, which is the pressures the three source of liquid would generate at the junction point if we put a flow stopper there, as such:

P(Net Relief Well) = P(Pump) + P(Mud Column)
P(Net Reservoir) = P(Reservoir) - P(Oil Below)
P(Net Blowout Well) = P(Sea Floor) + P(Oil Column)

The relationships can be re-written as such:

(4) (P(Net Relief) - P(Net Reservoir))/(P(Net Blowout) - P(Net Reservoir))
= Rm(Mud Resistance in Relief Well)/Ro(Oil Resistance in Blowout Well)

Let me explain it in layman's English. Let's imagine the reservoir is directly connected to the junction point with no resistance to the flow movement in either direction. The net force that pushes the mud down into the oil reservoir must be pushing the mud down at the same rate that the oil from the reservoir is able to push oil up to gush out of the blowout well, in terms of barrels per day.

I don't see how BP can have mud heavy enough to achieve this goal. The fact that viscosity of mud is significant higher than the viscosity of oil, hense mud flow experiences much higher resistance than the oil flow, makes it even harder.

Now that is just one condition, being able to inject mud and completely fill the blowout well with it, without being diluted by the gushing oil. It requires mud heavy enough. This condition directly contradict another condition, which is that the mud must not be so heavy that it is able to seep into the rock fractures, which requires mud that is not so heavy.

The second condition, preventing mud from seeping into the rock formation, can simply be written as:

(5) (P(Net Relief) - P(Net Reservoir)) <= 0 This second conditon, formula (5), can not be achieved at the same time that first condition, formula (4) is achieved. I predict that BP's relief wells are not going to be successful.

A MORE SERIOUS warning to BP: If the relief wells fail as I predicted, do NOT resort to the desperate act of using nuclear options. If you use nuclear option, there is a good possibility it will trigger chain reaction of methane eruption on a global scale, turning the local catastrophe into a global catastrophe!!!

Full Disclosure:
The author does not currently have any short or long position in BP, but plan to short BP if irrational exuberance pushes BP share price higher leading to the near finish of the relief wells giving people false hope it's going to be successful.

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