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Catch More Oil With A Better Mousetrap? An Openly Minded Thread

BP is now collecting

In a comment to this Reuters article, user “Alkan” – a 70-something former oil and gas engineer – provides a

thoughtful comment
on the application of common sense to the problem, and a specific solution.  Is it the right one?  Sounds intelligent and practical to me, and certainly more common sense could be applied across the board to this disaster.

I repeat the comment in full below the fold. What thoughts do you have?

Yesterday BP collected 14,800 barrels of the 5,000 barrels leaking from the well.  In a few days they will be able to increase this to 20,000-25,000 barrels/day, but do not expect to capture all of the 5,000 barrels/day that is leaking out.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the federal response to the spill, said a second ship should arrive in two to three days and should add 5,000 to 10,000 barrels of additional processing capacity. The current ship can only process 15,000 barrels of oil a day.

I have yet to hear anyone saying what percentage 25,000 barrels/day is of the total 5,000 barrels/day, but from the video of the well it does not appear that the leak is less than half as bad as it was so we will be conservative and assume that 25,000 is in fact half the flow and that the real number leaking has been 50,000 barrels/day for 50 days:

50,000 barrels/day x 50 days x 42 gallons/barrel = 105,000,000 gallons of oil


Sinking 9 Exxon Valdez’


(at or) near the record of 140,000,000 gallons for the worst maritime oil spill in world history, and destined to top it

Follow this wiki graph to watch this rise from the bottom of the chart to the #3 (or #2?) spot.

Alkan here:

I am just an old guy in my late 70’s that used to drill and produce oil and gas wells. Many years ago I even drilled cable tool wells and know what blow outs can do. When you deal with high pressure, things are different than using a garden hose and sometimes I even had to have special tools invented and made to do things.

At times I used “impression blocks” to make a mold of things that would allow a tool to be made that exactly fit the problem. BP could do that now by lowering a mold-able material cap with an open top, to set on the irregular cut off Riser, then the retrieved molded impression block would allow a cap to be made that would fit exactly if the cap were lined with a malleable metal inside the cap designed to fit exactly. Then if a compression clamp were applied to use enormous force to squeeze and then hold the two sides of the leak permanently shut, there would be no leak at all.. Even the Hubble telescope was fixed by knowing the problem exactly and making something to fix it.

But as I am retired, there are lots of young people that are domestic O&G people that can advise Admiral Allen. There are common sense things that can be done, and then there are those like BP is using.

Almost anybody can understand the common sense ones.

Maybe Rube Goldberg can understands these others… I surely don’t… and leave that to the new generation of problem solvers (such as those now advising Admiral Allen).

He needs more O&G advice and choices to test for common sense, as he is an honest and practical man that made a helpful difference during the Katrina aftermath.

My present hope is the new caps BP mentioned possibly using, include these simple things the engineers learned in hindsight. Some of the foresight was not perfect.

I watched the live tv, and wondered why the blade got as deep as it did before sticking, as the pressure against it coming up was tremendous. I kept hoping to see them turn the device and saw another hole as using the same hole was insanely stupid. I laughed at the floppy rubber gasket they used knowing it was not designed for huge pressure. Then almost cried when they did not use some method to pull their connection together like a compression clamp.

The new system BP is talking about is connecting a flow pipe to to the surface from the two valves low on the BOP that they used during pumping for several days trying a “top kill”. That new connection should get another few thousand barrels a day flow and hopefully reduce the leak some to the ocean from the poor seal method they are presently using with the big floppy rubber gasket.

Rubber gaskets are for garden hoses. Lead, Gold, or other malleable metals make a better gasket for 10,000 psi to seal a leak. Obviously this requires a compression clamp to squeeze the pipes together and against the lead or other metal gasket or liner. By extreme compression, the malleable gasket or liner will mold to fit the leak… just like head gaskets do except the malleable or mold-able metal will seal the irregular leak parts better once compressed together very strongly.

The idea is shown here but any variation of a compression clamp with a soft mold-able metal gasket will work (not rubber or plastic).

A malleable metal under compression will mold to fit irregularities. I can not understand using the floppy rubber thing I watched them use on the live video… for the extreme pressures involved. I can not understand relying on pipe weight or some upper weight being used for compression like BP has tried and is now trying. Some type of clamp to create tremendous adjustable compression of the two parts of the leak connection is needed. I suspect eventually that BP engineers will wake up and use some continuously applied, measured amount of compression pressure like huge nuts on huge bolts of compression clamps… that have been used for centuries… and have worked extremely well to hold things together and in place. You probably have a mini version in your garage for gluing boards together. Once set, the compression is the same like the wire used to hold champagne corks in just holds the cork steady for years.

BP keeps saying they are worried about their seal being pushed apart by the friction of flow up the pipe to the surface. Then why do they not mention trying a compression clamp attaching from the stable huge BOP (like the neck of the bottle for the Champagne wire) to the last pipe collar (like the wire cap around the cork) that is lowered to pull things together and make that blow apart event impossible. I would not trust a champagne cork without something to hold compression. Even with the poor seal they have, they are trying to use rubber for a gasket instead of a malleable metal like lead or gold. A compression clamp could possibly close the leak to the ocean some and allow more flow to the surface… even without a better mold-able gasket or liner to seal perfectly.

They already proved there is only one leak and proved the integrity of the pipe and cement job below the seabed level already… by using several days of “top kill” pressure at a pressure said by BP and Admiral Allen, to “equal that” of the well pressure inside the flow pipe under the seabed.

This merely means that “if” they had a perfect seal of this “single leak” then the pipe to the surface could be shut in during hurricanes with no worry about hurting the lower well… and there would be NO leak to the ocean and to the Gulf. The static pressure below the seabed would then be the same as used for days during the “top kill” which proved this.

Also that would mean that the well could be plugged by a slow pumping of mud… so as not to increase the pressure much… or plugged by injecting lead shot or mercury down the static (non-flowing) well to seal this bottom – Monster Zone – and kill the well. The worry is that using more than static pressure might cause damage to the lower pipe and cement job. So far there has been no leak at all at the base of the BOP and there is only – one leak – at the top of the BOP. The exact same worry would be there for the two relief wells once they are drilled and pipe set on the Monster pressure zone giving us the big worries and dangers to the Gulf.

But if this one leak is stopped and held stable by a compression method, then there would be no need for the two dangerous relief wells that could also blow out from bad cement jobs or from the same brand BOP they use. This Monster high pressure formation is already proven dangerous to the Gulf.

I would rather see Admiral Thad Allen get advice from a consortium of domestic O & G people and use that advice to decide on any action could be done, or needs to be done next. By directive of the President, he is the final person calling the shots now… not BP. Allen is not an O & G man and needs this domestic impartial consortium for advice.

Hopefully that advice would be to plug the well as soon as safely possible and stop drilling the two dangerous relief wells.

Just a compression device alone with the present poor connection would probably allow a much tighter seal than the seal from bent pipe that existed (before they cut the top off and made this a single leak).. when before. they almost were able to kill the well during the several days of “top kill” as the hydrological calculations would not be difficult to estimate the chances of success when there is no danger of blowing apart the leak connection.

With the new flow pipe they are going to attach to the lower BOP, as the next step to try and produce more oil, they could be ordered use that for a new “top kill” that might work with a compression clamp used on this single leak at the top of the BOP.

But without the huge clamp to prevent problems (like BP worries about their seal “blowing apart”) I would want a strong compression clamp to be in place to make the seal fixed – before – the “top kill” was started.

Someone in the News Services during any interview with Admiral Allen, or even a BP representative – will be doing this country a severe disservice if they do not ask:

“Sir, why is a Compression Clamp or device – NOT USED – to squeeze the leaking connection together?”

Allen would be the best person to ask, as he has the Presidential directive to tell BP what is allowed.

Possibly a U S Congressman will ask him this pertinent question. Then the next question then could be, “With a compression clamp in place, preventing any blow apart of the leak connection, will you order another “top kill” to plug the well and then shut down the two relief wells drilling toward the “Monster”.

I have been watching the cameras several hours a day and especially those that show the seabed 5 stories below the single leak. So far I have not seen any leak from the cement job around the well head or at the seabed… thank goodness.

The previous “top kill” for days I watched with pressure equalizing the sub seabed pressure… and there was never any leak seen then.

The integrity of the well below the seabed… as long as the pressure is not tested more than the Monster formation… will hold as it was tested during “top kill” for days.

This simply means that if the single leak were contained by simple methods, like a proper compression clamp and proper soft metal gaskets to seal with, then the pipe at the sea surface could be shut in and even used to plug this well by several means. Alternatively it could be produced.

Most domestic people in the USA would rather see it plugged then followed by stopping the dangerous relief wells.

Usually the Large-Ocean Intervention III ROV 2 camera viewed here often shows the seabed and the lower well head next to the seabed below the 5 story tall BOP. The only leak now is at the top of the 5 story tall BOP. See:…

bpd (barrels per day) production depends naturally on choking or pinching down the flow.

My guess is that the choking due to the bent riser pipe that was leaking at several different points initially allowed about 15,000 bpd.

Then after cutting the riser with the stuck saw blade and then pinching the rest off, the size of the opening had much less choking, and allowed about 25,000 bpd… just going by my eyeball estimates (which could be very inaccurate).

If the seal was perfect they could choke it down to 10,000 bpd or to 0 bpd for hurricanes at the surface.

The fines will be on the actual leakage that occurred as estimated, and BP could probably argue that the initial leakage was maybe 10,000 bpd or less as nobody knows the degree of choking at that point.

In my view, it is to BP’s advantage to have a perfect seal that allows any degree of choking at the sea level as then the fines would be zero. At $3,000 per barrel leaked, the clean up greatly increases their fines. But any logical approach would tell you that they want to stop “all” the leakage to the sea.

Their problem so far (just to me) seems to be one of common sense operations. However, I do think that very soon we will see common sense applied… as I am an optimist.


  1. jsfox

    with myself and other when I comment on this disaster. I am not in the oil business and I have never played a oil engineer or geologist on TV. So every time I get lost and confused I head to The Oil Drum blog ( to hear from folks like Alkan. Who a have serious knowledge and deep water experience.

    As to Alkan’s idea it should be at least be presented beyond that I get in way over my head.

  2. Kysen

    I just know that lots of people have lots of ideas…..but, that near to a one, the ideas do not translate when placed OVER A MILE below sea level. I am so bloody frustrated with all the “They just need to do ‘this'”…”They just need to do ‘that'”…”All it takes is ‘this'”….”If they had only done ‘that'”….when, the fact of the matter is….NO ONE knows what the fuck to do…because NO ONE has experience repairing damaged oil wells over a bloody mile deep. I think the best person I’ve seen pulled in thus far is some eighty odd year old dude who helped create our space exploration program. At least he has experience in dealing with things that NO ONE has ever dealt with before.

    The whole thing DISGUSTS me….we NEVER should have allowed drilling that deep without solid PROOF that there was a way to deal with a fuck up. Sans that….never should have been permitted. And, now, having been permitted…and having been proven to have been a fucking braindead thing to do….I am sick and bloody tired of everyone jumping all over Obama and everyone else involved for not having fixed it (cuz, ya know…’all ya have to do is…..’).

    NO ONE KNOWS WHAT TO DO…anyone who acts like they do is, quite frankly, full of shit. There are LOTS of ideas…..but, that is what all the scientists/BP/Administration are filtering thru hoping to find the best one. I don’t think that there is any lack of common sense in the attempts to repair it…..the lack of common sense occurred when permission to drill in deep water was given in the first place. Obama can’t magically fix it….BP can’t magically fix it…NO ONE can….the best and brightest are actively working on the repair…but, I hold no great expectations that it will be fixed anytime soon. We FUCKED UP big time and there is no ‘easy’ or ‘quick’ fix for it.

    Again….more than a MILE of sea water is pressing down on it yet it still is shooting out like a geyser…that is an INSANE amount of pressure and nothing that works ‘on land’ or in ‘shallow water’ translates to what is needed to deal with what is happening down there.

    It truly is like deciding to travel into Space for the first time…unknown. ‘Cept, with Space travel, at least we were smart enough to send unmanned rockets out first…..we had no such ‘test runs’ to insure safety/ability when it comes to drilling in deep water.


  3. HappyinVT

    who is working with the government believes that this cap BP has installed has increased the flow beyond the 20% they were anticipating as the threshhold so the amount spewing out may actually be nearly the same, if not higher, than the rate that was coming out before the cap was put on.

    I think we all know if our heart of hearts that this thing isn’t going to stop dumping vast amounts of oil into the Gulf until one of the relief wells is in place.

  4. creamer

     I’m neither an engineer or a geologist.

    They are having issues with tempetures low enough, and pressure high enough, to create gas crystals. It would seem that “malleable” might need to be redefined.

    I hear a lot of complaining about a lagging clean-up response, and I geuss that concerns me as much or more that corking the well. BP and the White House have every motivation finacial and political to cap the well. It would seem that that same logic would apply to the clean up. But I must confess, seeing so many scenes of floating oil with no people, boats or anything else trying to pick-up the oil does concern me.

    I’m sure glad gas is cheap.

  5. fogiv

    Here’st he thing- I am going to toot my own horn here to say that I was trained by some very strong legal and political minds to base my arguments in reason and logic.

    l.o. fucking l.

  6. fogiv

    “If Obama Had My Brain”

    I will while away the hours

    Display my bloggin’ powers–

    On each parade I’ll rain.

    Since my noggin I’ll be scratchin’

    Perfect solutions he’ll be hatchin’–

    If Obama had my brain.

    He’d unravel ev’ry riddle

    For any individ’le,

    In trouble or in pain.

    With my thoughts that he’d be thinkin’

    He would be another Lincoln

    If Obama had my brain.

    Oh, I could tell him why the ocean and oil’s near the shore.

    I could think of things he never thunk before.

    And then I’d sit, and think ‘n’ blame some more.

    I would not be just a nothin’

    My head all full of stuffin’

    My heart all full of pain.

    I would dance and be merry

    And not refer to him as Barry

    If Obama had my brain.

    by samantha in oregon on Tue Jun 08, 2010 at 03:13:58 PM PDT

  7. DTOzone

    @benpolitico  Sr. WH Official: Labor just flushed 10 mil of its members $ down the toilet in a pointless exercise

    Very risky thing to do, but whoever said it is absolutely right. There were better candidates for that money; like Jennifer Brunner, Jack Conway, Elaine Marshall.  

  8. sricki

    It will just depress me. Right now I’m just bored, which is way better than being depressed.

    Someone entertain me!

  9. DTOzone

    @SenJohnMcCain: @Sn00ki u r right, I’d never tax your tanning bed! Obama’s tax/spend policy is quite The Situation. I do rec sunscreen!

  10. fogiv

    Based on the information provided in your application, you were found to be among the top candidates for this position and your name was referred to the selecting official.  You may or may not be contacted for an interview.

    Fingers crossed (sorta).

Comments are closed.