- by BK Lim (first drafted in Nov2010, revised and updated 07 April 2011)
Much of the damage was done during the drilling itself. Shell had a blowout in the North Sea four months earlier (also on a Transocean rig) but could contain it even with all the accidental and random failures found at DWH. So what is difference in the Montara Oil Spill in the Timor Sea, off Australia and the DWH blowout at Macondo. For detailed explanation see
If this top hole section cannot be secured, leaking problems can still develop years later, even after the well is long abandoned; depending on the rate of sub-seabed erosion. Most of the leaks in the old abandoned wells would have been rejuvenated by the abnormal quake swarms after months of gas and oil spewing out of the 3rd Macondo well until about mid-Sept 2010. As erosion progressively removes disintegrated sediment particles, porosity increases with mass depletion.
The fearsome scenario of a giant oil batholith swelling up the whole sea floor and exploding like an undersea magma volcano generating tsunami has no sound geological basis (figures 150-2 & 150-3). It was conjured up and propagated by pro-BP advocates to scare the public into surrendering their demands for justification and transparency, in return for BP to save them from such a nightmarish scenario. One of NOAA video on an undersea volcanic eruption was widely displayed in June 2010 to demonstrate the possibility of such a destructive scenario. Anyone watching the Alex Jones interview with Lindsay Wiliams would assume the submarine volcanic eruption was captured in the Gulf of Mexico. It was not.
That volcanic eruption was close to an active plate margin within the Pacific Ring of Fire, in the South Pacific 140 miles SW of Samoa. Its tectonic setting is nowhere similar to the Gulf of Mexico, a more stable intra-plate tectonic zone. The mechanism of a Mud Volcano is a world of a difference from the Magma Volcano. Whose idea was it to show a volcanic eruption to illustrate what was happening with the Macondo mud volcano in the Gulf? NOAA label was flashed in the brief video of the eruption with no explanation. According to Lindsay Williams, he was given the materials from high level sources which he could not disclose. It is unbelievable that the high level sources could not differentiate between a magma and a mud volcano. Was this technical deception planned as early as 2009?
Was a scarier eruptive scenario deliberately fed to the public, so that when the worst such as massive eruptions, seafloor collapse and giant tsunami did not come to pass, any notion of population reduction conspiracy or planned disasters for profit could be shot down readily by BP's cyber mercenaries?
Granted the industry's professionals are contractually obligated to keep their silence. But why are gulf truth advocates with claims to insiders' information keeping their silence on this clear deception since June 2010? Surely an ex-oilfield executive with a 25-year successful career, who claims to be a self-funded independent researcher and having spent more than 7 months researching on Project Gulf Disaster could not have overlooked this and other blatant fallacies of the Gulf Disaster?
Yet the one exposing at least 20 such distorted truths on the gulf disaster be accused of being on BP's payroll, misleading the public, controlling the opposition (gulf activism) and preventing his brand of truth from reaching a wider audience? What good would an ex-oilfield executive truth advocate be, if he is so willfully ignorant of all the facts and only regurgitating what is already publicly known and promulgated by the main stream media?
Instead of endless supply of oil, gas and mud with expanding and swelling seabed due to increasing pressure, the reverse is true. Like popping a champagne bottle, the initial burst is at the highest pressure. What or where is the source of increasing pressure? It is such simple fundamental question that guides us through a minefield of geophysical impossibilities on the path of Truth Reporting. If companies are not required by law to have their accounts audited by registered accountants, would major corporations be responsible enough to declare their profits truthfully?
Thus a mass depletion model, whereby the eroded sediment are continuously transported by the escaping corrosive fluid (gas-brine mix) through the fractured or faulted pathways, is more plausible than the “oil batholith-volcanic eruption model” initiated by BP. Who else could and would spend millions of dollars promulgating such horse-shit?
The presence of extensive methane hydrate within the Quaternary sediment of the Gulf increases the rate of mass depletion. The escaping gas and brine create new pathways to the seabed. Hot oil from the reservoir follows and get trapped at the sub-formation zones, beneath the Quaternary deposits with the stable hydrates. Warmed-up hydrates vaporise into gaseous methane which in turn provide endless supply of gas, and together with brine, further erode and increase the permeability of these new pathways to the seabed. Shale and mudstone beds which are normally impermeable to either gas or oil, easily disintegrated on contact with fluid consisting of gas and brine (technical publication in prep).
Eventually, with higher permeability and porosity the oil seeps higher and closer into the seabed. The proliferation does not spread uniformly in radial pattern. For obvious reasons, the erosion process proliferates preferentially along the major fault lines and at the edges of the salt structures and the continental shelf edges.
Follow the faults and canyons radiating from the Macondo prospect and you will find the gas seepage and oil accumulation beneath the Quaternary beds. So Matt Simmons' assertion that there were major gas and oil leaks 7 miles from the Macondo wells was not far-fetched after all. Our observations showed that all the 3 drilling rigs ( DD2, DD3 and DE) had spent considerable period of time at the shelf-edges of the Salt domes / Continental slopes. Why?
With no ROV videos we can only speculate but then there were not too many options for BP. Either they were drilling shallow wells to grout the growing fractures in the faults and precarious edges of the salt domes or were fanatically pumping in even more dispersant so that the leaking oil would stay submerged. A sea of floating oil in the vicinity of the Macondo wells would definitely not look good. No matter how much PR cosmetics were applied, a massive oil slick would be highly unconvincing of a permanently sealed well.
BP had hoped that by grouting the fissures, vents and faults around the Macondo wells, the still escaping oil and gas would disperse far and wide beneath the seafloor, far enough to absolve further blame of future oil spills such as the one observed on 18 March 2011.
Though fully aware of the sub-seabed erosion process, BP reckoned it would take more than a few years before sufficient oil could accumulate at shallow depths to pose a problem. By then the Macondo Blowout would be a distant memory. It would be too absurd in the minds of the innocent Public, to connect any new oil spills to the disastrous Macondo blowout. But BP probably underestimated the abnormal rapid rate of sub-seabed erosion aided by the endless supply of methane gas from the extensive occurrence of hydrates and the effect of the mass depletion (vaporisation, disintegration of the clayey beds containing the hydrates sediment structure and erosion/transportion of the disintegrated clay sediment).
Worse. Many of the major deep-seated faults cut through other oil reservoirs which might have been indiscriminately damaged from the thousands of wells drilled in the last decade. Many of these faults were already leaking or on the verge of leaking. The recent quake swarms, though small in magnitude are shallow and quite effective in hastening the sub-seafloor erosion process. Once leakage to the many marginal uneconomic reservoirs are established more light crude migrate to the shallower sub-seabed zones. The new shallow oil accumulation need not necessarily originate from the Macondo prospect.
An example of this effect is demonstrated by the observed large gas bubble near at the coastguard base in Louisiana on 22 April 2010, the day of the second underwater explosion which brought down the Deepwater Horizon. The huge gas release occurred due to the vibration of the second explosion which fractured the overburden sediment capping an existing shallow gas accumulation 40 miles away. The NW-SE fault zones passing through the Macondo prospect to the coastguard base, facilitated the transmission of pressure pulses, just like any hydraulic system used in our machines.
The Stage Is Set and Nature refuses to play ball.
As more oil from the reservoir seeps to the sub-formation, more hydrates in the stable zone vaporised and caused even more erosion over a wider area. Unlike gas, oil can only migrate through the more permeable pathways and accumulate at the more porous and sandy beds. Any oil seepage by its natural pressure would mean near-saturation in oil bearing capacity of the shallow emplacement (high porosity sand, turbidites and deltaic formation intercepted by the highly fractured eroded faulted pathways). Continual or periodic oil seeps start the accumulated differential pressure is sufficiently high to overcome the combine weight (pressure) of the overburden and water column. Alternatively, the buried oil accumulation can be released through a major tectonic event since Quaternary sediment are quite fragile and easily fractured once the corrosive gas and brine erosion processes had taken their toll.
If the 9.0 mag quake in Japan had occurred months earlier, the new shallow oil emplacement would have been insufficient to cause such a large area of oil slick. To refute arguments that these shallow oil emplacement existed before the 20 April 2010 blowout, there was no report of widespread oil slick following the 24 Dec 2004 Sumatra (9.0), 12 Jan 2010 Haiti (7.0) and 27 Feb 2010 Chile (8.8) quakes.
By the time of the 4 Sept Canterbury (7.1) NZ, 29 Sept Papua Indonesia (7.2), 21 Dec Bonin Islands Japan (7.4) and 25Dec Vanuatu, S Pacific (7.3) quakes occurred, the gulf waters were again sufficiently clear of surface oil (oil dispersed and submerged) for any new oil slick to be noticed. Again none was reported. The recent 18 Feb 2011 quake off Fort Morgan Alabama (3.5 mag) was probably too weak and too far NE from the main erosion and migration oil pathways (the fault zones striking through Louisiana) to trigger any substantial release of oil into the water column.
By the beginning of this year, tar balls (nickel to palm size) and dollar-sized sandy patches of oil were reportedly washing up in Grand Isle and Louisiana coast to Alabama beaches at Fort Morgon. Towards the end of March 2011, there had been increasing reports of new oil related sightings at the beaches of Louisiana. These are significant evidences of periodic or regular oil seeps coming out of the seabed, not from a single point oil spill (some fundamental reasons in part 2 of this article). It also means the oil migration pathways were filled to the brim and ripe for major simultaneous releases on a tectonic trigger with a much lowered threshold.
Intra-Plate Tectonic Setting.
You will notice that the Macondo prospect lies almost 150 miles SE from the southern tip of the New Madrid fault zone. Check out my previous articles to understand the Quaternary intra-plate tectonic setting and movement.
The Macondo prospect is located approximately at the pivoting point of the intra-plate movement. The red and black dotted lines represent discernible faults obscured by the Quaternary sediment cover. Fundamental geotechnical principles dictate that there should be stress-induced faults and the step-like breaks at the shelf edge are give-away indications. Competent geologists from the oil companies would have noticed the fragility of the Salt-geology tectonic system. Exploration objectives however overrode geohazards concerns and environmental implications in the event of a disaster. It still is today.
The events unfolding from this mega-disaster confirm what geohazards experts had known and feared all along. Environmental and Safety concerns by oil companies are horse-shit for public consumptions only. What goes behind boardroom meetings is just the exact opposite.
Like a loaded spring, shallow quakes occurred in response to tensional releases following the prolonged erosion processes of uncontrolled oil and gas flows. Shallow quakes occur due to differential tensional forces caused by higher resistance at the generally younger Miocene formation and above. The shallow quakes also rejuvenated old fault lines and spread the sub-erosion process even wider. As the cycle repeats itself, leaks from abandoned wells and uneconomical-spent out reservoirs rejuvenated and accelerated along the weakened fault zones and precarious edges of the salt domes.
Yes BP underestimated the connected relationship between hydrates, faults, Quaternary Sediment and shallow earthquakes. The erosion rates were several factors faster than they had anticipated. Even before the 9.0 mag earthquake in Japan on 11 March 2011, scientists and research workers were already finding oily sediment buried beneath the seabed. We will come to this in part 2. Just 34 minutes after the giant quake, groundwater levels in South Florida fluctuate up to 3 inches for 2 hours (JapaneseQuake stirred Florida). P waves travelled through the earth at a much faster speed.
New 10 x 100 miles oil spill spotted after Japanese 9.0 mag Earthquake.
Independent pilots, including John Wathen of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and Bonnie Schumaker with Wings of Care, are currently flying out to investigate the spill. Schumaker reports having seen the sheen on Friday, March 18, and confirms that it is rapidly expanding. A Louisiana fisherman, who has chosen to remain anonymous at this time, also reports fresh oil coming ashore near South Pass, LA, and that cleanup crews are laying new boom near the beach.Initially the new oil spill was suspected to have come from the Matterhorn field operated by W&T Technology using the production rig, Matterhorn Seastar. The oil was suspected to have come from a leak in the producing well. The Matterhorn field is located approximately 20 miles north of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
A couple of days later, a Houston-based oil company came forward to accept responsibility for the mysterious spill near Grand Isle, although it says it remains "surprised" that what it thought was a minor discharge from a long dormant well could have produced miles-long slicks. The company said it had reconnected the wellhead structure Tuesday (22 March 2011) morning and fully shut it in by 8:30 p.m. The amount spilled was estimated to be less than 5 gallons.
This is probably the case of a convenient scapegoat who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even if the company had underestimated the amount spilled, the accidental spill which was reportedly noted over the weekend (19 / 20 March) could not account for the 10x100 miles sheen reported on 18 March. The Matterhorn Seastar did not report any spill. As a fully operational production rig, any spill would be an immediate concern. So unless the crews were sleeping on their job, they would have alerted the coast guards as soon as the oil sheen reached visible size like 1 to 2 miles diameters. I do not think American oil workers could be that slack, not to notice until it was over 100 miles long. Elementary, Watson!
Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners was caught in the act of an accidental spill but the timing and the amount spilled from a dead well could not account for the instantaneous sighting and extent of the observed spill; certainly not the tar-balls. Probably guilty of not reporting previous accidental spills, the guilty-conscious party jumped to admit responsibility. But are we truly happy with napping any culprit without ever knowing the true cause. Is justice truly served when the wrong corporation ends up taking the tab? Could Justice in America have sunk to the level of dictatorial 3rd world countries where an innocent can be sent to the gallows for justice to be seen to have been done? Surely not.
1 barrel of oil (US) is equivalent to 31.5 US gallons which is 7,276 cu.in. 10 x 100 miles is 1000 sq miles. So even if the oil is only 1 inch thick to produce the visible sheen from the air, that would mean 27,880,000,000 sq ft area or 4,014,720 million cu.inches of oil. Which means the “dead well” had to leak a total of 551,737,786 barrels of oil in a maximum of say 3 days. The rate of flow or leak would be an impossible 183,912,595 barrels per day. WOW! Even if the oil had been leaking for 7 days since the mega quake in Japan, that would still be a staggering 78.8 million barrels a day. So even if the oil sightings had been exaggerated, say only 1x1mile sheen, that would still mean the dead well had leaked 78,820 barrels/day for 7 days.
With such a fantastic production rate from a “dead well”, why was it dead in the first place and why would America need to import oil at all? For comparison, the Macondo well was initially reported to be gushing at only 5,000 barrels/day. Later it was revised to between 50,000 to 100,000 barrels/day. How many days did it take to reach the shores of Louisiana? Another clear example of Physics Of Impossibilities?
Even with a surface current of 3 knots (calm sea state is max 1 knot), it would have taken the oil 10 hours to reach the coast of Louisiana, 30 miles away. The company reported their crews have been monitoring the site since September and did not report any oil discharge until the end of last week. Even if the leak started on 18 March (Friday) the oil could not have been sighted simultaneously at the coast, 30 miles away. It would certainly take more than 30 hours for the oil leaking out from a single point to stretch 100 miles even assuming the volume and rate of leak can be justified. So either everyone is lying, exaggerating or the observed facts does not fit any one single source of leak. Simple logic dictates that there must have been simultaneous releases of oil spread over 100 miles rather than a single source. The long trauma of BP's mega oil spill had obviously taken a toll on rationality. Widely perceived to be inapt in handling the BP mega-oil spill, officials are quick to act and will grasp any illogical explanation, as if to compensate for past mistakes. Poor Anglo-Suisse!
But how could multiple oil releases be coordinated across 100 miles of ocean? Obviously the NW-SE fault zones played an important role in accumulating the shallow oil emplacement waiting to be triggered by an abnormal tectonic event. It is no coincidence the new oil spill was noticed just days after the 11 March11 Japan Earthquake.
What I have shown are simple basic quantitative estimates? Even if we reduced the 10x100 miles oil slick to just 1 sq mile, the leak from a single has to be staggering. Still physically impossible. Just because most of the oil exploration activities are offshore away from public scrutiny, many who were in charge of documentation thought they could easily fudge the data, dates, quantities etc mostly to cheat on time or to cover data which they had overlooked or had not acquired. There are plenty of examples. Just as the accumulated shallow oil will again be released by another quake, these data frauds and cheating will one day come back to bite us.
My purpose is not to ridicule but to illustrate a sleeping giant oil industry heavily intoxicated with high oil prices and greed. The bottom-line matters and corporate America is too high brow and too blind to see simple solutions and preventive measures at hand. Why would I risk my professional reputation in coming out with a qualitative geological model in late July 2010? Reading geohazardous conditions is not so difficult. It is the oil companies that are bullheaded in sidelining sound geohazards' advice and assessment. Even without detailed seismic data, a relatively accurate and reliable model can be estimated. The qualitative model turns out to be the most accurate todate – see figure 150-1.
Drilling risks can be assessed and minimised. Risk assessment is basically elimination of possibilities using quantitative estimates whenever possible. Geohazards prediction is not hoco-pocus, black magic art or voodoo science. The recent Japan Nuclear disaster could have easily been averted by locating all their nuclear plants on the north-western coasts, and not at the south-eastern coastline facing the greatest Tsunami threats. A quick look at the volcanic arc would show that locating a nuclear plant near to Sendai would be committing HaraKiri (excuse the term) if a mega quake were to occur.
Grossly expensive and grandiose schemes always proceed at bullet-train speed in their haste to beat the dateline and budget. Simple, logical and fundamental considerations get lost in the express-train schedule. With this Just-In-Time Business model, sadly the whole world is rushing towards another disaster......sigh!
The saga of Gulf 's Facts and Fictions ...continues
Part 2 - Mystery of the recent fish kills, mass bird deaths and other consequences of BP's Macondo BLOWOUT