With "Top Kill" a Failure, BP Goes Back to the Containment Dome Plan

By Andrew Moseman | June 1, 2010 9:41 am

gulfspill511At this point the question “now what?” has reached a sort of repetitive absurdity in the Gulf of Mexico. With BP having failed to stop its oil leak with robots and failed with containment domes and failed with the “top kill” maneuver, the company has decided it’s going to try the dome approach again.

On Monday, engineers positioned submarine robots that will try to shear off a collapsed 21-inch riser pipe with a razorlike wire studded with bits of industrial diamonds. If that is achieved, officials will need at least a couple of days to position a domelike cap over the blowout preventer [The New  York Times].

The cap is called the lower marine riser package (LMRP), and—stop me if you’ve heard this one—it’s never been tested at the depth of 5,000 feet, so BP has no idea whether it will work. The previous version of the containment dome had the same goal: establishing a seal on the seal and piping the oil up to a tanker on the surface. But because of buildup on the dome, that first attempt in early May was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the disastrous numbers just get worse. The oil spill is now worse than the Exxon Valdez and increasing in size by the day. Yesterday wind patterns from the south threatened to carry more oil toward Mississippi and Alabama. The fishing ban has been extended to nearly 62,000 square miles, or about a quarter of the Gulf.

And as more people clamor for President Obama to step in and do more, given BP’s ineptitude, it’s become clear that there’s not a lot he can do.

The public anger and frustration over the spill poses a major domestic challenge for Obama, who has been forced to admit publicly that the U.S. government and military do not have the technology to plug the leaking well and must leave this to BP and its private industry partners [MSNBC].

While Washington can’t stop the oil, one thing they can do is question and investigate the leaders of the companies involved. Today Obama meets with the leaders of the commission he formed two weeks ago to investigate the spill. And Eric Holder, the attorney general, is traveling to meet leaders and government prosecutors in the region, another hint that the Obama Administration is considering a criminal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon incident.

The opening of a criminal investigation or civil action against BP, if either were to happen, would create the unusual situation of the federal government weighing charges against a company that it is simultaneously depending on for the most critical elements of the response to the record oil spill [Washington Post].

Last week’s top kill maneuver failed, BP says, because the pressure of the gushing oil and gas was too intense to overcome with injections of heavy mud. As with that top kill effort, we’re now left with not much to do but hope for the best for BP’s current containment attempt. If it doesn’t work, there might not be another “now what?” other than waiting until drills finish the relief wells in August (supposing their work isn’t interrupted by hurricane season or some other new calamity).

Recent posts on the Gulf oil spill:
80beats: This Hurricane Season Looks Rough, And What If One Hits the Oil Spill?
80beats: We Did the Math: BP Oil Spill Is Now Worse Than the Exxon Valdez
80beats: “Top Kill” Operation Is Under Way in Attempt to Stop Gulf Oil Leak
80beats: Scientists Say Gulf Spill Is Way Worse Than Estimated. How’d We Get It So Wrong?
80beats: 5 Offshore Oil Hotspots Beyond the Gulf That Could Boom—Or Go Boom

Image: U.S. Coast Guard

  • NewEnglandBob

    I watched the Rachel Maddow segment on how BP is doing all the same failed steps that was done in the 1979 huge oil spill. The technology is no better now and these steps failed in 200 foot depth and now fail at 5000 foot depth.

  • JMW

    And as more people clamor for President Obama to step in and do more, given BP’s ineptitude, it’s become clear that there’s not a lot he can do.

    Being cynical about all politicians, I wonder if Obama isn’t waiting for the inevitable report which will read, in part, “…the federal government did not do enough research & development in the decades prior to this oil spill, and since the previous spill from a broken off-shore drill, to prepare for this catastrophe. The failure lies both with industry itself as well as with successive Republican governments which bowed to industry assurances that it could self-regulate…”

    If that’s what he is waiting for, it’ll likely backfire on him. There’s no reason the federal government can’t be doing something now to try to develop a new technique. It might not be needed for this spill, but it sure will be needed for the next one. Industry doesn’t have the forward thinking modes of thought required for this kind of research.

  • r. coleman

    No one’s to blame but the arrogance man, to think that we can contol forces that deep. nature has more suprises up her sleeve

  • r. coleman

    In the coming years mother nature has more surprises in store in resonse to our technological arrogance

  • rabidmob

    R. coleman that takes the blame all too easily away from those that cause the problem.

    Not only that but our technological arrogance is as much a necessity to us as air is to breath. For you see our ever increasing population needs ever increasing resources.

    There is only one way to stop that from occurring.

  • http://clubneko.net nick

    Fill their tankers with cement, sink them and cement them in around the gusher. A containment dome built like a pyramid to 1:1 scale or something. You know, just built a mountain on top of it.

    It’s not like they’re gonna need the tankers anyway when they go out of business over this. :) . Anyone with sense is dumping their stock like it’s gushing out the well down their with the oil. Hurricane scientists are warning we could be in for a doozy of a season. Any hurricane rolls through and they’ll have to pause all work until it’s gone.

    I think what BP is actually trying to do is get that oil under control so they can start making money off of that huge gushing jet of liquid black money down there. They could give a crap about the environment, all they see is dollar signs floating away on the currents towards our family and friends.

  • m

    gee…JMW doesn’t have an agenda.

    *rolls eyes*

    on the other hand i’m grateful for JMW’s post. it just goes to show you that liberals are stupid too.

  • Steve

    ” There is only one way to stop that from occurring.” Not sure what Rabidmob means by that…
    Caution must prevail when considering the potential for disaster, regardless of demand.
    The deep water drilling pushes the limits of our technological capability..Like anything else, things are fine when things are fine, but when disaster strikes, you had better be prepared for all possible scenarios…In the theatre of deepwater drilling we are not technologically capable of being adequately prepared. Therefore, when considering the potential consequences, we cannot justify deep water drilling due to our technological limitations.
    The spill in 79, Valdez, the Gulf..Are they truly disasters of enourmous magnitude? Certainly ecological and financial disasters but what do we know?
    What will tomorrow bring? I am inclined to agree with r. coleman..We do not fully understand the physics that we are attempting to manipulate. We could easily find ourselves in another situation that we cannot control that dwarfs our previous experience with disasters..
    What do you do when you have a huge oil leak 1 mile below the ocean surface?
    You drill two more wells right next to it to try to stop the first! What could possibly go wrong?

  • nick lange

    The easiest way I can think of is to use the design of the spillproof coffee cup, where the diameter is large at the bottom, tapering up in a cone then goes vertically a couple inches to the rim. You cut a hole the size you need to fit the damaged riser, so you can fit over it. This design would need valves in the bottom, probably. So, weld, then up to the throat of the top end, where in my vision I see it as larger diameter than the riser, even though it takes some pressure away, it’s not a lot. Bring down a pipe that is large enough to go over the throat of the ‘coffee cup’- with the valves open-, fit pipe, weld, close valves.

  • nick lange

    This design is weak at the intake. If the ‘coffee cup’ were made with a short sleeve at the intake it would help. Structural support AND mechanical fasteners would obviously be needed to absorb torque and shock when the new pipe mates down from above.

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