Oil Spill Update: A Saw Gets Stuck; Will Oil Be Leaking at Christmas?

By Andrew Moseman | June 2, 2010 2:33 pm

June2BPHere’s what’s new in the Gulf of Mexico:

1. Saw stuck.

When we left the BP oil spill yesterday, the “top kill” had failed and the “top cap” plan—cutting the pipe at a strategic location and then placing a containment dome on top—was commencing. But like every other BP attempt to stop the leak, the dome effort hit a snag.

The attempt bogged down overnight as a special diamond-wire saw snagged in the pipe. The work has stalled as BP tries two old logger tricks: changing the angle of the pipe to let the saw get through and, if that doesn’t work, bringing the saw to the surface to replace the blade [Christian Science Monitor].

What’s more, even if the saw gets free and BP successfully cuts the riser, the already-gushing flow of oil will increase by at least 20 percent between the time engineers finish the cut and the time they install the cap. Whether BP can install the cap, or instead a looser-fitting shell that would capture less of the oil, depends on how smoothly the company makes the final cut. Getting the saw stuck isn’t a good sign.

2. Criminal investigation.

The word is official now: Attorney General Eric Holder says the United States government will be opening a criminal investigation into the spill.

The attorney general said there was a range of possible violations under a number of statutes, including the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the Endangered Species Act. He said charges could include everything ranging from “false statements” to “the way in which certain entities conducted themselves.” Mr. Holder said his department had instructed all relevant parties to preserve documents. “If we find evidence of illegal behavior we will be extremely forceful in our response,” he said, adding that “we have what we think is a sufficient basis for us to have begun a criminal investigation” [Wall Street Journal].

3. Dreaming of a crude Christmas?

Through all the failures by BP to plug the well, there’s always been the hope in the background that even if nothing works, the relief wells will be completed in August and finally put an end to this toxic mess. But like everything else happening at a depth of 5,000 feet, even this is no guarantee.

It took Mexico’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, nine months to plug its Ixtoc I well after an explosion and fire in 1979. The company’s first attempt with a relief well failed, so it had to drill a second. Eventually, more than 140 million gallons of crude spilled into the Gulf of Mexico — the biggest offshore oil spill on record [Bloomberg].

BP is drilling two wells simultaneously as an insurance policy. But energy expert Dan Pickering told Bloomberg that if something went wrong and delayed those operations, he could envisions a scenario in which oil still leaks at Christmastime. Of course, the actual worst-case would be if no one ever successfully stops the leak, in which case it could continue for more than a decade.

4. New wells will go on.

And yet, offshore drilling will continue. We need our gas, we need our plastic. The AP reports today that the federal government has approved the first new shallow water well since President Obama lifted the drilling ban there last week. The moratorium on deep water drilling continues.

Previous posts on the BP oil spill:
80beats: With “Top Kill” a Failure, BP Goes Back to the Containment Dome Plan
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?

Image: BP

  • clint sawyer

    I have a simple inexpensive sollution, that would even keep the well a viable well, but no way to be heard.

  • Mike McCurley

    This is the first “good” news I’ve heard. If Pemex took 9 months to plug their leak, and that one didn’t kill the Gulf, hopefully it’ll survive this one, although I bet the people in Louisiana aren’t real impressed with that thought. Mother Nature sure is being patient with her idiot children…

  • Brandon


  • http://mustangld@yahoo.com Ray Peterson

    I would like to hear more about your cure.

  • Joe Mauldin

    Here’s an idea. There’s no reason why BP can’t simply back-fill the well with Portland cement using a high pressure pump. Portland cement is a hydraulic cement which means that it sets and hardens due to a chemical reaction with water. Consequently, it will harden under water. Once the leak has been sealed, BP can tap into the same oil deposit by drilling a new well. This is a very practical and cost effective solution to the problem.

  • Karyn

    Clint – I too would like to hear your idea.

  • Wil Ferch

    If there are any ideas you’d like to submit for consideration to mitigate or fix the Gulf oil leak, here is a website specifically set up for this. Holy Smokes!…. it took only about a 5 minute search on the internet to find this. What do you you mean there is no way to get a message heard?


  • Art

    If you have an idea, unless you’re trying to get rich, just paste it anywhere you can, and maybe someone with some pull will see it, and implement it.

  • John

    BP pumped mud down a pipe to attempt thier top kill. This pipe had to be quite large as they pumped a very high rates (65 bpm). This mud entered below th blind rams which they were unable to plug with thier junk shot and a portion of the mud came out the BOP’s. the remainder of the mud was pumped down the wellbore. It would seem simplle to flow the well up this pipe as the seawater is exerting a pressure of near 2400 psi at the BOP’s and the flowing oil and gas gradient would be sufficiently light enough to allow a quite high flow rate. If the pressure at the Bop’s was pulled down below the seawater pressure the BOP’s could be plugged from the outside and the well flowed at a sufficient rate to stop the spill. I have attempted to submit this idea to BP but have not had any responce

  • Adam

    Two suggestions to stop the leak…

    1) Stick a pipe with an expandable tip down the well, and expand it until it’s plugged. This could be a tight-fitting expandable bladder filled with high-density mud, or it could be a pipe that splays open at the tips like a veggie steamer.

    2) Place a grate over the pipe, then re-do the “junk shot”. That junk needs something to snag on.

  • http://clubneko.net nick

    Guys, you’re missing the point here. BP doesn’t want to plug the well, the want to fix it and get it operational so they can make money off of it. That’s why they’re doing one useless thing after another. Until they’re actually trying to stop it and not just get it working this will never end.

  • Karyn

    Hi Joe Mauldin and the World –
    The reason they can’t “Plug the Hole” is they would loose all that precious liquid cash…… loose access. I have been told that even the product syphoned off the surface can be processed and sold. As usual its the evil $ that will keep this animal alive.

  • Karyn

    and folks Our Adminsitration is supporting BP’s thinking – afterall criminal investigations AT THIS TIME is merely a distraction – should be shelved until after the flow is contained. MAKE NOISE email the Government demanding resolution until they do.

  • Nick

    I’m a mechanical engineer so I have an understanding of the science about what BP is doing. Trust me…those guys would trade their left nut to be doing something besides fighting that beast. What they are trying to do is extremely difficult. You’d better believe that BP’s goal is to stop oil from flowing into the ocean… and start flowing into their tankers. Our focus needs to be asking “WHY” it happened in the first place and making the responsible ones accountable for this world-class blunder.

  • Brian Too

    The whole time this is going on, BP is losing money, losing reputation, and losing time. Suggestions that BP “wants” the spill to continue make no sense to me at all. BP is going to be living this down for the next 10 years. Even their competitors are going to be down on them for creating additional regulations (very likely now) and a less cozy relationship with regulators.

    The problem I would suggest, isn’t a lack of ideas. I’ll bet they have dozens, and hundreds more impractical ones. By all means submit yours, but it’s going to compete in a crowded field.

    It’s like computing. There are scads of ideas and not enough resources to try them all. You pick the best ones and implement as effectively as you can. Is it possible to miss a good one? Of course! Would that discarded good one be better than what you chose to go with? Ah, that’s the real question. What’s the opportunity cost? And there’s no sure way of knowing, even if the “winning” idea fails. The “losing” idea might have failed too.

  • Wesley

    I have an idea to stop the spill. How about just waiting till it runs out? Is the reservoir really that big anyway? At the rate it’s flowing out it should run out in a few months or a year, and than BP can just harvest oil right off the water instead of all the messy business of having to drill for it, which apparently they aren’t that good at anyway…

    The unemployed fishermen can start casting their nets for crude instead of fish! They’ll probably earn more! I really don’t see where the downside is in all this

  • richard

    my god havent they heard of mighty putty yet?

  • lee

    Send sponge Bob to soak up all that oil.

  • Steve

    They are cutting the pipe right above a bolted flange. Why can’t they cut the bolts, remove the top of the flange, send down a new top end already equipped with a shut off and bolt it down, close the shut off. That would allow them to stop the leak and tap into the top of the shut off to commence pumping. Perhaps they do not have the dexterity to put nuts on bolts at that depth but replacing the top half of a flange is plumbing 101. http://www.laminadielectrics.com/images/apps-flangeinsulationkit.jpg

  • Steve
  • fatkid

    We have literally wiped out 90% of ocean life in little more than 100 years. Pemex devastated the envirenment profoundly, now this spill is shaping up to pass any ever seen.

    We are like the frogs boiling to death because they dont know theres a flame under their pot. If the oil were pumped and not spilled, it doesnt just vanish. We eat drink and breathe the stuff.

  • Mel

    Just a thought!!!

    I have worked in the mechanical trades for over 20 years. When I saw the diamond wheeled saw It reminded me of the saw we have in the shop and like most saw they do not like to be in a bind. Bp was harping on a smooth cut. I must agree. I believe in order to this they should move up on the pipe and make a rough cut. To keep the saw from binding they would need to reposition the saw as it break through the pipe. Once the heavy end is severed you can lower the saw down and continue with smooth cut. This should keep the saw from binding.

    I am not sure why they have not tried cutting the bolts. It seems just as doable as sawing the pipe.

  • Mel

    Sheers will not leave a smooth cut. Not sure what the thinking is.

  • Adam

    They people with the consipiracy theories about BP WANTING the oil to keep leaking are out of their minds. This will set their company, and off-shore drilling in general, back decades. They’re also not only losing millions of dollars of oil per day, but losing even more money in environmental damage.

    Besides- they’re already drilling TWO new wells within yards of the existing well. They really don’t need that particular f***edup hole.

    Trust me- they really want to stop this thing. It’s in everyone’s interest.

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/16/magazine/16Leviev-t.html Leviev

    i agree with steve it seems like a simple enough idea i couldnt imagine that they wouldn’t have thought of that though.


    I don’t know for sure, but would surmise that as the saw was making the kerf in the pipe it got to a point that the force of the oil gushing out caused the diamond tipped blade to bind. Possibly they could just saw deep enough into the pipe to cut through and then reposition the saw and do it again until they had worked around the pipe.
    Ergo! The pipe is cut and time to begin the capping.

  • bp sucks


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