BP’s Macondo site is still leaking – and NO, it’s NOT from the riser pipe

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UPDATES:

No, the Gulf Oil “Sheen” Is Not Oil Coming from the BP Wreckage

Mirrored from Washington’s Blog:

Now that the new oil “sheen” has been confirmed by the government as coming from BP’s crippled Macondo well, BP’s fallback position is that the new sheen is just oil leaking from the wreckage of the drilling rig lying on the bottom of the ocean.

As Bloomberg reports:

“The exact source of the sheen is uncertain at this time, but could be residual oil associated with wreckage and/or debris left on the seabed from the Deepwater Horizon incident,” according to the statement.

***

“The most likely source is the bent riser pipe that once connected the rig to the well head, where a mix of oil, drilling mud and seawater were trapped after the top kill operation,” Brett Clanton, a spokesman for London-based BP, said in an e- mailed statement today.

Similarly, the Press-Register reported last year, in connection with a separate 10-mile oil slick linked to BP’s stricken well:

Scientific analysis has confirmed that oil bubbling up above BP’s sealed Deepwater Horizon well in recent days is a chemical match for the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil that spewed into the Gulf last summer.

The Press-Register collected samples of the oil about a mile from the well site on Tuesday and provided them to Ed Overton and Scott Miles, chemists with Louisiana State University.

The pair did much of the chemical work used by federal officials to fingerprint the BP oil, known as MC252.

“After examining the data, I think it’s a dead ringer for the MC252 oil, as good a match as I’ve seen,” Overton wrote in an email to the newspaper. “My guess is that it is probably coming from the broken riser pipe or sunken platform. … However, it should be confirmed, just to make sure there is no leak from the plugged well.

But there is not that much oil in the riser. As the Washington Post ?reported Wednesday:

Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, said a rough calculation showed that the riser, if full of oil, could hold about 1,000 barrels of oil. Becauseit’s open on two ends it is unlikely to have that much oil, she said.

Indeed, Dr. Ian MacDonald – an expert in deep-ocean extreme communities including natural hydrocarbon seeps, gas hydrates, and mud volcano systems, a former long-time NOAA scientist, and a professor of Biological Oceanography at Florida State University- told us today:

The key statement in the BP discussion was the fact that oil recovered on the ocean surface was not biodegraded. This is not consistent with a pool of oil supposedly trapped in the wreckage of the riser, which would have been exposed to ambient bacterial activity for over two years.

We asked Dr. MacDonald whether the “drilling mud” which BP pumped into the riser might have inhibited bacterial degradation of the oil.

He responded:

It’s not uncommon to observe mounds of drilling mud near well bores. They are often colonized by the chemosynthetic bacteria Beggiatoa, which implies intense degradation of the mud by heterotrophicbacteria.

In other words, the drilling mud likely would not have slowed down degradation of the oil, and the fact that fresh oil is appearing at the surface in the Gulf implies ongoing leaks.

So where is the oil coming from?

We’re not sure yet. But top oil spill experts – such as UC Berkeley professor and government consultant Robert Bea and LSU professor Ed Overton – have told us that oil blowouts such as the one in the Gulf can create new pathways to the seafloor and enlarge natural oil seeps … so that leaks can continue for years.

And as we noted in March:

In June of 2010, BP officials admitted to damage beneath the seafloor under BP’s Gulf Macondo well.

Numerous scientists have speculated that the blowout and subsequent clumsy attempts by BP to plug the well could have created new seeps, and made pre-existing natural seeps bigger.

~~~~

From Stuart Smith Confirmed: Fresh BP Oil from Deepwater Horizon Site Still Polluting the Gulf

But the more troubling and arguably more likely possibility — which we’ve been reporting on this blog dating back to August 2011 – is that efforts to cap the BP well in 2010 could have created cracks, or fissures, in the floor of the Gulf. That raises the specter of an ongoing spill that is more serious in nature, and more difficult to contain and clean-up. The initial response from BP and from the feds in 2011 was to try to first ognore and then deny our reporting — until our colleague Bonny Schumaker flew over the site and confirmed the leak. This time, the feds did not seem in a hurry to confirm our publicize the BP connection. There needs to be a serious and thorough investigation into how much oil is still leaking, and why.

From National Geographic Probe deepens on new oil linked to BP’s site

Underwater video the Coast Guard released one year ago (October 2011) showed no leakage visible from the Deepwater Horizon riser pipe. Now, BP and Transocean will deploy submarine cameras to survey the wreckage again to trace oil matched to the site. Still image of video from U.S. Coast Guard media library.

BP and its rig contractor, Transocean, will deploy robotic submarine cameras to the wreckage of the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon at the floor of the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, as they, under U.S. Coast Guard supervision, try to pinpoint the source of an oil sheen that appeared at the site last month, the government said last night.

The Coast Guard earlier this week said its own laboratory testing showed oil from the slick matched oil from BP’s 2010 spill. This latest development indicates the government is not satisfied with BP’s explanation that the oil likely came from a leak in the bent riser pipe that once connected the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to the Macondo well. Officials have noted that the pipe lies on the bottom of the sea floor with both ends open.

Now, the Coast Guard says, BP and Transocean have agreed to make satellite observations and to mobilize “ROVs,” or remotely operated vehicles, to examine the original Macondo well area, including the wreckage, debris, and the riser on the sea floor.

This is not the first time that authorities have investigated reports of oil near the Macondo site. At least one leak in the immediate aftermath of the spill was traced to another well. And exactly one year ago, responding to other reports of oil on the Gulf surface near Macondo, the Coast Guard released robot submarine video of both the riser and the well (see photo above) to show that no leaks from the debris were visible. But this is the first time since the capping of the BP well that new oil has been chemically fingerprinted to match the 4.9 million barrels that gushed into the Gulf in the spring and summer of 2010.

[Editor’s note: Not true! This was not the first time a reported slick near the Macondo was matched to BP. In September 2011, Ed Overton determined oil from a slick near Macondo was
identical to BP’s. See Al Jazeera’s BP Settles While Macondo Seeps
]

To gain some insights on what might be happening at the site of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, I emailed Robert Bea, professor emeritus in engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, a former oil industry executive who has spent years studying catastrophic engineering failure. He has closely followed the Deepwater Horizon disaster from the beginning.

“I am skeptical that the current leakage is coming from the riser,” he said by email. “The riser has been collapsed for a long time… exposed to severe currents and hurricanes… lots of movements to encourage oil to escape if it could.”

Instead, he suggests another possible explanation: “The leakage could be coming from the fissures—fractures to the sea floor that connect to the ‘sealed’ Macondo well…. or that connect to fractures in the Macondo reservoir.”

This would not necessarily be cause for alarm, Bea said, noting that there are numerous natural oil seeps in the sea floor. Indeed, more than 1,300 barrels of oil a day seep naturally into the Gulf of Mexico, according to a 2002 report by the U.S. National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

But any seeping of fresh oil from the Macondo reservoir could greatly complicate the negotiations now underway to settle BP’s liability for the 2010 disaster.

The Coast Guard’s original statement, while noting the source was unknown, did say the oil “could be residual oil associated with wreckage and/or debris left on the seabed,” and some of the original news coverage of these latest developments said the oil tested showed signs of drilling mud, which would bolster that conclusion.

But I called the U.S. Coast Guard Eighth District in Louisiana yesterday to check on this point. Spokesman Ryan Tippets said that the Coast Guard’s lab tests did not detect presence of drilling mud in the oil sample.

Bea said the only way to pinpoint the source is to do the kind of survey that now appears to be planned: “The source/s of the current oil ‘leakage’ can be determined after a thorough ROV camera survey is done of the immediate and surrounding areas,” he wrote by email, adding that such an endeavor is “not quick, easy, or free.”

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One thought on “BP’s Macondo site is still leaking – and NO, it’s NOT from the riser pipe

  1. Pingback: BP settles while Macondo ‘seeps’ – Dahr Jamail | Gulf Leak Watch

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