Return Of The BP Zombie Well

by Fintan Dunne, 14 August 2010 00:35amEST

The Gulf's 'Zombie' well is not dead after all, ex-Admiral Thad Allen admitted in a press briefing today, brushing aside earlier official pronouncements that the well was "static," and optimistic spin that a relief well might never be needed.

"We will kill the well," the national incident commander told journalists, while brandishing a wooden stake and wearing a string of powerful Haitian Ju-Ju beads. [/satire]

Allen denied comments that he, BP and the Obama scientific team are now as far up Shit Creek as they have ever been, because they applied a band-aid-like top kill and cement to the interior of the leaking oil pipe, when all signs pointed to oil flowing outside the pipe.

"Shit Creek?,"Allen replied when queried. "Not sure if we have any response teams operating there. But if we're not there now, you can rest assured we soon will be." [/satire]

During this week, officials were enthusiastically briefing journalists about the good chances that the well was already permanently plugged. And today, the cheery talk was about plans to replace the BOP. That's confidence for you. A confidence trick, in fact.

Because over the same time period as these happy expectations were being spun to the media, the Unified Command was also severely reducing the full test information they once provided. Gone are the days of actual pressure readings, flow rates etc.. And meanwhile BP have blanked some undersea ROV feeds and degraded the quality of others --while Allen has claimed to have published test data which no one can subsequently find online.

In truth, the 'Static Kill' of the last few weeks was a questionable patch-up job which imperiled the well integrity in pursuit of BP's and the Obama administration's PR objectives. Oil industry veteran, Bob Cavnar was scathing in a comment on Daily Kos: "They risked completely uncontrolled flow to get it off the television."

Here's what Cavnar means: the troubled history of this Mocando well is well known to have included a number of so-called 'well control' problems during drilling.

That's testimony to the fragmented nature of the strata through which the well bore was driven. That fragmentation allows drilling mud to leach into the surrounding formation and oil to bleed into the sea floor strata.

Those well control issues and a low 6,700psi reading from the BOP were warnings that the well bore is compromised. After installing the new cap on the rogue well, the smart move would have been to continue to draw oil from the cap to surface ships --thus reducing pressures within the system.

But that wouldn't have had the required PR punch. Not enough positive impact on Obama's poll ratings or BP's share price. And the last few weeks have been about PR --not sound oil engineering practice. It's also been a time of downright lies. That's why we were given no hard data.

The officials lied when they claimed the recent Static Kill had been a success. Oil has been visibly coming out of valves and seals on the sea floor equipment. A truly static well has balanced the pressure from oil below with mud above and does not have pressure. Those visible oil leaks evidence a pseudo-static kill.

The lies continued today. Only yesterday the official line from Allen was that if pressure today was stable it meant no bottom kill was needed because stable pressure implied the annulus around the pipe is plugged from the bottom with cement.

Today he said the pressure was stable and the annulus is plugged from the bottom with cement, but they will do a bottom kill via relief well anyway. He also said that during today's testing the pressure did not change... "appreciably." He didn't clarify if the un-appreciable change was a fall or more logically: a pressure RISE.

Someone did not tell AP reporter, Tom Breen that the spin was to be solidly optimistic today --despite the fact that the proceedings revealed the 'Static Kill' has left the Zombie well free to rise again.

Breen reported as follows for AP:
Officials had been testing the pressure beneath the cement plug currently in place. Steady pressure would indicate the presence of cement in the space between the inner piping and the outer casing, likely indicating a permanent seal.

But because pressure rose during the testing, the scientists concluded that space still needs to be plugged in.

That's simple logic from Breen, who clearly can understand the basics of how wells work. But there are now two versions of the truth:
Truth Version A - Thad Allen:

No appreciable pressure change, so the well's not flowing up the outside of the pipe. But we're going to do a relief well bottom kill anyway--just to be sure. Not because we have to. Just to be on the safe side. Purely precautionary.

Truth Version B - Tom Breen of AP:

Pressure rose, so the well must be flowing up the outside of the pipe. Now we've no choice but to do a relief well bottom kill. We have to. It's still flowing underground.

It must be BP's relentless lying during the whole of this sorry episode that inclines me to believe Tom Breen and not Thad Allen. That and the simple logic that an un-admitted pressure rise would be a proper reason for proceeding to do a necessary bottom kill.

Instead of this dangerous charade, the Unified Command could be producing oil to ships right now and only closing down the system when the relief well is just poised to intersect.

That would have avoided an unnecessary weeks-long pressure rise and the inevitable further pressure-driven fracturing of vulnerable strata down hole. Those vulnerabilities could now complicate the bottom kill attempt and potentially render it impossible.

Too high a price to pay for BP's PR benefit.

Thad Allen has been turned into BP's Go-fer.

We are now back where we were weeks ago -only worse.

Say hello to the Zombie well.


  1. what i would like to know is just how bad is this
    what should we expect?

  2. I believe that what they have been trying to do is find a way to cap the leaking well and use the relief well for production.

  3. I believe the reason they are letting Thad Allen do all the talking is precisely because he is not an oil drilling specialist. This ensures that he won't understand everything and as a result that his delivery will be confusing the public with the aim of discouraging any further attempts at understanding what is really going on.

    I for one would like to see the schematics of a normal oil well in longitudinal and cross sections with all the technical words pointing to the relevant parts. This would help me understand.

  4. You statement that the leaks at the BOP only proves you don't know what you are talking about. They may be evidence and they may not. With a static well there would still be a pressure deferental between the inside and out side of the BOP. Oil an gas leaking out could be residual oil & gas left behind in the BOP and the 3000 ft of drillpipe that I believe was bypassed during the static kill process.

    I am not saying the well is dead, in fact I believe it is leaking an as I have always believed the RW is the proper way to kill it. I am just saying don't jump to conclusions based on evedence that may or may not point in that direction. Most of my conclusions are based on 55 years in the oil patch.

  5. I appreciate your blog for what it is, humor is always nice,.." Mocondo " is sic. Jes' sayin'..

  6. Geetings,

    Arabella 33 and BeePeeOilDisaster on their Youtube channel have been closely watching the live feeds and making records of some of the anomalies. I (Arabella33) Have witnessed the feed where the pressure gage showed an increase of pressure to 1500 (unfortunatly did not record it) and then dropped back to 800 within seconds. Than BeePeeOilDisateter recorded a further drop to less than 600 where it stayed. Go to BeePee to watch the pressure drop. Watch our videos to see the many anomalies caught and recorded.


  7. This is Fishgrease from DKos.

    Superb treatment of the facts, Fintan.

    You've got everything right. Everything.

    Good to know there are islands of truth in this sea of lies. And to correct an anonymous poster here, yes, the leaks on the BOP do mean that the well is not dead.


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