Liveblogging Top Kill

Thursday 5/27: Top Kill efforts delayed, because too much mud is escaping out of the leaking equipment along with the oil.

Last thoughts of the day: the Wall Street Journal notes:

The plume of mud is “a good sign,” suggesting that the fluid is exerting enough pressure to stem the flow of crude and natural gas, said Don Van Nieuwenhuise, a professor of petroleum geosciences at the University of Houston. “If the pressure wasn’t great enough it would be mud and oil.”

On the other hand, Rachel Maddow points out that a top kill type maneuver – pumping in cement and saltwater – was tried during the giant 1979 Ixtoc oil spill, but didn’t work. She also says the company operating the drilling well (Transocean), the cause of the spill (malfunctioning blowout preventer), the location of the spill (the Gulf), the large size of the spill, the use of “top hat” (then called “operation sombrero”), the use of chemical dispersants made from jet fuel, and junk shots all occurred in 1979 as well. Maddow says that nothing worked until the relief wells were completed 10 months later. In other words, while the technology for drilling has improved (we can drill much deeper), the technology for stopping oil gushers hasn’t really improved.

5:29: Suttles said that BP will know the operation is a success from (1) visual observations and – more importantly – (2) pressure data. Specifically, when pressure data over a period of time shows that no oil is flowing up in the well, then BP will know the operation is a success

5:07: BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles says at Coast Guard press conference that it is too early to know if Top Kill will be successful. Will take 24 hours to find out. So far, it’s going according to plan. 7,000 of barrels of mud have been pumped so far, up to 65 barrels per minute. Increase in volume at the riser was expected. One of the ROV’s video cams is obstructed by all of the mud.

4:35: Coast Guard will give an update on the Top Kill effort at 5:00 p.m. Central Time.

4:06: CNN reports :

BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward said Wednesday it will be 24 hours before authorities will know whether the “top kill” effort to plug the runaway oil leak in the Gulf is working.

Speaking from a command center in Houston, Texas, nearly four hours after the effort began, Hayward said the operation was going according to plan, but cautioned against trying to reach any conclusions based on the video shots from the stricken well a mile below the surface.

“It’s unlikely to give us any indication of what’s really going on,” he said. “Increases or decreases are not an indicator of success or failure at this time. We will be continuing for at least another 24 hours, and it will be 24 hours before we will know whether or not this has been successful.”

Earlier, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had said he expected to know Wednesday night whether BP’s “top kill” attempt to plug the runaway oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is working.

3:46 Volume spewing from riser seems to be increasing noticeably. It could be that spill is worsening, or it could be that the volume of mud being pumped into the well by BP is being increased.

3:41: Color of material shooting out of risers is getting darker. Either the type of mud being used is changing, or the mud-to-water ratio is changing.

3:25: The water has noticeably darkened around the BOP (see for example the second feed from left on the top row of the CNN feeds). Remember, this is more than a mile underwater, so no daylight reaches spill zone. I’m not sure whether leak volume has increased, chemical composition has changed to a darker substance or something has changed on the video cam itself.

3:15: Increased turbidity (cloudiness in the water) surrounding the BOP. New leak?

3:06: CNN is reporting that – according to BP – there is no news (either good or bad) to report on the procedure.

2:29: CNN now has a single webpage with 8 different feeds. Each feed is small, but you can get an overview from starting with CNN’s site.

2:00: Please note, it is very difficult for laypeople to have perspective on whether Top Kill is working or not. Things could very well look worse before they get better.

For example, BP is trying to pump a lot of mud down the line at high pressure. This could be spewing back up through the riser, before the whole spill is shut down.

1:50: Definitely numerous, light-colored plumes shooting up from the riser and seabed.

1:43: Either new leaks are springing from the seabed itself, or the color of the leak is changing to a lighter color and we can see more detail of the leaks from the riser.

1:29: This is the moon landing moment of this generation. People around the world are watching live feed of the attempt to stop the oil leak.

1:25: Red clots of matter raining down from somewhere. I’m not sure where.

1:24: Riser leak looks worse, and more methane hydrates. This is not necessarily unexpected, as shutting off most of leak from BOP could increase pressure of oil in riser.

1:07: Methane hydrates (snowflake like methane crystals, also known as “clathrates“) spewing from the riser. Not in worrying amounts, it is just interesting to watch. For more on methane hydrates, see this.

12:53: I’ve added two PBS website feeds, showing the leaking riser. Obviously, the riser is still gushing.

12:43: Technical problems with video cams. I’ll take a quick break and see if they fix them.

12:26: The underwater cameras have been inspecting the BOP for some time. To my untrained eye, it looks like much of the BOP is still intact, although I noticed a small leak, and some equipment breaks.

The camera panned around, and there are still 1 or 2 big gushers coming from elsewhere (One of them looks like the main leaking riser which has been filed over the past couple of days, although it’s hard to tell).

Noon: A Coast Guard spokesman just said could take 3-4 days to know if top kill is working. Similarly, AP notes:

BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said the company will pump mud for hours, and officials have indicated it may be a couple of days before they know whether the procedure is working.

Indeed, as BP notes on its live cam webpage:

Throughout the extended top kill procedure – which may take up to two days to complete – very significant changes in the appearance of the flows at the seabed may be expected. These will not provide a reliable indicator of the overall progress, or success or failure, of the top kill operation as a whole.

11:52: Remember, BP has two purposes in video inspections:

(1) To see what is happening now, in terms of stopping the oil spill, and to see which equipment is likely to break of spring a new leak;


(2) Documenting for use in future lawsuits, to determine whether BP, Transocean, Halliburton or someone else was the primary negligent party.

11:50 a.m. Pacific Standard Time: BP is implementing the Top Kill method on the oil spill right now.

I can see it on the live video feed (I am providing feed from fives websites, as they some sites are periodically going down):

WKRG’s Website

Congressman Markey’s Website

BP’s Website

PBS’ Website
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AP notes:

Bob Bea, an engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said the procedure carries a high risk of failure because of the velocity at which the oil may be spewing.

“I certainly pray that it works, because if it doesn’t there’s this long waiting time” before BP can dig relief wells that would cut off the flow, Bea said.

For more on Professor Bea, see this.

Godspeed …

Updates to follow.

For running comments from oil industry insiders, see The Oil Drum.

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