All eyes on Macondo slick

 Oil booms placed in preparation of the looming oil spill from last week's collapse and spill from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig are seen along the shoreline in Port Eads, Thursday, April 29, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Coastal defence: orange oil booms have been placed along the Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi coastlines a bit to catch oil leaking from Macondo before it makes landfall

Oil leaking from the blownout Macondo well is lying just off Louisiana’s Mississippi Delta, but the US Coast Guard said no confirmed reports of the slick reaching beaches or sensitive coastal wetlands had been received.

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Shaun Eggert told Upstream that teams from UK supermajor BP, which is responsible for cleaning up the slick, were investigating reports of possible landfalls.

Reuters said oil from the slick was last reported to be lying about three miles (five kilometres) off parts of the Mississippi Delta.

There are fears the oil could pollute the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

A NOAA projection of the spill's extent, released last night, can be viewed here.

Louisiana declared a state of emergency yesterday as the oil spread closer to shore and federal officials upgraded the incident to the level of a national threat.

The spill is being fed by oil leaking at a rate of about 5000 barrels per day from the Macondo well, which lies in Mississippi Block 252 in 5000 feet of water, about 40 miles (64 kilometres) off the Lousiana coast.

The leak follows an explosion and fire that destroyed the semi-submersible drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which was being leased by BP from drilling giant Transocean.

Eleven crew are still missing, presumed dead, and three are critically injured after an explosion last Tuesday blamed on a well blowout . More than 100 people were evacuated from the rig, which sank 36 hours after the blast.

Aerial inspection

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has ordered Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to tour the affected coastal areas today to inspect efforts to fight the spill.

The three will overfly the area affected by the leak from the blown-out Macondo well and will meet with BP officials to discuss the company’s response to the disaster. The will also meet with local, state and federal officials involved in the response to the spill.

Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano said earlier that the slick was now “a spill of national significance”, a decision which unlocks unlocking further federal resources to help combat it.

President Obama said yesterday his administration would “use every single available resource” to fight the spill and the continuing leak.

Salazar met late yesterday with leaders in the US offshore industry to discuss the sector’s response to the Deepwater Horizon crisis.

Salazar discussed immediate steps major offshore players could take to reduce the potential for a similar “catastrophic” blowout from occurring, according to a Department of the Interior Statement.

“Though this type of incident is rare, it is very serious, and we expect industry to be fully complying with the law and to be taking aggressive measures to ensure that this type of incident does not happen again,” Salazar said.

‘All hands on deck’

He told top industry executives of to “get all hands on deck” to provide more containment and cleanup equipment to fight the massive slick.

“We also want to ensure that they are providing every resource and every idea available to help,” he said.

Representatives of supermajors Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPHillips and major independents Anadarko Petroleum, Apache, Devon Energy, Hess, Occidental, Murphy Oil, Murphy Oil and XTO, among others, were reported to have attended the meeting at the Department of the Interior’s offices.

BP had representatives at the meeting, a spokesman confirmed separately.

The spokesman added BP chief executive Tony Hayward was not able to attend the meeting as he had returned to the UK after a week in New Orleans, but had met with Salazar previously during his visit.

Oilfield services company Halliburton, which was understood to hold a cementing contract aboard the Deepwater Horizon, was also due to send representatives.

Salazar earlier met with BP officials at the central command centre set up near New Orleans to co-ordinate the response to the disaster.

He was briefed on the company’s latest efforts to fight the spill and stop the continuing leaks from the blown out well.

The secretary “expressed concern that additional help would be needed in shutting down the well”.

“Because BP is responsible for this incident, we are working with them to monitor, assist and expedite their efforts to stop the leak from their damaged wellhead and are enlisting the expertise and resources of industry leaders to do everything possible to limit the potential impacts of this tragedy on coastal communities, wildlife, and other environmental resources,” Salazar said.

“As Secretary Napolitano has directed, this is an incident of national significance and we are devoting every resource to the response effort.”

Welcome assistance

BP said it had welcomed an offer of assistance from the US Defence Department to help contain the slick.

The US Navy is reportedly sending additional skimmers and boom to the Gulf Coast.

BP has asked the Defence Department if it had access to better aerial imaging to monitor the spill or better remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) technology to help in attempt to plug the leaking well.

The number of vessels working on the spill now has swelled to 76, BP said yesterday.

Skimmers have so far gathered about 18,000 barrels of oily water, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said, but added those operations will likely be forced to stop soon due to bad weather.

BP also completed the first controlled burn of a small portion of the slick.

The burn, which consumed about 100 barrels of oil, started at 4:45pm on Wednesday.

“The technique clearly worked,” Suttles said.

In the future, Suttles said he thinks that crews could increase the size of the burns to between 500 barrels and 1000 barrels at a time.

Burns require calm seas, however, and right now no further burns are scheduled because of rough weather moving into the Gulf.

Suttles said he was excited about the possibility of piping dispersant under the water to try to break up the oil before it hits the surface.

The new technique has not been tried in the past in the Gulf, but Suttles said experts that BP has consulted believe it might be more effective than aerial spraying.

BP has a reel of coiled tubing and dispersants ready to deploy and is waiting government approval.

Suttles hoped to have the system deployed last night.

The UK supermajor has called in experts from peers ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and Anadarko to the BP command centre in Houston to consult on techniques to both close the well and address the spill.

BP is spending more than $6 million per day on the effort to kill the blowout and contain the spill, with some analysts already claiming the total cost of the incident will top $8 billion.

Subsea struggle

Efforts were continuing to kill the leak using remotely operated vehicles to attempt to activate the well blowout preventer (BOP), which failed to automatically shut-in the well.

Oil is leaking from the end of a section of riser still attached to the well. BP said yesterday that it had discovered a second breach in the marine riser just above the BOP, which means oil is leaking from three sites on the riser.

The additional leak is not a sign that the integrity of the riser is deteriorating and does not foretell an increase in output from the well, Suttles said.

BP admitted that flows from the well could be more than the 1000 barresl per day originally estimated after the the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Wednesday revised its estimate for the amount of oil leaking from the well to 5000 bpd.

“What we can actually measure is what we see on the surface,” he said, explaining that there was no way to measure the actual outflow from the subsea well.

“We don’t think it represents any difference in the sense of the pressure or flow rate,” he said.

Attempts to shut off the flow through the BOP with an ROV have not been successful, Suttles said, but those efforts will continue once the weather calms. BP plans to use six different ROVs working simultaneously.

BP spokesman Daren Beaudo confirmed earlier that the company had contracted three ROV support vessels, each carrying a pair of ROVs; Ocean Intervention III from Oceaneering, Boa Sub C which is on long-term charter to Aker Marine Contractors and Skandi Neptune from Subsea 7.

Meanwhile, inspectors from the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) fanned out across the Gulf of Mexico to check BOPs on other project after reports that the crew of the Deepwater Horizon had tried to activate the rig's BOP manually before being forces to abandon the vessel.

Suttles said interviews with Transocean workers on the rig revealed crewmembers tried to activate the BOP from the rig's bridge before the fire forced them to evacuate, but the BOP did not close off the well.

Relief well plans

Transocean’s semi-submersible rig Development Driller III was scheduled to spud a relief well today but Suttles later said the spud would be withint 48 hours.

Development Driller III was already under contract to BP in Mississippi Canyon Block 778, where it was working on the Thunder Horse South development, according to MMS information.

The well will be spud about half a mile from the Macondo well, in Mississippi Canyon Block 252, and will attempt to intercept the wellbore close to its total depth of 18,000 feet.

Once that is accomplished, heavy fluids will be pumped downhole, followed by cement, to kill the well.

The MMS has already approved the permits submitted for drilling the relief well and is considering permits for a second relief well, Saucier said.

BP has said the well would take two to three months to drill and is expected to cost about $100 million.

Capturing the oil

Meanwhile, the UK supermajor is fabricating components to connect a subsea oil recovery system to Transocean’s drillship Discoverer Enterprise in order to collect oil leaking from Macondo and store it within the rig’s storage tanks.

One structure was already completed at the Wild Well Control yard in Port Fourchon, Louisiana and crews are working on two more, Suttles said today.

Work continues as well on the equipment needed to connect the structure to the Discoverer Enterprise.

The Discoverer Enterprise is capable of receiving 20,000 barrels per day and can store over 125,000 barrels within its hull, Suttles said.

The oil will then be offloaded using the 300,000 barrel Overseas Cascade shuttle tanker, which was recently converted for Brazilian operator Petrobras.

BP expects to deploy this recovery system within two to four weeks. The same system has been used in shallow water, but never in the deep-water Gulf.

“The issue is to make certain it can withstand the pressure of the much deeper water at the side and to be able to sort out the various topsides processing issues,” BP chief financial officer Byron Grote said in an analysts call earlier this week.

11 presumed dead

The Macondo well - a discovery well which was to be temporarily abandoned ahead of later completion as a subsea producer - blew out late last Tuesday evening.

A senior Transocean executive, Adrian Rose, said the company had not begun to determine if the rig could be salvaged.

Transocean has said the rig was insured for up to $560 million.

The initial cause of the accident is still unknown, although Rose earlier indicated it seems likely the well blew out.

“We don’t know what caused the accident,” he said. When asked if the incident involved a blowout, he replied: "Basically, yes."

Eleven of the 126 crew on board the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the explosion are missing, presumed dead.

Drilling giant Transocean has confirmed nine of its employees are among the missing. Two worked for services outfit Smith International and Schlumberger's M-I Swaco joint venture.

BP holds 65% of the Macondo prospect and operated the well.

US independent Anadarko holds a 25% working interest and Japan's Mitsui holds the remaining 10%.

The Macondo spill is now being referred to as the second-worst in western hemisphere waters, eclipsed only by the blowout and spill from Pemex's Ixtoc-1 well in 1979.

US Coast Guard maps, diagrams and schema can be accessed from the related media section to the left of this story.


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