By Noah Brenner, Josh Lewis & Anthea Pitt
09 June 2010 17:40 GMT
A panel of government scientists has upped its best estimate of the flow coming from the Macondo well to a range of about 20,000 barrels per day to 25,000 bpd from a range of 12,000 bpd to 19,000 bpd.
But Flow Rate Technical Group head Marcia McNutt said the top estimates could be as high as 40,0000 barrels per day.
The estimates come from two of about five different working groups within the team that are all using different methodology to work on the problem.
The estimates were made by one egroup looking at video of the spill underwater and another group using sonar tehcnology to analyse the underwater flows.
MvcNutt emphasised that the estimate "was still a work in progress" and said the group would issue another, more comprehensive estimate, for the current well flows since the riser has been cut.
Meanwhile, BP has announced it will bring additional processing and storage capacity for its containment operations.
BP will use the well testing vessel Toisa Pisces and retrofit the Q4000 to burn oil, in an effort to up its ability to handle flow from a containment system on the Macondo well, but both ships face delays before they will be ready for duty.
BP aims to be able to collect as much as 28,000 barrels per day from the well in the US Gulf with the updgrades, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said at a press briefing.
Sealion Shipping’s well testing vessel Toisa Pisces can process up to 20,000 barrels per day and will offload to the Loch Rannoch, a shuttle tanker with a capacity of more than 1 million barrels, which normally services the Schiehallion development, west of Shetland.
The Q4000, a supply platform that is operated by US offshore player Helix, is understood to have processing capacity of 5000 bpd but will be able to handle 10,000 bpd with new equipment that will allow it to burn off both oil and gas.
The vessel does not have storage capacity and BP plans to flare all the production that goes through the Q4000, BP spokesman Jon Pack told UpstreamOnline.
BP is capturing more than 15,000 bpd through its containment system on the blown out well and is bumping up against the 18,000 bpd processing capacity of the Transocean drillship Discoverer Enterprise.
The oil tanker Massachusetts is lightering the Discoverer Enterprise as needed.
The additional capacity on the Q4000 will not be ready for about a week and the Toisa Pisces awaits a new containment system that is slated for the beginning of July.
The Q4000, which is hooked to the Macondo well through the choke and kill lines on the blowout preventer (BOP), is not expected to be ready to handle production until “late next week”, Allen said at the briefing Wednesday.
The Loch Rannoch is expected on location between 12 June and 15 June.
Toisa Pisces is already in the US Gulf, according to Sealion, and should be at the Macondo location around 19 June, Allen said.
The vessel came was previously working on the Mexico side of the Gulf.
Even though the vessels will be in place, BP does not plan use them to handle production until puts a new containment cap and riser system in place around the end of June or beginning of July.
The new cap will have a more solid connection with the well and may be able to “take the leakage down to almost zero,” Allen said Wednesday.
The cap will connect to a floating riser that will extend up to about 300 feet below the surface, which is below the level of the ocean that is roiled by hurricanes, Allen said.
The riser will connect to the Toisa Pisces via a flexible hose, which will allow it more maneuverability to brace for storms than the current system.
The Loch Rannoch is planned to store oil produced through the Toisa Pisces and carry it to shore, Pack told UpstreamOnline in a phone interview.
However, due the restrictions of the Jones Act, which require ships doing business between two US ports to be flagged in the US, BP may need to use another tanker to actually take the oil ashore, or may need to seek a temporary exemption from the act.
Pack said BP had not addressed the Jones Act issue yet, but was confident that it would not hinder the operation.
Once the new system is in place, the Discoverer Enterprise will move off location, Pack said.
The ultimate fix to the blowout, a pair of relief wells being drilling by the Transocean semi-submersible rigs Development Driller 2 and Development Driller 3 are progressing on schedule, Allen said.
The Development Driller 3 is at about 13,700 feet below the drill floor and is currently cementing, Pack said. It should resume drilling on Sunday.
The Development Driller 2 about 8400 feet below the drill floor and is currently finishing testing and deployment of its BOP. That rig should resume drilling Thursday, Pack said.
The both are expected to reach total depth at about 18,000 feet sometime in mid-August.
The US government said it wants BP’s containment operations to have redundancy in case of equipment failures or other problems.
Meanwhile, Coast Guard Rear Admiral James Watson has given BP a 72-hour deadline to come up with plans to expand its operations.
In a letter to chief operating officer Doug Suttles, Watson said: "It is imperative that you put equipment, systems and processes in place to ensure that the remaining oil and gas flowing can be recovered, taking into account safety, environmental and meteorological factors."
He added: "BP shall provide the plans for these parallel, continuous, and contingency collection processes, including an implementation timeline, within 72 hours of receiving this letter. Current collection efforts may not be interrupted to implement these plans."
BP’s shares plummeted Wednesday another hit, closing down 15% in the US at $29.20 – a 14-year low – as the US government continued to pressure BP on its spill response and dividend payments.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday he was talking to experts to find out what had gone wrong so he knows “whose ass to kick" on the Macondo spill.
Obama is due to visit Mississippi, Alabama and Florida during a two-day trip beginning Monday, the White House said.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward will appear before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations next Thursday to answer questions about the disaster.
The massive oil slick has soiled 190 kilometres of the US coastline and threatens the Gulf Coast's lucrative fishing industry.
Rig operator Transocean’s shares tumbled another 8% in New York Wednesday, trading at a new 18-month low, after a congressional committee investigating the spill sent a letter Tuesday that questioned whether the company had enough people working on Deepwater Horizon at the time of the explosion.
"There appear to have been fewer people at work on the rig the night of the explosion than at any time in the preceding two weeks," Representative Nick Rahall, chairman of the US House Committee on Natural Resources, said in his letter which cited reports obtained by his committee's investigators.
The documents also suggested that there were no engineers, electricians, mechanics or subsea supervisors on duty during the latter half of 20 April.
"I have serious questions about whether enough people were working..., or if crew fatigue caused by extended shifts may have played a role," Rahall said.
Transocean said the numbers gathered by Rahall's committee did not reflect the actual staffing levels on the rig.
The drilling major said the “vessel was properly and professionally manned; there was no shortage of technical expertise, nor did any crew member work a 24-hour shift."
Meanwhile, an internal BP memo, seen by Upstream, indicates that BP has not prevented oil spill clean-up workers from talking to the media, and is concerned by reports suggesting this is the case.
The letter, circulated to all BP staff working on the incident, was written by chief operating officer Doug Suttles and says:
"Recent media reports have suggested that individuals involved in the clean-up operation have been prohibited from speaking to the media, and this is simply untrue.
"BP has not and will not prevent anyone working in the clean-up operation from sharing his or her own experiences or opinions."
He added: "However, while individuals should feel free to speak openly on their own behalf, they are not authorised to speak on BP or the Unified Command."
Meanwhile, just 25% of US citizens back expanding offshore drilling in the wake of the Macondo disaster, and most put the blame for the spill firmly at the feet of federal regulators, according to a poll released today.
Before the spill, the Obama administration partially lifted the moratorium on exploration in place in some US waters as it sought to meet long-term US energy needs.
However, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released today, 31% of those polled now want fewer offshore wells, while 41% are in favour of keeping the current level.
The poll also flagged up a widespread belief that poor federal regulation was at fault in the Gulf spill.
Some 63% of the respondents polled said inadequate enforcement of current regulations is a factos behind the spill, while 55% believed the US regulatory structure was weak, overall.
However 73% od respondemts blame BP and its partners for the disaster.
Meanwhile, 49% of respondents see the Macondo spill as part of a broader problem with offshore exploration.
In a CBS News poll a month ago, a majority of Americans said they thought it was more aptly described as "an isolated incident".
Support for drilling in general has slipped from 64% last August to 52% now.
The Post-ABC poll was carried out between 3 June and 6 June, among a random national sample of 1004 adults.
Transocean's semi-submersible Deepwater Horizon was working on the Macondo well, on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 in the Gulf of Mexico, on 20 April when an explosion rocked the unit before engulfing it in flames.
The exploration well had been drilled to 18,000 feet in 5000 feet of water and was being temporarily suspended as a future producer when the blowout occurred.
Eleven crew died in the explosion.
US Energy Secretary Steven Chu made some technical data on the well available online.
The data released includes Macondo schematics, data from pressure tests and diagnostic results.
Additional information drawn from news wires.
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