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Earth Power

Gulf Gusher Worst Case Scenario 799

An anonymous reader writes "Here's a listing of several scientific and economic guides for estimating the volume of flow of the leak in the Gulf of Mexico erupting at a rate of somewhere around 1 million barrels per day. A new video released shows the largest hole spewing oil and natural gas from an aperture 5 feet in diameter at a rate of approximately 4 barrels per second. The oil coming up through 5,000 feet of pressurized salt water acts like a fractionating column. What you see on the surface is just around 20% of what is actually underneath the approximate 9,000 square miles of slick on the surface. The natural gas doesn't bubble to the top but gets suspended in the water, depleting the oxygen from the water. BP would not have been celebrating with execs on the rig just prior to the explosion if it had not been capable producing at least 500,000 barrels per day — under control. If the rock gave way due to the out-of-control gushing (or due to a nuke being detonated to contain the leak), it could become a Yellowstone Caldera type event, except from below a mile of sea, with a 1/4-mile opening, with up to 150,000 psi of oil and natural gas behind it, from a reserve nearly as large as the Gulf of Mexico containing trillions of barrels of oil. That would be an Earth extinction event."
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Gulf Gusher Worst Case Scenario

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  • by GodfatherofSoul ( 174979 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:05PM (#32198958)

    So, how come Laissez-Faire, don't-tell-corporations-how-to-run-themselves, deregulation didn't stop this from happening? It doesn't make any sense! I mean BP is an oil company. Can you guys help me blame this on Big Government?

  • a prophecy fulfilled (Score:4, Interesting)

    by farble1670 ( 803356 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:07PM (#32198984)

    what i like is how the linked article quotes the bible,

    Revelation 8:8: "The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze [appearance of the burning rig and slick], was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed."


  • by asukasoryu ( 1804858 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:08PM (#32199004)

    Maybe you missed the part about Revelation 8:8. Clearly this guy has the scientific know-how to figure out whether or not we're all going to die.

  • Re:mother of god (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AtomicOrange ( 1667101 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:24PM (#32199316)
    Perhaps you haven't heard of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone? [] []

    Not saying that this is doing it any favors... but we were already kind of on a roll there.
  • by eexaa ( 1252378 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:35PM (#32199518) Homepage

    Obviously, one can't easily plug the hole. Now don't tell me that there on earth is NO device that would just connect to the broken pipe and let the oil flow somewhere where we want to see it? Yes, I mean a pipe.

    I know that the connection needs a bit of engineering and luck, but for me it still seems several times easier than stopping the flow.

  • Re:Exponential rate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Knara ( 9377 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:48PM (#32199762)
    I've noticed that news articles (and commenters thereof), have had a *really* hard time with units on this story. "Barrels" and "gallons" get conflated with really annoying regularity.
  • by TheFlamingoKing ( 603674 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:57PM (#32199890)

    U.S. exempted BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling from environmental impact study []

    FTA: "The Interior Department exempted BP's calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely. The decision by the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP's lease at Deepwater Horizon a "categorical exclusion" from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 -- and BP's lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions -- show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf."

    So, how come the multiple regulations and government agencies that are supposed to be watching the oil companies and their regulations didn't stop this from happening?

    I don't hear many people making a case that BP should be unregulated, so your straw man is already leaning over a bit before you even try and knock him down. But if you're trying to make the case that government regulation would have stopped this disaster, you really should take into consideration the fact that these agencies are regulated, their well-trained government agents determined three times that this oil spell was not likely to occur, and even exempted them from some of the regulations. What good is an oversight board that can be bought?

    Libertarianism does not mean corporatism, as much as you would like to believe. In general, it's the belief that even if you could construct the perfect government program, greed and incompetence will eventually sabotage its operations.

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi AT evcircuits DOT com> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:04PM (#32200020) Homepage

    Well, it's very, very deep first of all but that's not a huge problem, they can engineer around that. However, BP has been lying through the nose throughout the whole experience. The cap might have worked earlier if BP didn't lie about the depth and extent of the leaks, historically lied and bribed around the potential problems with this specific platform as well as lied and bribed around their countermeasures in case of a spill. They didn't even retain the engineers or crews to respond to these disasters. Government regulation requires them to file 'disaster recovery' plans but all their plans were wrong, their procedures inadequate and they had fired a lot of their people that respond to these calls over the last couple of years for better quarterly reports.

  • Re:My Estimate ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dreamer.redeemer ( 1600257 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:26PM (#32200348) Homepage
    Yes, just like how we use way too much oil to begin with--estimated daily US consumption of oil is around 19.5 million barrels. It's kind of logical that utter reliance upon burning about 605 million gallons of fossil fuel every single day is problematic. If only the consequences were as explicit as dead wildlife washing onto our doorsteps...
  • by bradorsomething ( 527297 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:37PM (#32201280)
    Stand back! I'm going to try Science!!!

    We're going to be calculating flow for a well, guessing a few variables, which I'll explain are guesses. This math is from Production Optimization Using Nodal Analysis by H Dale Beggs, c. 1991.

    The well is a saturated reservoir - This means there is no gas cap and that oil is saturated with oil, providing additional lift. I feel that initial reservoir conditions, this is a safe assumption.

    The well has been continuously accessing new reservoir without reaching a fault or boundary - This is a very unlikely assumption, but makes my math a lot easier, as it assumes a steady-state flow. The well probably reached a boundary and saw an associated decrease in flow of almost 1/2 in the first week, which decreased again at the next boundary, etc.

    Flow is in a bubble flow state - Again, this is a safe assumption in a newly tapped saturated reservoir.

    d - pipe diameter, which I'm going to say is 3" pipe (2.441" ID) which is an ID of 0.0620014 m

    mu- viscosity, which I'm guessing is 0.05 kg/m-sec, and this is a wild-ass guess, but in the dense oil range.

    rho - density, which I'm guessing is 1000 kg/m^3, which is again, a wild-ass guess, but in the dense oil range.

    Pres - the reservoir pressure. Again, we throw out a number, say... 18,000 psi. This is proprietary knowledge like the last two data points and is also a wild-ass scientific guess. If you have a better number, please plug it in and redo the math.Actually if anyone can supply *any* of these numbers, please do so.

    Pout - the pressure at the end of the pipe. 5000 ft of water is about 2884 psi of back pressure.

    delta_P - the pressure drop between reservoir and fluid release from the pipe. Based on the above, 15, 116 psi, which is 104, 221 kPa.

    V - velocity of flow (m/s)

    f - dimensionless friction, and this is where I'm really going to cheat. I'm calling f = 0.004 based on 3-inch new steel based on a table lookup

    L - pipe length, approximately 13,000 ft is 3962.4 meters

    delta_p = (f rho V^2 L)/(2 gc d)

    Actual Work

    104,221 kPa = 104,221 N/m^2 = (f rho V^2 L)/(2 gc d)

    104,221 N/m^2 = ((0.004) (1000)(V^2)(3962.4))/((2) (1) (0.0620014))

    104,221 = 127,816 V^2

    V^2 = 0.8154 m^2/s^2

    V = 0.903 m/s

    with an diameter of 0.0620014 m, the area is 0.049m^2, and the flow is 0.044 m^3 per second.

    This is 0.276751674 bbl/s, and there are 86,400 seconds per day.

    This is approximately 23,907bbl/day of oil.

    So there is a quick, back of the envelope guess of the immediate flow from the reservoir, based on many guesses. Concerns about the environment are left as an exercise to the reader.
  • Re:Article FAIL. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @06:58PM (#32201550)
    Nice. Very nice. Your number is in good agreement with this guy's [] number which was worked out by a somewhat different method. Good to see consistency.
  • Re:Exponential rate (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @07:29PM (#32201876)

    The million barrels per day is from a series of wild-ass guesses by a software engineer. I work in the oil industry as well, and I know some software engineers who could come up with some educated guesses regarding the volumes involved. They also understand the basic processes happening to the oil at such depths. They also understand that they are in no way experts in those areas, and would never be foolish enough to pretend they were.

    The wild ass guess of four barrels per second is based on another wild ass guess of a 5ft diameter pipe. The pipe is, in fact, 18 inches in diameter, and if he were half the expert he claims to be he would know that it is impossible to drill in 5000ft deep water with a 5ft diameter pipe with current technology. The idea is absurd. So without doing any other fact checking, we know his powers of estimation are abysmal. Since the entire article is simply one guy's series of wild ass guesses, that should be enough. Hell, half his estimation for how much oil is coming up is based on his guess for why there were BP executives on the rig, and what amount of oil it would take to get them there. I mean, really? You're going to call those wild guess figures facts?

    Also, even without those little facts getting in the way, he claims 1,000,000 barrels, yet the largest leak by his own estimate only puts out about 346,000 barrels a day. Being generous, how does 350,000 plus some number smaller than 350,000 (he doesn't give his "expert opinion" on the size of the second) add up to one million? The very highest number I can come up with falls 300,000 barrels short.

    With the actual size of the pipe, however, you can get a pretty accurate flow rate by estimating the pressure differential between the reservoir and the head. The pressure on the reservoir should be about 15,000 psi (not 150,000, like the article states) - 5,000 feet of water plus 11,000 feet of granite. The pressure of the water column is about 2,000 psi, rough estimate. With a pressure differential of about 13,000 psi, an 11,000 foot length of pipe, an estimated density of about 900 kg/m3 (it could actually be anywhere from 750-950, 900 seems close to what other oil is in area), and assuming a smooth pipe, you get about 15.6 gallons per second, or 0.37 barrels per second.

    Worst case scenario you are looking at around 30,000 barrels per day. Since there are a lot of factors involved (like the amount of friction imposed on the oil as it seeps out of the reservoir rock), and all I have are estimations, it is almost certainly a lot less than that. 5,000 barrels is not an unlikely figure for what is actually flowing out of the pipe. It isn't likely to be more than that by much at all, either, as I used pretty ideal conditions for flow. It isn't really possible for much more to flow up.

    Also, I don't know where he gets the idea of a ground rupture, comparing it to the Yellowstone magma chamber. Such a thing is unheard of. An oil reservoir isn't like a magma chamber, which is a giant bubble full of liquid rock. An oil reservoir is a layer of spongy rock with oil trapped inside it. There is no bubble. It provides a hell of a lot more structure than the nothing of a magma chamber, and as oil flows out water flows in to take its place. It is not at all likely to rupture the ground, especially with two miles of bedrock in the way. The most this will ever do is squirt (that's actually a very good description of what it is doing right now - squirting).

    Frankly, this guy doesn't have a clue. His wild guesses are off by a factor of 10 from what anybody who can do simple math would tell you, and most of what he states as fact are just plain inventions of his own imagination.

  • Re:Pipe Diameter? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sl149q ( 1537343 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:24PM (#32202802)

    Most of the news reports say it as a 21" pipe. Which would give you about a 5' circumference. Lets assume he just got it wrong.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.