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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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  • Oh god. (Score:5, Funny)

    by dlsso ( 1808390 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @03:56PM (#32198812)
    We're all going to die!
  • My Estimate ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @03:57PM (#32198834)
    According to my meticulous, scientific and unbiassed calculations, my estimate of the number of gallons of oil spewing from the ground in the gulf is: too many.
  • I Saw That (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @03:58PM (#32198848) Homepage Journal

    Wasn't this the movie that killed John Cusak's career?

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:02PM (#32198910) Journal
    More's the pity.

    "Extinction" is a very high bar to clear, except for losers like panda bears that are large enough to shoot and barely capable of reproducing without assistance.

    However, "Ecological and social shifts leading to grinding, nigh-unendurable; but nowhere near fatal enough to kill you quickly and be done with it" is very much more common and plausible.

    Unless we start fucking around with self-replicating strangelets, or largish black holes, or other really exotic stuff, "extinction" is not a serious risk. Even nukes would require some real doing. Unfortunately, though, pushing yourself into "and the living shall envy the dead" territory is typically easier than killing yourself off. Even fairly modest ecological disruption could do the bottom billion or so in(and one can hardly expect that they'll go quietly), and make things pretty unpleasant for the remainder.
  • Exponential rate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:04PM (#32198934) Homepage Journal

    We started at 5,000 barrels a day, then 20, 50 and 100,000 barrels a day. Yesterday I saw a figure quoted at 200,000, today I saw 210,000
    But 1 million barrels a day? That's almost three full days ahead of schedule for the media. Didn't Slashdot get the memo?
    Also whoever greenlighted this article needs to get fired for releasing such a panic-y and fear inducing article to the front page.

    • by sirwchms ( 1811010 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:15PM (#32199126)
      Blarg! There is a difference between bpm (barrels per day) and gpm (gallons per day). The current estimated rate is 25,000 barrels per day, times 55 gallons per barrel, equals 1,375,000 gallons per day. Which isn't any less depressing, but at least it didn't fail 3rd grade math.
    • by The_Wilschon ( 782534 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:27PM (#32199372) Homepage
      Also, someone with knowledge of what words mean should have proofread it, rather than just running it through a spell checker. By "disburse", he means "disperse", by "fractioning column", he means "fractionating column", and by "prophesy", he means "prophecy". For someone who is a supposed expert in this field, he has a surprisingly poor ability to use the relevant jargon (disperse and fractionating column) correctly.

      Speaking of prophecy, the Biblical reference is pure fear-mongering. It is not salient to estimates of the amount of oil, nor to the ecological effects of the release of oil. It is unprofessional and weakens his case by causing him to sound like a scared crackpot with an conclusion reached independently of any of the evidence he presents rather than a dispassionate analyst attempting to evaluate things with as much honesty and accuracy as possible. We need more of the latter and fewer of the former.

      Finally, I have difficulty believing that the ecological effects will be anywhere near as great as an "Earth extinction event", or even bad enough to register on geologic-timescale extinction event charts. It seems quite likely to me that normal geological processes in the last few billion years must have opened up much larger sudden releases of oil (even under the ocean) many many times. One would think that, if a large underwater oil release had massive effects on the world's ecology, paleontologists would be able to tell us about it. Of course, I could be totally wrong in several assumptions here, and it really could be that bad, but my intuition prevents me from believing it. Of course, since I'm not called upon to make any decisions relating to the spill, it doesn't much matter whether I believe it or not.

  • bad at math (Score:3, Funny)

    by LetterRip ( 30937 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:04PM (#32198936)

    4 BPS*24 hrs/day*60min/hr*60sec/min = 345 600 barrels per day, not 1 million.b

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anon-Admin ( 443764 )

      Shame on you, dont you know that there is no place for real science or math when fear-mongering an ecological disaster? Had you not pointed that out, thousands would be up in arms about the 1 billion Bpd filling the gulf of Mexico. Oh wait, it is 1 million this week, 1 billion is next weeks number.

    • Re:bad at math (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mevets ( 322601 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:10PM (#32199058)

      According to the summary, that is from the largest vent. I didn't read the actual article either, the summary was kinda long and seemed like it had a sad ending.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LordKronos ( 470910 )

      4 BPS*24 hrs/day*60min/hr*60sec/min = 345 600 barrels per day, not 1 million.b

      4 BPS? My god, look at the disaster caused by just 1 BP. Certainly we don't need 4 of them.

  • Reality Check (Score:5, Informative)

    by mujadaddy ( 1238164 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:04PM (#32198944)

    Paul Noel, 52, works as Software Engineer

    Hey, so do I, and I call bullshit fearmongering on the Yellowstone-like caldera unless someone else chimes in.

  • mother of god (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:05PM (#32198946) Homepage
    is there any other way to stress the outright critical nature of this disaster? scrubbing seagulls and dancing around in congressional hearings isnt working. We need to pick up the pace, or we risk an entire gulf coast with an ecosystem that resembles a wal-mart parking lot. Shrimp and seafood will become a rather distant memory for the states.
  • by arkham6 ( 24514 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:05PM (#32198952)
    From the cited web page:
    Paul Noel, 52, works as Software Engineer (as Contractor) for the US Army at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. He has a vast experience base including education across a wide area of technical skills and sciences. He supplies technical expertise in all areas required for new products development associated with the US Army office he works in. He supplies extensive expertise in understanding the Oil and Gas industry as well.

    Born in Lynnwood Washington, he came to Huntsville Alabama, when his father moved to be part of NASA's effort to put men on the moon. Neal Armstrong may have gotten the ride, but his father's computers did the driving.

    Paul is also a founding member of the New Energy Congress.

    So..this guy has no training on physics, geology, chemestry. He __says__ he supplies extensive expertise in oil indusry, but how exactly? Software engineering?

    I'm sorry, but I'm not going to get too freaked out by what this man says. If I can get some supporting information from a geologist I'll then worry.
    • by joggle ( 594025 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:17PM (#32199174) Homepage Journal

      I don't blame you, especially with quotes like this from TFA:

      The biggest cost of the spill cleanup is being borne by the US Armed Forces such as the National Guard etc. None of these costs will ever be paid by BP. These costs will appear in taxes not in the price of oil. Alternative Oil is vastly cheaper and safer than this.

      How the heck would he know how much the Coast Guard is spending on this? How does he know BP will never reimburse the federal government?

      Also, what's up with his use of capitalization? Since when is natural gas a proper noun? Or alternative oil?

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:21PM (#32199256) Journal
      Oh, I don't know, I was going to agree with you, but then I read the article and noticed one of his primary cited works is the bible:

      "The Gulf appears to be bleeding," which is chilling, considering the prophesy in 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."

      We can always trust someone who uses the bible as their main source. Right?...........right? In any case, at least now you know the relevant bible prophecy.

  • 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."


    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by clone53421 ( 1310749 )

      Meh. I won’t be worried about that until verse 7 happens...

      The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

  • Who is this guy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kidgenius ( 704962 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:08PM (#32198998)
    ...and what are his credentials? It says he's a SW engineer with expereince across many technical areas, but I still dont' see how that makes him an expert on estimating flow volumes, etc. He doens't provide sources or backup anything he says. It comes off more as fear-mongering than anything else, especially seeing as he even quotes bible verses.
  • by MarcQuadra ( 129430 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:08PM (#32199002)

    There aren't 'trillions' of barrels under this particular well. It's not like collapsing this well would cause all the other wells to collapse too. And as far as I know, the likelihood of this deposit collapsing is very, very low; unmeasurably low.

    So far, oil isn't even washing up on beaches in any appreciable way. A huge portion of the area is an oxygen-depleted, polluted 'dead zone' anyway because of the Mississippi. Last I checked, only -two- birds had been collected for cleaning. Only about 4% of the gulf is blocked-off from fishing, and the larger fisheries aren't even expecting much damage, they're taking a 'wait and see' stance.

    Still, (as of yet) clean beaches and untainted food seem to scare consumers away from vacations and shrimp, not because there's a risk, but because most consumers are total alarmist bozos, just like most career-environmentalists.

    • by John Pfeiffer ( 454131 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:23PM (#32199296) Homepage

      Still, (as of yet) clean beaches and untainted food seem to scare consumers away from vacations and shrimp, not because there's a risk, but because most consumers are total alarmist bozos, just like most career-environmentalists.

      Agreed. Personally, my reaction to the situation is "Eh, whatever." and will likely remain such right up until there's a flaming cloud of shit hanging overhead. Freaking the hell out never improves situations.

  • by AtlantaSteve ( 965777 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:16PM (#32199156)

    I think that the second half of this post says that that the oil leak is bad, or could cause the end of the world, or something. However, it's such a gusher of spastic sentence fragments that I can't quite be certain.

    Someone should drop a containment dome over this guy's keyboard until he's learned to organize his thoughts.

  • Horrible article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eison ( 56778 ) <pkteison@hotmail . c om> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:16PM (#32199158) Homepage

    This article is not 'reporting' and should not be presented as 'news', not even news for nerds, stuff that matters.

    There are some very interesting details, things that might perhaps be facts, but after presenting a string of them they are always followed with utterly unsubstantiated wild ass guesses that claim to be absolute facts and firmly grounded in expert opinion etc etc. While the Wild Ass Guesses may actually be true, they aren't facts, and presenting them as facts makes it impossible to believe any of the other information presented. At the end of the article all of this much vaunted expertise that the guesses are based on turns out to be this guy is some random programmer with a pond in his back yard.

    This topic definitely needs some real reporting, but this sort hysterical speculation (includes quoting Revelations and speculating on this being an "Earth Extinction" event under the general premise of "they said this couldn't happen but it did so this other thing that also can't happen is obviously worth speculating about now") is downright irresponsible. Even if the premise that the news is massively underreporting the size of the spill is true, this is not the way to correct it.

  • by reuel ( 166318 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:17PM (#32199180)
    The article seems to be inaccurate in at least one respect, and one comment calls the author on it: It's not a 5-foot diameter pipe. Various sources say it's either 12-inch or 21-inch, but not five feet. One source says the largest riser pipe made is 21-inches in diameter.
  • FAIL (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lawrence_Bird ( 67278 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:27PM (#32199378) Homepage

    supports the estimates closer to 1 million barrels per day erupting from this hole BP popped in the ocean floor that contains trillions of barrels of oil and natural gas.

    Anyone who starts an article out with a misstatement like that is immediately deemd not credible. If there were "trillions" of bbls of oil at that well (or even in the gulf of Mexico) we would never need to import a drop again and in fact would be the largest holder of oil in the world. S. Arabia has 270 billion bbl proven reserves.

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:27PM (#32199380)

    if we take the author of this tripe and put him on the bottom of the ocean then let him continue to blow the hot air out of his ass as he's doing here.

    Seriously ... the whole gulf of mexico is going to explode into an oil gusher?

    And people are believing it?

    Seriously, when the hell did everyone turn off their freaking common sense?

    The freaking math doesn't even add up in this story. Its claiming a million gallons a day gushing, but at 4 barrels per second, you don't get to a million in one day. You don't even get to the 500k that BP would be so happy about, you get 345.6k/day. So you need a good 6BPS from everything else to start hitting a million gallons a day. Not the case. Of course he contridicts himself in his own article with at one point saying 500k and at another saying 1m.

    He refers to chemicals added to the well head the speed up the fracturing process ... to bad BP isn't pumping those chemicals into the head anymore so thats just complete bullshit.

    He compares the oil slick to his back yard pond ... except it doesn't work that way. The oil spreads out rapidly to cover as much surface area as it can, thats what happens when you have a lighter liquid on top of a heavier liquid, it spreads out to get as close to the top as it possibly can. It doesn't stay in one little column. Thats why buoys can be left on the surface to contain it, cause its ON THE SURFACE ONLY.

    So the current hole is spewing at 70k psi he claims ( I won't argue it, I'm too lazy to look for facts, just like him ) but when the entire thing 'releases' in his extinction event, its going to jump to 150k psi ... Someone doesn't understand hydrolics very well. The pressure doesn't get greater when you apply it to a larger area, it gets lower as the same force is spread out over a larger area. You have to increase the energy in the system to actually get more out, all you can do otherwise is exchange speed for pressure and vice versa

    Imagine how much alternative energy work that would have produced.

    A hell of a lot less than the oil would of, fractions of whats contained in the oil. He has no concept of how much energy is contained in oil and how efficient of a storage mechanism that it is.

    I could go on, but whats the point. This is a retarded story written by an idiot rambling about stuff he doesn't know anything about. Is it an environmental disaster? Yes. Is the gulf coast going to suffer for a while and have a large loss of life? Certainly. Will I notice anything more than a higher gas price at the pump? No. Will it recover? Yes, in a few short years at most. Its bad that this happened, its bad that its still spewing oil, but any moron who buys into this article needs to lock themselves in a bomb shelter and wait for 2012 to kill as all cause thats just as logical and likely to happen.

    Finally, I'm really lazy I admit, but can someone tell me if theres a way to ignore timothy and kdawson stories? Since they obviously are going to keep letting idiots qualify as editors I'd hope that CmdrTaco has given us an opt out method at least.

  • 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.

    • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi&evcircuits,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.

  • Serious FUD (Score:5, Informative)

    by jnaujok ( 804613 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @04:37PM (#32199560) Homepage Journal
    Okay, 150,000PSI is 10,444 atmospheres of pressure. Granite has an ultimate compressive strength of around 2775 atmospheres. In other words, at 10K atmospheres, granite would be flowing like water. There's no possible way the oil is coming out at that pressure. And if it was, it sure as heck would be flowing faster than 4 bbl/s. This guy is tossing out some serious BS numbers.
  • Article FAIL. (Score:4, Informative)

    by goodmanj ( 234846 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:18PM (#32200218)

    General fail: proof by hyperbole. LOOK AT THIS HUGE OIL SLICK HOW CAN YOU SAY IT'S 5000 BARRELS A DAY THAT'S CRAZY! is not a persuasive argument.

    Specific fail: Pipe is not 5 feet in diameter.
    here's a photo [] of the pipe with a wrench for scale -- BP says the wrench is a foot long. So accounting for perspective, the pipe is a bit more than a foot in diameter. (BP says the outer diameter of the riser pipe was 21" diameter when installed, but it's gotten a bit squished since then.)

    Video shows the pipe about half full of oil, so the cross-sectional area of the flow is 1/2 * pi * (7 inches)^2 = 0.05 meters^2.

    By following the motion of the blobs and plumes of oil, the flow speed seems to be about 1 meter/second. Flow rate = velocity * area = 0.04 m^3/s, or 0.4 barrels/second.

    This is 27,000 barrels per day -- about 5 times BP's estimates, but an order of magnitude less than the article claims.

  • by labradore ( 26729 ) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @05:42PM (#32200614)
    Assuming the following:

    Cost to drill well and get oil to coastal refinery:    $1 Bn
    Daily cost to run the well and pump oil to refinery: $150 K
    Average value of oil over repayment period: $85 / barrel
    Prevailing Interest Rate (opportunity cost of using the cash to drill and run the well): 10% -- this roughly BP's return-on-assets for 2010
    Years to repay: 3

    We can figure that the well would have to produce around 16K to 17K barrels per day to pay for itself at the end of 3 years of operation.
    These numbers are still rough, but it gets us in the ballpark. 5 years takes you to 13K barrels per day.  2 years is about 20K barrels per day.

    If you assume that the well could expel 2x to 3x per day than a controlled well, you get a range of 26k to 60k barrels per day being spewed into the gulf.
    That's 1.8M US gallons of oil per day.

    Someone else needs to take over from here.  How many gallons of water does a gallon of oil pollute in this scenario?  100 gallons of water plluted per gallon of oil?
    That means 180M gallons of water polluted per day.  Or 18B gallons of water polluted by the end of 100 days when we expect the oil to stop flowing due to the new well being drilled.

    If that is polluting the water to a depth of 100 feet and there are 7.5 gallons of water per cubic foot, you get almost 1 square mile of water polluted to a depth of 100 feet.  But we already know that the slick is over 10,000 square miles on the surface.  Either the depth of the pollution is far less than 100 feet or the gallons of oil being spewed is far greater than 10's of 1000's of gallons per day and is well into the 100's of thousands of gallons per day range.

    In any case TFA's reasoning about the tar suspended in the water seems to be bourne out by the fact that there are many areas where the surface slick has not reached the shore but there are tall balls washing up on it.

    I would guess that TFA is generally correct and that what we are facing is, in fact, a "volcano" of oil.

  • 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.

"You must have an IQ of at least half a million." -- Popeye