100 Days of "The Well From Hell"

During testimony before the Joint Investigation Committee last week, Mike Williams, Chief Electronics Technician on the Deepwater Horizon, testified that the well at Mississippi Canyon Block 252 that BP had struggled with since October 2009 was dubbed "The Well from Hell" by the rig crew. The well had been trouble from the start; drilling was actually started by Transocean's Marianas semi-submersible, but had to be shut down in November 2009 after being damaged by Hurricane Ida. Drilling was recommenced by the Horizon in February 2010, and the trouble continued. Stuck pipe, lost circulation, side tracks, and kicks plagued the Horizon all the way down. As a geologist friend of mine often says, "Really good wells are really hard to drill," and this one was no exception. Had this well not blown out, it likely would have been the largest discovery in the history of the Gulf of Mexico.

The tragedy here, though, is that, in the deepwater, there is virtually no room for error. There is really no room for stupidity and bad design. Add hubris, and you get what we've been dealing with now for 100 days. Although the oil is finally stopped, the well is far from safe. BP has continued to rely on a badly damaged and leaking wellhead, and refused to open the well for containment on the surface, oddly claiming that the very same lines that pumped the top kill and will now pump the "static kill", whatever that is, cannot handle the flowing pressure from the well, even though it's lower. They have buffaloed US government representatives, led by a sea captain and yet another Nobel-prize-winning physicist, convincing them to allow them to cover the evidence and keep us from actually measuring the flow. By bullheading mud into the well before the top kill (which does not lower the risk of the relief well), BP is risking further damage, not only to the wellhead, but to the wellbore down below. The reason this well blew out to begin with was a lost circulation zone that required them to use a lower weight mud and light nitrified cement. Now they're going to pump heavy mud from the top and that's OK? I don't think so.

They're going ahead with it, though, and the government is letting them, which makes no rational sense. A friend thinks that the Administration made a deal with BP that if they put up the $20 billion, the government wouldn't force them to measure the flow from the well. I had at first dismissed that as conspiracy theory.

I'm now beginning to wonder if he's actually right.