By Dr. Tom Termotto
A CLOSER LOOK AT METHANE SEEPS AND SIGNATURES
BP and the Coast Guard are watching the pressure at the wellhead very, very closely because of what it will mean for the future prospects of this well. Pressure readings under a critical threshold usually mean that there may be leaking elsewhere in the system. If there is a single leak, it will be more easily diagnosed and remedied depending on where it is. If there is more than one leak present, a whole set of different challenges emerges. Most importantly, keeping the system under pressure, when leaks exist anywhere, will inevitably increase the potential for those leaks to worsen.
“One mysterious development was that the pressure readings were not rising as high as expected, said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man on the crisis.” (Per AP Article of 7/17/10: “BP, scientists try to make sense of well puzzle”)
Possibility of Leakage Further Down in Well
At this juncture of monitoring, everything points to the distinct possibility of leakage further down in the well system. BP will, therefore, be forced to open the valves to release oil in order to relieve some of the pressure. If the system is kept under pressure for any length of time, the likelihood of exacerbating any leaks increases rapidly, which will then create serious problems, as if BP doesn’t already have them.
“Admiral Allen added that the possibility remained that the well had been breached and that oil and gas were escaping into the surrounding rock and perhaps even into the Gulf.” (Per NYT on 7/17/10)
How did we get here? To a place where leaks have quite possibly opened up deeper in the well system. As follows:
In a high compression well such as this one, the effluent is moving up the pipe at a very high speed due to the extraordinary pressures pushing up from below. The methane gas component of the upsurging hydrocarbon brew changes its state at this speed and affects the characteristics of the entire effluent coming up the pipe in the following way. As methane ascends, the bubbles expand causing a discernible acceleration in velocity. The interaction between effluent speed, geological debris and any additional bump from acceleration can give rise to catastrophic ejections, explosive potential, stretch and inline cavitations. All one has to do is examine an oil pipe which has sustained a similar flow rate to find evidence of this phenomena.
The critical result of this “methane gas effect” is that a more intensified kind of friction begins to occur within the pipe between the rising effluent and the inside metal surface. The longer this situation is allowed to persist, the more the piping will become eroded from the inside out. As the surface becomes increasingly attenuated, cavitations begin to develop on this inside surface of the pipe thereby creating weak points. Given the relentless pressure in the system, and depending on the grade of the pipe steel, the weak points at the joints and seams can become compromised, as the subtle bends and leanings will receive a greater amount of frictional activity and impact.
“Benton F. Baugh, president of Radoil Inc. in Houston and a National Academy of Engineering member who specializes in underwater oil operations, warned that the pressure readings could mean that an underground blowout could occur. He said the oil coming up the well may be leaking out underground and entering a geological pocket that might not be able to hold it.” (Per AP Article of 7/17/10: “BP, scientists try to make sense of well puzzle”)
Another phenomenon occurs with methane that must also be considered in the sinking of the $350,000,000 Deepwater Horizon.
“When drilling in oil- and gas-bearing formations submerged in deep water, the reservoir gas may flow into the well bore and form gas hydrates due to the low temperatures and high pressures found during deep water drilling. The gas hydrates may then flow upward with drilling mud or other discharged fluids. As they rise, the pressure in the drill string decreases and the hydrates dissociate into gas and water. The rapid gas expansion ejects fluid from the well, reducing the pressure further, which leads to more hydrate dissociation and further fluid ejection. The resulting violent expulsion of fluid from the drill string is one potential cause or contributor to what is referred to as a ‘kick’.”
Then there is the matter of how BP’s cementing plan may have provided another very weak link in this whole chain of events. A careful study of the diagram below will reveal some serious issues that have come into play, both before the blowout and after. Clearly, if there are significant breaches in the system, the points of deficiency outlined in this chart should serve as a guide as to where the trouble-shooters ought to look. The real challenge here will be how to solve any of these potential problems given an active well status under tremendous pressure.
It does appear that the situation delineated above was greatly aggravated by a “a gas explosion, possibly methane, in the well, which caused damage up and down the well, possibly breaking the casing, causing leaks throughout the well. That is believed to be the reason the “top kill” failed. Mud was coming out from multiple leak locations. It is also the reason that the relief wells, being drilled so that a “bottom kill” can be attempted– again, injecting mud into the well to seal it– will not work because of breaks in the casing. Part of the reason there are breaks in the casing is because BP chose to use the cheaper option for casing, saving a few million dollars. Then they skimped on spacers used in well sealing process that Haliburton was contracted to do. Haliburton accepted this sub-standard situation and did the work anyway. That added to the risk that the well was never sealed properly to begin with. We don’t know all the facts because the mudlogs have not been released which would tell us details.” Per “Methane Bubble Earthquake Volcano in the Gulf?” by Rob Kall 6/23/10
The current status of this well in terms of pressure is clearly explained by Chris Landau, geologist, in his July 17th article entitled, “BP-Halliburton-Transocean-Well is loosing 60% or 9824psi of oil and gas pressure to the strata.”
This analysis of pressure paints a picture of a well that cannot be fixed by conventional means, if it can even be repaired at all. Once enough evidence is downloaded into the public domain, it will become understood by all that we have hit the proverbial wall.
The confluence of circumstances, which are of greatest concern, are delineated by the following points of information:
(1) This gusher flowed with great velocity for 86 days and therefore produced a lot of wear and tear in the system.
(2) The gravel, mud, stones, sand, oil and gas mix rushing through the pipe at excessive speed has undermined the integrity of the well system to a degree not known.
(3) Over the course of the aforementioned period different quick fixes were attempted, which were not always in the best interest of maintaining the integrity of the entire well system.
(4) BP has drilled in an area that was known to be a very high risk prospect for a variety of reasons, the most significant being pressure.
(5) Because this is a high compression well, the pressures involved exceed the capability of much of the technology and equipment that has been utilized. (i.e. BP is in over their head both literally and figuratively.)
(6) BP made many missteps over a three-month period that have unequivocally caused unintended consequences to the system, as well as collateral damage to the area, the repercussions of which may not manifest until a later date.
(7) We know the formation structure around the wellhead has changed. The relationship of the wellbore to the casing, in the wake of a subsea explosion that occurred during the events that sunk the Deepwater Horizon, has most probably been impacted. The BOP and riser were substantially affected by this trauma, and therefore the pipe and wellhead may very likely have shifted a few degrees. Furthermore, the cement that holds the well casing in place is undoubtedly under assault by oil, gas and debris under high pressure. As the cement holds the casing and production line in place, a breaching of this architecture is quite possible if it has been sufficiently compromised.
(8) The convergence of these various factors may have caused breaches in the system that are below the relief wells, and therefore will be extremely difficult to address with any degree of finality.
One of the most telling signs of a breached system is the evidence of an inordinate amount of methane present in the area around the well. In general, methane is able to find points of egress, due to breaches in the system, more easily than any other constituents in the hydrocarbon effluent. The deeper the breaches in the system, the more technically difficult they will be to remedy in a conclusive way. Methane seeps appearing at a distance from the wellhead, for instance, reveal the extraordinary challenge of tracing it back to its point of origination, and there is very likely more than one source.
The following two MSM articles speak directly to this likelihood and why BP may soon be forced to allow the oil to flow again in order to release the pressure.
“Gulf Oil Seep: Methane, Leak Suspected Near BP’s Blown Out Oil Well” as per the Huffington Post article that follows:
“BP, feds clash over reopening capped Gulf oil well”
“An administration official familiar with the spill oversight, however, told The Associated Press that a seep and possible methane were found near the busted oil well. The concern all along, since pressure readings on the cap weren’t as high as expected, was a leak elsewhere in the wellbore, meaning the cap may have to be reopened to prevent the environmental disaster from becoming even worse and harder to fix.”
This last MSM article is very telling about the future prognosis of this breached oil well, and should be consulted in the future as a benchmark for advertised changes.
A Compromised Wellbore and Casing
As of this date, although we do not know with absolute certainty if there are leaks in the system, the methane signatures point to a compromised wellbore and casing. The methane seeps may also indicate breaches in the system at different points which may be quite difficult to accurately assess. The pressure, of course, tells us much that cannot be explained away except by the predicament whereby oil and gas will be coming up through exit points in the seafloor, as well as from a compromised well casing/wellbore sructure.
Very soon, BP will soon be left with a set of shrinking alternatives that will require a successful relief well operation. Depending on the source(s) of the methane, other aggressive measures, which are normally employed in the process of killing a well, must be evaluated according to a much more strict set of criteria.
Possibility of a Methane Bubble in the Area
Lastly, we are compelled to address the speculation of a methane bubble having formed in this same geographic area. If there is such a formation, BP et al. do have access to the EM Technology to diagnose its presence, size and rate of growth/expansion. Bear in mind that the complex sub-seafloor geology has been profoundly altered by the extremely invasive procedures utilized by the Oil & Gas Industry not only here, but wherever drilling is conducted. Methane gas behavior and accumulation, in the wake of these violent intrusions, will express in ways that cannot be ignored. We have seen methane readings both in the water and above the Gulf that have been astronomical. In the case regarding a potential bubble, however, circumstantial evidence is not enough; only through the proper application of advanced EM diagnostic technology can such a bubble be identified, sized and addressed accordingly. We sincerely hope that BP and the US Coast Guard have brought to bear all of the technology and resources necessary to determine the existence of such a phenomenon.
Methane is the Real Crux of the Story Here
There is no doubt that methane, and its significant contribution to the global greenhouse gas effect, is currently overwhelming biosystems in the Gulf, as it has been stressing the planetary biosphere. Methane is the real crux of the story here. How we respond to it, both locally in the Gulf and globally around the world, may very well dictate the future of Planet Earth, and therefore the fate of humankind. As our attention has been drawn to its ubiquity, BP has attempted to dismiss its meaning. Methane’s signatures and seeps are revealing critical information to us, which ought to be deeply contemplated, so that we and BP can respond appropriately. This is the crucial moment to be neither oblivious to nor dismissive of the realities on the ground, in the water and in the air. However … … …
In light of BP’s track record for grossly misrepresenting the truth, as well as the US Federal Government’s passivity and lack of response in the face of this extraordinary pattern of misrepresentation, we can only conclude that it is extremely unlikely that we will receive an accurate status regarding the integrity of the current capping application.
Spinning it Positive At All Costs
From this point forward, now that the gusher has been capped, it is likely that the true state of affairs will be concealed by BP and its agents spread across the media and Oil & Gas Industry. In an effort to spin it positive – at all costs – and perform the damage control necessary to return things back to where they were, this company and industry will proceed with a well organized and focused program of information control. It’s what the Oil & Gas Industry has done quite well for over a hundred years.
After all, BP’s very existence is at stake, and therefore it will assume the posture of a cornered raccoon! The flow of accurate information regarding the actual condition of the capping system, the changes in the seafloor, and the emergence of additional leaks will be determined by BP spinmeisters. Therefore our sleuthing becomes proportionately more penetrating and prosecutorial in both tack and tone. Simply put, we won’t believe a word they say, even with doctored video backing them up!
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM! A HUGE PROBLEM ! ! !
Houston is the current location of BP’s US National Headquarters. Per Wikipedia, “BP America’s headquarters is in the One Westlake Park in the Houston Energy Corridor, Texas.” Houston is also home to many other oil and gas companies, as well as their affiliates that operate throughout the 48 contiguous states. Perhaps we should begin to look there to find a deeper source of the problems that have ceaselessly appeared throughout this catastrophe. We speak of the standard operating procedures that have evolved throughout the entire industry, as well as a status quo which has produced the most conducive environment for this kind of disaster to take place around the world.
Without any doubt, these calamitous events will continue to take place in the future with even greater consequence. Due to the organic changes that the planet is experiencing, and especially the quite profound and fundamental nature of these geological, oceanic and atmospheric transformations, the most dangerous practices of our civilization will produce quicker and more dramatic feedback from Mother Earth. The Gulf Oil Spill is but a foretaste of things to come, if we do not change our ways both individually and collectively.
Step # 1 is to begin transitioning the world away from the hydrocarbon fuel paradigm. She – Mother Earth – can no longer maintain a clean enough environment for nearly 7 billion human beings to live a quality life while utilizing oil and gas resources. It now represents an energy platform that is as obsolete, as it is destructive, to almost every living thing (There are certain types of bacteria and other microbes that just love the stuff!).
Dr. Tom Termotto
Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference (International Citizens’ Initiative)