THE BLOG

BP Starts Talking About Blowout Well -- Sort Of

07/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My readers know that I've been calling for BP and Transocean to begin talking specifically about the Mississippi Canyon Block 252 well, giving details as to the condition of the well itself and surface equipment trying to control it. For the past 14 days, they, along with the Coast Guard, Minerals Management Service, Department of Homeland Security, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and every politician given a moment to jump in front of a camera have blathered unceasingly about number of boats, number of people, number of feet of boom, and other great details about the spill response, but virtually nothing about the real problem: the well.

Finally, BP, maybe inadvertently, began talking about the well yesterday. First, it started haltingly when Jeff Childs, BP's deputy incident commander, prematurely announced that they had successfully closed the annular preventer, significantly reducing flows. BP refuted that a couple of hours later with a press statement that is probably the shortest and least informative in the history of US business communication. Here's the full statement:

Release date: 03 May 2010

BP would like to clarify that, contrary to some media reports, the actions it has taken to date on the blow out preventer have not resulted in any observed reduction in the rate of flow of oil from the MC252 well.

That's it, the entire statement. How helpful. However, BP engineers did begin talking in various industry interviews. Upstream Online reported late yesterday that they have learned, apparently from Charlie Holt, BP's head of drilling and completion in the Gulf, several very important new bits of information. First, they report that BP has indeed been able to trigger all six sets of rams on the BOP (blowout preventer) after making hydraulic repairs to the stack, but that the action did not successfully shut the well in. That's new information. BP did concede, however, that erosion to the seals and damage prevented it from sealing, as we had speculated yesterday. They also reported on more detail about a risky plan of stabbing a new BOP stack on top of the old one.

This plan ties to information I had picked up a couple of days ago that they were planning to cut the riser above the stack. If the cut is successful, they could then detach from the lower riser package connector, giving them a latching mechanism looking up to land the new BOPs. The risk, of course, is making the flow worse by removing line restrictions provided by the destroyed riser, but isolates the leak to one source that could be then controlled. If they can land that BOP, they could shut the well in, then kill it by pumping heavy mud through the kill line.

This week, OTC, the Offshore Technology Conference, is being held in Houston. When I was at the conference yesterday, the mood was pretty somber, though everyone was trying to put on the old happy face. I stopped by the Cameron booth, where most conversation I overheard centered around the blowout well. Several conference events featuring BP execs had already been abruptly canceled, apparently to reduce the company's profile. During my time at the conference, I gave a short interview to the local ABC affiliate whose reporter told me that the media was being restricted more than in past years, and that companies' public relations folks were working hard to control their message, not giving much information.

I believe that approach is completely wrong. I understand that these companies are trying to protect themselves from liability here; however, it seems to me that the finest minds in cutting edge deepwater technology are all gathered in one place this week, providing a unique body of knowledge and experience that could be brought to bear to solve this problem. Instead of holding its cards close to the vest, BP should take advantage of this resource, call a meeting of these professionals, put them in one room with the ROV video tapes and well data, and let them go to work. I've always found, in my career, that more minds are better than fewer, and open communication is much more effective than hiding. It's time for BP and Transocean to stop being so protective, defensive, and prideful. This industry is one of the most innovative in the world. Let them help.