05/17/2010 01:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BP Announces Success of Riser Tool -- But Remains Coy

Yesterday, in a hastily called press conference to provide a "technical briefing", BP announced that, after a false start, they had successfully put what is called a riser insertion tool (RIT) into the parted riser about 600' from the wellhead and were moving oil to the surface for separation and containment.  However, BP representatives gave no real information, refused to give a volume, and backed off an earlier statement that they could contain 85% of leaking volumes.  They would simply say that they were getting oil and gas to surface and could flare the gas.  When one reporter pressed them on volumes, one BP representative repeated the 5,000 barrel per day mantra in an almost scolding tone, saying that BP is not working on refining the number with which almost every expert disagrees. 

While BP wouldn't give technical details during the "technical briefing" what I gleaned was that they are injecting nitrogen into the RIT to lighten the hydrostatic head to get the well stream moving up the riser and reducing back pressure on the tool itself.  They did say that they are also injecting methanol to prevent hydrate formation in the new riser.  They were very careful to say that this fix was stop-gap and implied they weren't getting nearly all of the well flow.  I am hearing that the leak from the kink in the riser above the blowout preventer is getting worse.  Leaks never get better without intervention and you can bet that the riser leak continues to get larger, especially as they increase back pressure in the wrecked riser trying to collect oil.

This morning, BP's US chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, finally gave the first current estimate of 1,000 barrels per day up the new riser, and said they could take on 5,000 barrels per day with this setup.  He also declined to comment on the reports of the discovery of huge subsurface plumes of oil below the surface by the research vessel Pelican.  These plumes imply a likely much higher flow than has been officially estimated.  Have a look at the interview:

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One mitigating factor here that few talk about is that the flow from the well could be slowing.  Typically, these big deepwater wells come on strongly, around 40,000 to 50,000 barrels per day, but deline very quickly as flow is carefully controlled to maintain productivity.  Here, with uncontrolled flow up open casing, it's very likely that it did come on at those levels, or above, but has declined somewhat in the last 27 days.  We'll never actually know the actual volume, though, and you can bet that BP wouldn't admit what it was anyway.

More on The Daily Hurricane Energy page.