I'm listening to BP's Monday noon press conference in Houston as engineers are describing current operations and plan to get the blowout well killed. It's the most informative and open conversation I've heard since this accident occurred, and demonstrates, finally, the depth of the analysis and work that we all knew has been going on behind the scenes. Unfortunately, this was a "pen and paper" press conference where cameras were not allowed even though they used visual aids. Odd. A few new facts, though:
They are preparing to run a new, much smaller dome over the riser leak, calling it a "top hat", and hope to have it on bottom at the end of this week. It's only 5 feet in diameter, much smaller than the first dome, designed with the idea of reducing the volume of seawater within the vessel, thus lowering the chances for the formation of hydrates. They plan to set it already connected to the Transocean Enterprise, so it can immediately begin to gather oil rather than sitting unconnected for a period of time. Another key change is that the double riser to the drillship will be pumping methanol down the outside pipe, producing oil up the inner pipe. The methanol will be used to prevent hydrate and ice formation.
They also described the "junk shot" and "top kill" techniques they plan to try next week when preparations are complete. They indicate that there is indeed some restriction in the BOP (blowout preventer) which will make a junk shot more likely to be successful. They have been testing various "recipes" of junk to pump into the well that will be made up of various sizes of rubber balls, ground rubber and other material (even golf balls) that they hope will hang up in the BOP and stop the flow. They will then pump kill mud from those same valves into the well to stop the flow. This method of top kill is call "bullheading" which requires a lot of pressure to get started, but once the hydrostatic pressure of the column overtakes the formation, should take less to get it to bottom. This plan squares with information I have been getting from others familiar with the operation, that the ROVs are setting a new manifold next to the wellhead. This manifold will probably used for the pumping operation. One other bit of information I learned was that BP is reconstructing the kill and choke lines from the BOP back to the Enterprise, so they can conduct these operations from the surface.
I believe the junk shot and top kill are their best hopes in the near term. If they can indeed get the BOP to bridge off long enough to get sufficient kill mud into the well, maybe they can actually pull this off. That's a lot better than 2 more months of hand wringing as the relief well is drilled.
One very strong impression I have is just how unprepared BP was for an incident of this magnitude. They have had to manufacture all of these devices on the fly, including the manifold they are currently setting next to the wellhead. They are taking suggestions from anyone and everyone who wants to call, and seem willing to try almost anything. It's remarkable to me that a super major like BP, spending $100 million to drill each deepwater well, was so unprepared for what we all knew would happen eventually, an uncontrolled blowout on the sea floor. They were so dependent on, and comfortable with, the latest whiz-bang technology that they were caught flat footed; they are now scrambling to make up for this massive failure. The absolutely reliable became absolutely unreliable, and they are learning how to cope with it in real time, with disastrous consequences.