07/15/2010 11:04 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

BP "Test" -- Gush, Baby, Gush as We Wait, Baby, Wait

I'm listening to Kent Wells morning "technical briefing" just as he is announcing that the much discussed well integrity test has still not begun.  They are repairing a leak in the choke line from the capping stack that showed up as soon as they started the procedure yesterday evening.  They are venting oil from the kill line on the new stack, and sometime last night resumed recovering oil through the choke and kill lines on the old BOP stack.  We are now on day six of this capping stack procedure, day 3 of the "well integrity test", whatever that is.

I still have grave concerns about this testing procedure; aside from the tens of thousands of barrels roaring into the Gulf unabated, they are taking huge risk in further damage to the well undertaking an operation whose objectives are still not clear.  Yesterday in his briefing, Adm. Allen said they were looking for 8,000 to 9,000 psi, and described that result as being "good".  During that same briefing, he also said, "I was gung-ho for this test and I remain gung-ho for this test."  How comforting. 

Since the well is most likely flowing up the backside of the 9 7/8 x 7" production casing, there is about 1,200 feet of open hole between TD (bottom of the well) and the shoe of the 9 7/8" liner at about 17,100 feet.  In addition, they have obvious casing damage above that, caused by the blowout, the top kill, or probably both.  In addition, the old BOP and it's components are badly damaged.  We found out yesterday from a reader that the flex joint, that we expressed concern about yesterday, is likely an Oil States Model 5, with an MWP (maximum working pressure) of 5,000 psi.  One of the cardinal rules of the oilfield is that you never, never, exceed the rated pressures of the vessels, valves, or piping that you are using, even though there is tolerance built into these components.  In this particular component, since it is designed to actually flex, Oil States puts a caveat in their specs pointing out the the MWP is reduced as lateral pressure and rotational forces are placed upon it.  There has been plenty of that, since it survived the forces of 5,000 feet of riser sinking while tied to it.  I called the Unified Command press office with the specific question about this component over 2 days ago.  My call was not returned, nor my question answered.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing parts of this whole folly is the shut down of the relief well being drilled by the DDIII that is within only 34' of it's next casing point, and within 200' of communicating with the blowout well, providing an opportunity to kill it for good.  They have pulled the drill string back up into the last casing and they they are just sitting there circulating.

This whole procedure is baffling to me.  In the oil and gas business, you always mitigate risk.  You never undertake an operation that introduces more risk.  You never intentionally put more stress on equipment than for which it is designed.  If you know you have damage, or an uncertain condition, you don't risk making it worse.  You mitigate risk while trying to correct the condition.  I seems that BP, with the blessing of the US government, is doing just the opposite.