BP's Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell Policy: The Well’s Corked, But Public and Government are Left in the Dark
Prof. Bob Bea, of UC Berkeley, a civil engineer with years of expertise in marine oil drilling, says he is concerned that during the current crisis of BP’s blown-out well deep under the Gulf of Mexico, government scientists may not be getting all the information they need from the secretive oil company in order to make intelligent decisions about shutting down the gusher.
“Certainly we independent investigators are not getting information about the condition of the well or about the leaks in the surrounding sea floor,” says Prof. Bea, who is a member of the Deepwater Horizon Study Group at UC Berkeley’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, where he is co-director, “And I don’t think the expert investigators at the Department of Energy are getting it either.”
“Information about oil reservoir formations is highly secretive among the oil companies. BP would be loath to share information about what’s going on in a reservoir with competitors,” he says.
What has Prof. Bea and other outside experts concerned is that the casing of the BP well--the long string of pipe that runs from the sea floor down to the high-pressure oil reservoir 2.5 miles below the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico--has “clearly been breached.”
He says this can be known with some confidence because the gas that erupted through the top of the well, exploding through and ultimately sinking the giant floating drill rig, the Deepwater Horizon, “almost certainly” came not from the oil-bearing layer where the bottom of the casing reaches, but from the strata through which the well was drilled, most likely down near the bottom of the well string. (There is good reason to believe the blast came from near the well’s bottom because, according to Dept. of Energy officials, a gamma-ray examination of the BOP showed parts of the lower casing had been blasted all the way up into the blowout preventer, probably explaining why its fail-safe shut-off shears couldn’t work.)
In the time since the well was fitted with a temporary cap last week, allowing pressure to build up within the pipe, Prof. Bea says it is likely that the underground gas bubble, instead of running up the pipe, or staying put where it was in the ground, has been pushing its way along cracks and faults that lead to the surface.
In fact, since the tight-fitting cap was put in place, stopping the gushing oil from pouring into the Gulf waters (over initial government objections), a number of leaks of gas and oil--but primarily gas--have been discovered bubbling up through the sea floor. There are reportedly about five of these leaks now (up from three earlier in the week), which have appeared around the area of the well’s blowout preventer (BOP), one as distant from the wellhead as several hundred yards. There is also reportedly gas and oil leaking from the ground around an unused well some two miles away from the blown-out well.