Oil Rig Dilemma

Oil from the sunken drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico could pose an environmental threat to sensitive marshes and beaches from Louisiana east to Florida. Robot submarines are being used to activate valves at the well head. Pat Hernandez talked to an expert who hopes they cut off the leak.

When an oil platform 50-miles off the coast of New Orleans burst into flames last Tuesday, it burned for almost two days before it sank about a mile down into the sea. It raised fears about the possibility of a major oil leak from the
well below.

“There was an intense fire on the thing and so, we presumed it was a blowout rather than a rig fire, such as diesel fuel on the rig.”

Benton Baugh is president of Radoil, a Houston company that makes and sells products used in deepwater drilling and blowout prevention control systems. He thinks there may have been a number of safety systems on the riser — the huge pipe that connected the rig to the seabed — that failed.

Drilling riser centralizers and fairings

“I think the rig is like 500-feet away from the well head. The riser would’ve collapsed into sort of a spaghetti bowl. You have 5-thousand feet of riser in that 500-feet between the well and the rig, and some place in that 500-foot stretch near the ocean floor is where oil would be leaking.”

Robot submarine

It’s believed that the riser, resting on the ocean floor, is leaking in two sections. It is now pumping crude into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 42-thousand gallons a day. Baugh says robot submarines are being used to activate valves
at the well head, hoping to cut off the leak.

“There are two primary things they’re doing right now. One of them is to drill an auxiliary well in it that will come in and intersect the bore and pump it full of heavy cement, just to stop it and that will take a considerable time to do. The other one is to go in and intervene locally with a remotely operated vehicle and figure out why the blocked venter’s have not closed and to close them. The ideal thing at this time is to get the remotely operated vehicle down there and close the BOP stack.”

The oil spill has been growing. Since Sunday, the sheen on the surface covered about 600 square miles. Baugh says the environmental damage would be especially serious if it reaches land.

“Oh yeah, no, you’d like to get this over with as quickly as possible, and you don’t want any more spilling out than you have to for sure.”

The spill was located about 30-miles from an important chain of barrier islands, part of a national wildlife refuge that’s used as a nesting ground for pelicans and other sea birds.

This graphic shows the current location of the oil sheen produced by the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Top and bottom images are from the U.S. Coast Guard. Image in the middle of the story is courtesy of Radoil.