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nottoolate On May - 15 - 2010

The usual apologies up front…never did a story before, don’t know if it’s suitable for the Planet, etc. If I’m all wet, I’m sure somebody will let me know.

I’ve been following the Gulf Geyser story as intently as possible for an elderly, nonscientific, English Lit major. One of the best resources I’ve found is www.theoildrum.com. Don’t be put off by the seemingly high-tech, insider aspects of the site. There’s plenty information that we “normal” people can understand, and it’s easy to skip the hardcore comments and still follow the substance of the discussion.

The following is one of the best analogies I’ve read for what’s going on in the gusher and what BP’s attempts to fix it amount to. I’m quoting here in full because it appears in a long comments thread and is hard to find. You can read the entire article and all the comments by going to http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6464. This particular one is by HighTension, 4:49 pm. May 14.

As a lay person, I’ve been thinking about how to understand this situation using everyday experiences. It involves capture of a mixed liquid and gas stream underwater. The only jets of mixed liquids and gases most of experience are opening beers and sodas that have been shaken up. Perhaps such everyday experience can serve as a simple model.
This is not to make light of this situation. It is heartbreaking in many ways. But, most of us don’t have experience with mixed pressurized liquids and gases, except for beer and soda.
Imagine you have an ice-cold (just above freezing point) beer bottle with a built-in 1/4″ straw that passes through the cap. The straw is sealed in two places: (1) just where it passes through the cap and (2) at the end of the straw. Shake the beer. Then gouge two holes in the straw some distance from each other big enough to allow a substantial amount of beer to spill out. A mix of beer, gas, and ice will blast out of the two holes.
Your goal is to either stop the beer from flowing out or collect the beer in your glass. But there are a number of conditions: (1) the beer bottle and all your tools are at the bottom of your pool; (2) you and your beer glass are floating in a pool chair and you are manipulating things at the bottom of the pool with very long chopsticks and exacto knives; (3) the built in straw is loose, so there is a risk of it popping out if it is manhandled, allowing much more beer to blast into the pool; and (4) all of the things you use to accomplish these tasks are cold enough to allow beer to freeze on them.
First idea: Collect the fizzing and jetting beer with a funnel and transport it through a straw to your glass. In theory, the rising bubbles will carry the beer to the top of the pool and into your glass. If one puts a metal funnel that narrows to 1/4″ over the underwater beer jet, the fizzing gas, water turbulence, and/or formation of ice in the funnel will mean that the leak will likely back up in the funnel and flow over the edge of the funnel and into the pool. Very little beer will pass through the funnel and ice will ultimately block the funnel. Is this roughly what happened with the BP dome? If memory serves, the dome had roughly the same size outlet as the diameter of the ruptured drill pipe and is even smaller than the riser pipe. Do the same thing with a bigger funnel with a 1/2″ outlet and more beer will be captured, but it will be watered down. Seems like the way to make this work is to have an outlet pipe big enough to capture the turbulent flow and expanding gas while at the same time warming the dome and expecting to separate beer from water. I have no idea if existing offshore piping is big enough or strong enough to do this job.
Second idea: Collect the fizzing and jetting beer with a smaller funnel. Less ice formation and perhaps less water gets sucked up, but I don’t see how this deals with turbulence so the beer would nonetheless back up in the funnel. I understand this to be analogous to the top hat idea.
Third idea: pump chunks of stuff (lime rind) to the bottom of the pool and inject it into the broken seal at the beer cap to try to clog it up so beer doesn’t flow into the straw. Whether this works would seem to depend on the force of the jetting beer, the nature of the clogging stuff, and whether there is sufficient purchase in the broken seal for the clog to stick.
Fourth idea: Cut the straw off evenly upstream of the hole and stick a cap over it. Whether this works would seem to depend on whether the cap can be forced over the straw and be made to stay in place. The jetting beer would seem to make placement of the cap difficult. Ever tried to attach a sprinkler on a flowing garden hose? Also, what about the second leak? Do you cut the straw upstream of both the leaks? Does this cutting risk having the straw pop out? Is the straw strong enough to take the pressure or might it rupture somewhere else?
Seems like BP faces a situation where it may be able to stop the spill in the near term only if it first cuts the riser off entirely upstream of both leaks, but this would increase flows for awhile and may risk creation of a new leak closer to the BOP or catastrophic failure. BP may be avoiding such action because if it doesn’t work, it’s liability could increase substantially. But if it doesn’t slow flows until the relief well is drilled, it liability may be astronomical anyway. It’s hard to see how the spill is stopped in the near term without making a clean purchase for a cap of some sort either on the riser or BOP. If the cut is in the weakened riser, then the cap may need to be connected to an outlet pipe to let the oil flow out to keep pressures lower so the riser does not burst. If the riser is cut away from the BOP so a valve can be attached to the top of the BOP, the issue becomes one of whether it is possible to use existing bolts or whether the BOP would need to be encased in something to which a valve can be attached. Success would seem to depend on the extent of damage to the BOP and whether the restriction in flow comes primarily from the BOP or crimps in the riser. In any case, a new valve could be kept open until it is firmly secured.
BP may be in a position where it must take greater risks than it is currently willing to assume to avoid ever increasing liability.

Another source of articles/comments on attempts to manage the effects of the oil volcano is www.dailykos.com. Diaries by Fishgrease are horrifyingly amusing and enlightening. Among other things, he is basically saying–in extraordinarily colorful language–that the way BP and the Coast Guard are deploying booms is completely ineffectual, and that there’s a better way to do it (no, not those old used hair shirts that don’t fit any more).
Booming School: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/5/11/11558/1890. Part of it says this:

1. The booming is being run by a company that concentrates on drilling and booming is for pussies. Production employees were not invited because they would just cause trouble. This is a drilling operation so just fuck off.
2. There’s not enough boom, rope nor anchor on this planet to properly boom the Northern Gulf of Mexico. There should be! It’s not that much an expense! Really! It’s not! They said they were ready! Having enough materials to perform fucking proper fucking booming, IS part of being ready! THEY’RE NOT READY! ARE THEY?
3. Governors, Senators, Presidents and most of all the Piece-Of-Shit-C*nt Media don’t know what fucking proper fucking booming LOOKS LIKE! So you can just lay a single line of neon-glo-orange boom out parallel to the shore, for miles, with anchor points every quarter-mile to where a good part of it washes up onto the shore like a huge, dead, orange nightcrawler… and they won’t know the difference! Where it manages to stay off the bank, a little two-foot chop you would let your kids frolic in will send all the oil either over or under it! ALL THE OIL! ON THE SHORE! IN THE REEDS! ON THE BEACH! IN THE NESTS! OIL! So what! It’s not gonna make CNN send a single correspondent to booming school, is it?

See also Booming School II: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/5/14/31041/9176, which contains some lively opinionating about what Booby Jindal might accomplish with his effort to keep the oil off the Louisiana coast with berms, and about what Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen might most usefully do with himself.

Bottom line for me = taking refuge in the little fact-based reality I can get my mind around on this ecological, financial, political, moral disaster. I was going to post this video on last night’s summer music thread, but felt it might have been a downer. So here it is, dedicated especially to the folks in Louisiana (those not pimping for BP).

25 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
    • nottoolate says:

      Indeed, Dildenusa. Theoildrum continues to reflect some good thinking about what the flow might be based on the very limited video evidence released by BP.


      I do believe BP knows much more than they are telling about what the flow rate actually is. There are some real solid technical reasons they need that information.
      In designing for the top kill and/or junk shot it is really vital to the decision making. In fact, the approach they are now taking of trying the top kill before the junk shot could be a clue that the flow rate is not as great as they originally thought (we have no idea what their original estimate was) as they have to be able to pump the mud against that flow.

      I am unable to feel the love when I hear that a multi-agency federal bunch is on the case. http://www.energyboom.com/policy/federal-flow-rate-technical-team-established-determine-extent-bp-oil-spill

      And I kind of lost track of that hotsy-totsy panel of the best brains of our time (2 of whom have nuclear expertise) who are supposed to address possible solutions.


      The homophobe Jonathan Katz has been dropped from this taskforce after outrage over his climate change denial and his anti-gay rants. The taskforce includes Richard L. Garwin (82), a military-technology and arms-control consultant to the U.S. government. He helped design the first hydrogen bomb in 1951, according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

      I think this group is supposed to be working under top secret conditions, but if anybody has an update I’d be interested to hear it.

      And then there’s Kevin Costner and his $23mil each miracle centrifuges. http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/49458
      I can’t believe a couple of reputable blogs reported this with dewey-eyed optimism. I guess you’d call it wishing on a star.

      You can’t make this shit up.

  1. dildenusa says:

    From the Random House College Dictionary.

    Entropy --
    1. A measure of the amount of energy unavailable for work during a natural process.
    2. Measure of probability of distribution in a closed system, measure of randomness.
    3. hypothesized tendency toward uniform inertness.

    So the BP engineers will tell us that the oil spewing from the broken pipe in the Gulf of Mexico is a random event based on probability and that by sucking the oil into a tanker they are lowering the entropy of the system. Reality however is a bit different. To the executives at BP it’s spin and public relations.

  2. Questinia says:

    I love your post, nottoolate chocolate! It is concise, clear and uses analogies that promote understanding.

    You’ve changed my perception of what you refer to as a
    ecological, financial, political, and moral disaster.

    I’m looking forward to your next post!

  3. javaz says:

    60 Minutes interview with oil-rig survivor --


    If corporations are people, too, should BP be charged with negligent homicide for the 11 dead?

    And isn’t it true that BP execs were on the rig celebrating BP’s safety record when it blew?
    Why didn’t they helicopter out those remaining on the rig?
    And is it possible that BP ignored all the warnings and pushed it forward so that they could hold their party congratulating themselves?

    • nottoolate says:

      I just watched this, Javaz. It helped me cry for the first time over this, right along with Mike Williams. If BP isn’t careful with that goddamn 4″ straw they’re using to suck up the oil and gas, there’s going to be another explosion. Why the hell is BP allowed to proceed with this? It’s like asking a murderer to handle mitigation for his deed. Literally.

  4. kesmarn says:

    NTL, kudos on your first article! It’s a winner. This is the most lucid explanation of the difficulties involved in this whole “adventure” that I’ve seen. Never underestimate the powers of comprehension of an English Lit major!

    And I was relieved to see KQ’s comment. I’ve been wondering for the longest time why every proposed “solution” had to involve getting that oil to the surface and in a condition to be refined. But I thought that asking that question might look silly because there might be some obvious reason (which I had obviously overlooked) why there was no other option. However, now that an organic chemist has pointed out that “that oil isn’t going anywhere,” and that it’s okay to leave it under the ocean floor at this point, I have the “courage” to say: “Yeah. What he said!”


  5. choicelady says:

    NTL -- this was VERY helpful as are the comments about the priorities that BP has.

    It also answered my biggest question -- why not use duct tape? Works for everything else. But now I see the difficulties. Too bad.

    • Khirad says:

      Can’t be weirder than hair.

      • choicelady says:

        Kinda like the hair and nylons. I’m thinking of asking if they want the pounds of cat hair my two cats are shedding. I happen to know it does work -- they used to use Chinese women’s hair as a filter for linseed oil (don’t ask how I know this -- it’s a very long and very tedious story.) I suspect, though, that the volume of spill will outstrip the amount of hair and pantyhose that can be put to work.

        But if the solution lies in the “crimp” of the pipe, the government has GOT to mandate that and fast. The rest is ridiculous and will cost the environment and everyone depending on the coastal economy too much to wait. I’m outraged that no one has demanded this!

        • Questinia says:

          Hair and nylons? BP just needs to come over to my house and start picking through my bedroom! It could clog a volcano.

          Actually, I don’t wear nylons, but tights… that’s even better!

        • PatsyT says:

          I have three dogs that can help, a plentiful resource. How about dryer lint? Sound ridiculous? Well what have they got?
          I can not believe they have nothing.

    • nottoolate says:

      C’Lady, don’t dismiss duct tape out of hand. For all we know it will be used in the crap shoot (junk shot) along with shredded golf balls and tires. Personally, I’m afraid this attempt carries as much danger as the original drilling. They have to figure out the right materials to use, and heave waves of it in at certain time intervals. They also need to monitor it to make sure they’re not making things worse. “Worse” would include blowing out the blowout preventer itself, in which case there is a wide-open flow path for 8000 psi oil to the sea bed.

      Commenters on theoildrum.com think this is unlikely, but but possible. BP et al. (unfortunately, the et al. includes Obama) treated the possibility of disaster on this and other deepwater wells as extremely unlikely. The did not have and still do not have contingency plans, and there isn’t even a possibility of a contingency plan for a blowout of the blowout preventer.

      The ONLY way to finally kill the well is through the mis-called “relief” wells. (They’re not for relief, they’re for killing.) Those will take many weeks to complete, and of course all efforts will be shut down by seriously bad weather (those darned hurricanes!). Meanwhile, all this nonsense about domes and top hats and junk shots is smoke and mirrors to make the public feel that something, anything, is being done.

    • KQ says:

      The latest thing they are trying to do is the first thing they should have tried. Putting a riser pipe in that is deadheaded at the top.

      The thing that makes me furious is the oils going no where. There are going to have to drill a relief hole drilled anyway so they would have gotten their oil in months anyway.

  6. PatsyT says:

    Flying Over the BP Gulf Oil Spill (Photos +Video)

    I want to know what the Dispersant stuff is and who makes/sells it?
    Someone is making $$$ off of this.

  7. PatsyT says:

    Oh Nottoolate,
    If only it was beer!
    They really are just making stuff up.
    What KQ said makes a good point.
    They want to capture the oil not stop the leak.
    One joke I read on a site (can not remember which one)

    If Dolphins were allowed to open carry their firearms, none of this would have happened

  8. KQ says:

    Also government is focusing on the wrong thing just worrying just how far to drill off shore. Congress should be putting a limit on how deep in the ocean they could drill instead. Again I don’t know why that’s not obvious.

  9. Khirad says:

    This was even better than Bill Nye trying to explain it -- and I usually like him for translating stuff so it’s understandable by such a scientifically impaired mind as mine. But, this was just as good, and better.

  10. KQ says:

    No reason to apologize NTL excellent analogy and very accurate.

    It’s obvious to me the biggest scandal BP will face. All attempts at plugging the leaks have not been attempts to plug the leaks at all. BP has been trying to recapture the oil, NOT plug the leaks. They should have tried the “junk shot” first because it has the highest probability of plugging the leak from what I’ve read. Yet they wasted weeks and let thousands and thousands more gallons of oil spill in the gulf before doing what they should have done in the first place.

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