“That operation has gone extremely well. We are very pleased.”
That was BP VP Bob Fryar’s assessment today of his company’s success in capturing some of the oil gushing from its wild well on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
Yesterday, we said that the cap seemed headed for failure. So who’s right?
As usual, it gets down to how you define “success” and “failure” (and on how you do the math).
From Top Kill to Containment
First, it’s important to note that BP has moved the goal posts after the process known as “Top Kill” failed. Actually, it’s more like they started playing a different game altogether, and they managed to did it without drawing media attention. Top Kill was the last in a long line of attempts to shut the well down — as the word “kill” implies. BP’s new game is designed, at best, to divert a portion of the oil up a pipe to the surface. Killing the well won’t be accomplished until relief wells tap into the existing pipe far below the ocean floor and inject cement there. BP has said that will take until August. (Some experts believe it will take longer, perhaps an additional six months.)
“Containing” the oil using the cap is much more manageable. Then again, maybe not. Yesterday, BP’s Doug Suttles was optimistic that the cap would ultimately bring over 90 percent of the oil to the surface where it would be pumped into a tanker. To get anywhere near that figure, four vents on the cap need to be closed, a job that was supposed to happen on Friday.
At a morning press conference, however, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen confirmed that all of the vents remained open, for fear of increasing the pressure on the cap too quickly, causing it to malfunction or break apart.
Even so, BP reported that they had succeeded in bringing up 6,000 barrels of oil in the last 24 hours, a figure that CNN reminded viewers was 31 percent of the 19,000 barrels the government estimates is leaking each day.
BP’s Kinky Math
There are some problems with these numbers.
First, the 6,000 barrels can’t simply be subtracted from the estimated flow at the wellhead. The flow was from a smaller opening in a pipe narrowed by a kink. As they moved from killing the well to containing the oil, BP said that the flow would increase by an estimated 20 percent. Anyone watching one of the live cams noticed a surge in the volume of oil after the cut was made. So, if their estimates are correct, by the time the cap was put in place the flow had increased by 3,800 barrels per day.
Which means BP’ has reduced the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf by just 2,200 barrels per day.
But even that overstates the success of the current effort.
Before Top Kill, BP had started a very low-tech process: siphoning oil through a six-inch tube stuck into the broken riser. The amount of oil “contained” by that tube was 2,000 barrels per day.
So, after all that BP has done since May 18th (when the tube was drawing oil), they are, as of this morning, capturing a net gain of 200 barrels of oil a day.
VP = Very Pleased
We’d like to see BP’s Bob “We are Very Pleased” Fryar try explaining his company’s concept of success to Erin Tamber.
Tamber survived Hurricane Katrina and then moved to Pensacola Beach, Florida. Staring at a beach now orange with oil, Tamber told a reporter yesterday, “I feel like I’ve gone from owning a piece of paradise to owning a toxic waste dump.”