UPDATE | New cap installed on oil well – but don’t celebrate yet

Oil still flowing, 12 July 2010


Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has arrived in Houston to be on hand as the well integrity test begins. Chu, according to a DOE press release issued this morning, is “overseeing” the test. His team of government scientific experts include:

  • Tom Hunter, director of DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories
  • George Cooper, expert in materials science, retired professor from UC-Berkeley
  • Richard Lawrence Garwin, physicist and IBM Fellow Emeritus
  • Alexander Slocum, professor of mechanical engineering, MIT

I’ve posted an image from the live BP feed showing the well continuing to spew oil this Tuesday morning, in case the live feed below shifts or goes down. It’s posted at on my blog Solar Plexus, part of the True/Slant news site.

A communication breakdown this evening left many people believing that the BP well that has been gushing oil out of control for 83 days had been plugged early this evening.

It hadn’t.

The image above, taken from a streaming video from one of many remotely operated vehicles (ROV) at the site this evening shows oil continuing to flow into the Gulf of Mexico. (See live video feed, below)

The confusion appears to have begun with a remark made earlier today by National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen.

“Significant progress has been made on the capping stack installation,” said Allen, referring to the new cap with a tighter seal that, officials hope, will allow BP to contain most if not all of the oil coming from the well.

Later, there were unofficial reports that the cap had been “successfully installed.” The word “success” coupled with the fact that for a period of time only one of the many ROV cameras showed the oil spewing, and indistinctly at first, led to the belief that the flow of oil had at last been stopped.

“BP’s new cap in place. It appears all the oil in being contained,” read one overly-optimistic, but typical, tweet this evening.

A civilian employee of the Coast Guard, reached by phone at the government’s Joint Information Center, told The Phoenix Sun that the Skandi 2 ROV camera “appears to show oil is leaking.” (She did not want to be identified because she is not an official spokesperson for the JIC.)

Later, BP issued a press release stating that the new “capping stack” had been installed at 7 PM CDT.

The statement from BP indicates that until testing is completed nothing conclusive can be said about whether or not the stack will actually work. The tests, however, are not designed to examine the stack itself. BP is attempting to determine the condition of the well casement below the sea floor. Serious damage there could make full containment above the wellhead impossible, reinforcing the importance of the twin relief wells that are still being drilled.

The communication problems that have plagued the operation since the Deep Water Horizon exploded in April, continue to add to the general confusion and mistrust of the oil giant. While there was nothing wrong with Allen’s statement earlier today, in its most recent press release, BP once again muddies the waters (so to speak).

The test, BP states early in the release, “will be be a minimum of 6 hours and could extend up to 48 hours…”

If you interpreted that statement to mean that the test will take between 6 and 48 hours, you have not been paying enough attention to BP’s use of the English language.

Ninety-seven words later, the press release states that depending on circumstances, BP may decide to extend “the test duration beyond 48 hours.” Forty-eight hours, you see, is the lower end of the upper end of the test duration, which has no upper-upper end.

Clear as drilling mud.

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