Oil Seep Reported Near BP Undersea Well; Admiral Allen Directs BP to Provide Procedure for Opening Choke Line

Responding to a report of “[a] detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head”, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen sent a letter to Bob Dudley, Chief Managing Director, BP Group, directing Dudley “to provide me a written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed.

The underlying concern that is being tested for in the ongoing well integrity test is that the wellbore may have been damaged, and that hydrocarbons may leak out into the formation when the well is capped from the top (as with the 3-ram capping stack currently in place). This could potentially cause uncontrolled leakage from numerous points on the sea floor.

A major indicator of this is the measured pressure. During the Sunday morning technical briefing, Doug Suttles for BP said that the pressure is now at 6,778 psi and continuing to build at 1-2 psi per hour—an encouraging measurement, according to BP.


So that [pressure] trend continues as we would have forecasted in a scenario we talked about where some of the reservoir pressure has been depleted. So the trend continues to follow that expectation.

As you know we have a very extensive monitoring program underway. This includes regular seismic runs. This includes sonar activity. This includes monitoring with the remote operated vehicles, these robotic submarines as well as looking at temperature and noise information from the (inaudible) of air. All of that data continues to show encouraging signs. We’re not seeing any problems at this point of any issues with the shut in. And we continue to review that data on a very regular basis with the government teams. And based on that we will—with these sort of results we’ll continue to leave the well shut in. So at this point it is encouraging.

If you’ve been watching the video feeds you will have noticed in two different locations, we’ve seen a few bubbles. I think as Kent {Wells] mentioned yesterday this is not uncommon but clearly it’s important that we check everything very closely so we’re monitoring that. We have done some simple tests to determine if these bubbles appear to be from hydrocarbons or from something else. And at this point, we don’t believe they are, but as Kent mentioned we’re working to actually get physical samples of those.

—Doug Suttles

In his letter, subsequent to the BP briefing, Admiral Allen wrote:

My letter to you on July 16, 2010 extended the Well Integrity Test period contingent upon the completion of seismic surveys, robust monitoring for indications of leakage, and acoustic testing by the NOAA vessel PISCES in the immediate vicinity of the well head. Given the current observations from the test, including the detected seep a distance from the well and undetermined anomalies at the well head, monitoring of the seabed is of paramount importance during the test period. As a continued condition of the test, you are required to provide as a top priority access and coordination for the monitoring systems, which include seismic and sonar surface ships and subsea ROV and acoustic systems. When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours. I direct you to provide me a written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed.

...As you develop the plans above, note that the primary method of securing the source is the relief well and this effort takes precedence. Therefore, I direct you to provide a detailed plan for the final stages of the relief well that specifically addresses the interaction of this schedule and any other activity that may potentially delay relief well completion.

[Discussion and analysis of this development on The Oil Drum.]


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