Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Crews cleaning oil residue from Louisiana wetlands

Crews using special vacuum devices are sucking pools of spilled Macondo crude oil residue out of Louisiana marshes, said US Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul D. Zukunft, federal onscene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon response.

“At some point, we will let Mother Nature do the work,” Zukunft said, adding the USCG and other federal officials are working with state officials to mutually determine when “there is no net environmental benefit” to continuing to clean marsh areas.

During a Sept. 29 teleconference, Zukunft said 588 miles of shoreline remained oiled and are being cleaned. This includes both marshes and beaches.

In Louisiana, one particular marsh cleanup crew involves 600 people, he said. Nine marsh areas continue to be cleaned, and they are all in Louisiana. Zukunft described a heavy, black “sticky residue in marsh grass.”

An Apr. 20 blowout of the deepwater Macondo well resulted in a fire and explosion on Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible, killing 11 workers and resulting in a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. No oil has spilled since the installation of a capping stack on July 15. BP operated the well.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Baker Hughes opens drilling waste management R&D center

Baker Hughes Inc. opened its Eco-Centre waste management plant in Peterhead, Scotland, in June. In addition to treating and recycling drilling waste, the plant includes a research and development center.

Drilling waste contains oily residues classified as hazardous waste, and its disposal must follow strict federal and local regulations, Baker Hughes said in a recent company magazine, Connexus.

“Facilities that treat hazardous waste in the UK must adhere to Scottish Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and have an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive permit that outlines operational measures to control emissions to the environment,” Baker Hughes said.

Martin Gilbert, Baker Hughes global R&D manager, said he believes no other R&D center has direct access to drill cuttings and waste fluids like the one in the Peterhead Eco-Center.

Waste disposal from oil and gas drilling and production is an issue of growing important for operators worldwide. Baker Hughes said North Sea operators have the choice of hiring waste management companies to transport cuttings and fluids for disposal onshore or else operators reinject cuttings into dedicated disposal wells.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blowout preventers and their cutting power being reviewed

The failed Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer is being examined at a NASA laboratory in New Orleans, National Incident Commander and retired US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said. Basically, the BOP is a large valve at the top of the well designed to close in an emergency.

A number of government agencies are investigating why the Deepwater Horizon BOP failed, contributing to a fatal accident and a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP PLC, which operates Macondo, issued recommendations on BOP design and assurance measures in BP's own investigation report.

The Macondo well was drilled by Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible on which 11 crew members died.

Separately, National Oilwell Varco has developed a new blade design for shear rams within the BOP stack. National Oilwell Varco says its new shear ram system is intended to cut through the thickest joints of drill pipe.

BP’s BOP recommendations primarily involve BP establishing minimum levels of redundancy and reliability for its BOP systems. BP also would require drilling contractors to implement an auditable risk management process to ensure BOP systems are operated above minimum levels. The oil company likely will strengthen its minimum requirements for contractors’ BOP testing and emergency systems.

Safety regulators worldwide are reviewing deepwater drilling policies, including BOP regulations.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Scientists find new microbe in Macondo oil spill

US Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists found microbes degraded oil in deepwater much faster than anticipated, and this degradation appears to take place without a significant level of oxygen depletion.

That is among the most positive findings following the massive oil spill from BP PLC’s Macondo well off Louisiana in 5,000 ft of water. Berkeley Lab scientists found the presence of various hydrocarbon degraders, adding that the dominant microbe in the dispersed Macondo oil was a new, unclassified species.

The existence of oil at extreme water depths posed numerous questions. BP deployed chemical dispersants at the wellhead, creating tiny petroleum particles in efforts to prevent oil from reaching the gulf’s surface.

The environmental effects of dispersants have been studied in surface water applications for years, but their potential effect on the deepwater gulf marine ecosystem was unknown.

Terry Hazen, a Berkeley Lab microbial ecologist, said findings “suggest that a great potential for intrinsic bioremediation of oil plumes exists in the deep sea.” The research done by Hazen and his colleagues was reported in Science (Aug. 26 online) in a paper entitled “Deep-sea oil plume enriches indigenous oil-degrading bacteria.”

The influx of oil “profoundly altered the microbial community” by stimulating psychrophilic (cold temperature) gamma-proteobacteria closely related to known petroleum-degrading microbes.

Psychrophilic petroleum degraders contributed to the rapid decline of the Macondo oil, he said. Analysis of changes in the crude oil composition indicated faster-than-expected biodegradation rates with the half-life of the oil’s alkanes ranging from 1.2 to 6.1 days.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Crews to protect Macondo casing hanger during BOP swap

The casing hanger and annulus seal have taken center stage in BP PLC’s plan to replace the Transocean Ltd. Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible's blowout preventer with another blowout preventer.

Engineers and scientists calculated 80,000 pounds of force can be used to pull the Deepwater Horizon BOP off the blown-out Macondo well. National Incident Commander and US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen describes this as “a gentle tug.”

“What they’re concerned about is somehow potentially dislodging the casing hanger that is at the top of the well,” Allen said.

An earlier ambient pressure test indicated a static condition in the annulus, Allen said. This situation gives crews the confidence that they can change out the BOP without causing any harm before proceeding with completion of the relief well.

“What we’re trying not to do is create some change to the static situation in relation to the seals that are keeping the annulus at a static condition as we try and lift the blowout preventer up,” Allen said. “That’s the reason there’s a limit to how much pull we’re using.”

The casing hanger is part of a subsea wellhead system built by Dril-Quip of Houston.

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