can't they just blow it up?
May 15, 2010 7:46 AM   Subscribe

The NYTimes has an article this morning about the next trick to stop BP's oil spill in the Gulf: the "junk shot" (basically stuff a bunch of junk in the pipes to clog it). Looking at the left half of this picture I'm wondering why they can't do that dynamite trick used in There will be blood (1:14 in the clip) ... just drill down a couple hundred meters to the pipe, send some explosives in and let the earth stop the leak. Anyone know why not?
posted by pjenks to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The situations are not really comparable.

The well is under 5,000 feet of water. The oil well in There Will Be Blood was on the surface of the earth.

You're dealing with a much more complicated problem than a blowout at the surface.
posted by dfriedman at 7:59 AM on May 15, 2010

It seems that they are trying to do this... my Dad, sort of an oilman on a small scale, forwarded me an email he got from his buddy in Texas that had a powerpoint presentation explaining the whole situation. This part is relevant:

"They will use technology that is capable of drilling from a floating rig, over 3 miles deep to an exact specific point in the earth - with a target radius of just a few feet plus or minus. Once they intersect their target, a heavy fluid will be pumped that exceeds the formation's pressure, thus causing the flow to cease and rendering the well safe at last. It will take at least a couple of months to get this done, bringing all available technology to bear."

Mefi mail me if you want me to forward you the ppt slides.
posted by pwally at 8:00 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I meant to add: The complicated problem here is the immense pressures involved in operating under 5,000 feet of water.

Traditional explosives likely won't work in the manner you seem to think they would work under that much water.

Or, more simply put: if the solution were that simple they would have used it already.
posted by dfriedman at 8:00 AM on May 15, 2010

Best answer: .
the explosives portrayed in There Will be Blood were not stopping the gusher but were blowing out the fire.
posted by DavidandConquer at 9:28 AM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

They are in fact trying to do exactly what you said. But it will take weeks. In the mean time they're trying other things in hopes that they'll work sooner.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:33 AM on May 15, 2010

It would be trivial to implode the pipe using high explosives or small nuclear charges. The Russians have done so in many similar (but of course not exactly the same) circumstances.

The oil itself is 13,000 feet below the BOTTOM of the ocean, deep in the bedrock. Oil flows have been imploded successfully with much less wiggle room between source & spillpoint before.

The problem with this solution is that it renders the well unusable, and BP really, REALLY wants that oil well. To the extent that they will dither over other solutions for weeks while the rest of us pay for it. For years. With money, blood and incalculable environmental costs.

Drill, baby, drill.
posted by Aquaman at 10:19 AM on May 15, 2010

Seconding DavidandConquerer. I had assumed in the movie, they were using the explosives to put out the fire, as they did in the Gulf war oil fields. If you create a big enough explosion, all the oxygen is removed for just long enough that the fire extinguishes. Of course in real life, this method should have left them with oil still gushing out of the just wouldn't be on fire. I'm not sure what the logic was (other than **magic**) to explain why the explosion in the movie conveniently stopped the gushing too.
posted by gueneverey at 11:01 AM on May 15, 2010

The John Wayne movie "The Hellfighters" is based on real-life oil well firefighter Red Adair (who acted as technical advisor for the film), and it has several examples of using explosives to put out oil well fires. Probably much more realistic than that "there will be blood" movie.

And yeah, the oil continues to gush out of the well after it stops burning.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:26 PM on May 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the correction on the oilwell-explosive connection, everyone. I wonder if (1) BP really does plan on "saving" this well, despite the fact that they will have a relief well drilled in a couple of months to the same reservoir and (2) if it is possible to use explosive (placed deep enough in the ocean floor) to stop the flow.
posted by pjenks at 12:41 PM on May 15, 2010

Best answer: Pwally's dad's friend's slides cover the basics. You're not just talking about the water pressure, you're talking about formation pressure which is significantly greater and a huge challenge to work with parameters that allow you to drill the formation without incurring a kick or damaging the integrity of the formation. Essentially, you have to drill within a range of pressure that is typically 85-95% in balance with the formation pressure at a given depth. Balanced with the additional pressure of the mud column in the riser, that's dual-gradient drilling is making progress.

Dropping a charge is a really stupid thing to do, dropping a nuke downhole is just plain mental.

The relief wells will take a couple of months to get down there, they've already started one of them using another rig. They'll drill directionally to intersect and then a few hundred feet away, they'll trip out to pick up ranging equipment to more accurately intersect the well.

Drilling for hydrocarbons is not an easy thing to do, as someone mentioned in a previous thread, it's akin to a moonshot. BP isn't dithering over solutions in order to save the production, the bad PR and clean up costs far outweigh that mindset. Does anyone really think they will be allowed to run the production after they screwed this up? Talking to friends and colleagues this week, it's a fair assumption that BP won't be alllowed to do anything in the US for years to come.
posted by arcticseal at 2:02 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks arcticseal for all the details. A couple of questions:

1) Is the relief well only for the "rescue mission" or can it also be used for subsequent oil production?

2) Why exactly are explosives such a bad idea, and is the "integrity of the formation" important if you don't plan to continue drilling?

3) From the things I've seen in your links and elsewhere, it seems that the relief well simply goes to the bottom of the blowout well and plugs it. Why can't the blowout well simply be intersected somewhere higher, more quickly?
posted by pjenks at 2:46 PM on May 15, 2010

pjenks, if you think your idea has merit, you can send it to BP and the Coast Guard. The deepwaterhorizonresponse website has a .pdf form you can submit via email directly from the site, or you can call their hotline at 1-281-366-5511. They have already received over 5,000 responses. BP and the Coast Guard evaluate every idea submitted.
posted by Houstonian at 4:54 AM on May 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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