Will the oil well run dry at some point?
May 31, 2010 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Wont the BP oil well run out of oil at some point? How long could it possibly keep spewing? Don't wells run dry? (Sorry if I am hopelessly naive. I've never thought about oil wells in my life before this.)
posted by Sully to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
It will eventually run out, but there's such a ridiculously large amount of oil down there that it is very much in our best interest to cap it ASAP. It would spew for years if left untouched.
posted by DMan at 1:30 PM on May 31, 2010


Best answer: Sorry, here is the citation for that.
posted by DMan at 1:31 PM on May 31, 2010


Sure, but I don't think it'd run out any time soon. It's not like they were going to set a platform there and just use it for a month. There's a lot of oil.
posted by floam at 1:47 PM on May 31, 2010


Yes, but since this is already being termed by many the worst environmental catastrophe ever to affect the USA, it's pretty irrelevant whether or not the oil will eventually stop.

Oil (as you may know) is formed by long-term compression of organic material (plants, dinosaurs, etc). The places where we can find oil now are places that have unique geological features that trap the oil underground so it doesn't dissipate over the eons. A common location for oil and gas deposits are beneath "salt domes", which are formations of crystallized salt underground. The salt is impermeable to oil and gas, so it stays down there, until morons come along and poke holes in it without properly stockpiling oil-collecting booms to protect us from a spill.

Naturally, the amount of oil in a salt dome is finite, but there's enough to turn the Gulf coast into a wasteland.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:08 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Best answer: It's estimated that there is 50 million barrels in that reserve. Although nobody knows exactly how much is spilling every day, one good estimate is 12,000 to 19,000 barrels.

- 50 million divided by 12,000 (the low end of that estimate) is 4166 days, or a little over 11 years.
- 50 million divided by 19,000 (the high end of that estimate) is 2631 days, or a little over 7 years.

One barrel = 42 US gallons, or about 159 liters
posted by Houstonian at 2:14 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Jesus. The article says SEVEN YEARS.
posted by Sully at 2:16 PM on May 31, 2010


To put these numbers in perspective:

- The US Strategic Oil Reserve hold 34 days worth of oil for us, for emergency situations. It holds 724 million barrels because in the US, we use on average 21 million barrels of oil per day.

- The US has 21 billion barrels in proven oil reserves (that is, oil that we are pretty sure we can get).

So depending on how you look at it, the field was a big find (equal to about half of what our government holds for us for emergencies) and not too big of a find (we have lots more, and we would've burned through all of it much faster than it is spilling now).
posted by Houstonian at 2:35 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nobody knows for sure... It can last for years.

Examples of man made disasters are the Door to Hell and Sidoarjo Mud Flow.
posted by bbxx at 2:42 PM on May 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


Houstonian, is all of that 50 million recoverable? Even if not, the oil will only continue to flow until it equalizes with the pressure at the bottom of the sea. There could be a gobsmacking lot of oil down there and it wouldn't flow up the hole if it wasn't under pressure. At some point before the field actually running dry the flow would stop. What exactly that point is, I have no idea. Alls I know is that the oil is entering the BOP at about 8000 psi and exits it at about 2600psi, while the water pressure at that depth is somewhere around 2000 psi.
posted by wierdo at 6:05 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


wierdo is right -- it takes pressure to force the oil up, and pressure changes constantly, so really the question involves how much oil is there and what's the constantly-changing pressure. The data comes from SCADA and telemetry that (I think) is not in place until they start pumping oil (that is, if the well had not blown, it would've been put in some months later).

There are things called MWD (measurements while drilling) and LWD (logging while drilling), which are electronics that should be in place right now. They provide data while you are drilling the well. My understanding is that this data does not include information about pressure. It's data that helps us understand what we are drilling through, and the condition of the drill bits.

To answer one of the questions: Yes, wells run dry. Wierdo is right in that wells usually only run dry after we have done some things to pump (push) every drop out, so it is unlikely that all 50 million barrels will just come up on its own. Given how much oil is there, even under the incredible pressure that exists in the well, I'm confident that the well will not run dry before we find a way to fix the problem.

And, I dorked up the last sentence of my previous post. I should've typed this: "So depending on how you look at it, the field was a big find (50 million barrels!) and not too big of a find (we have lots more, and we would've burned through all of it much faster than it is spilling now)." Yeah, half of 724 is not 50.
posted by Houstonian at 2:33 AM on June 1, 2010


What exactly that point is, I have no idea. Alls I know is that the oil is entering the BOP at about 8000 psi and exits it at about 2600psi, while the water pressure at that depth is somewhere around 2000 psi.

BP are in the process of cutting the riser stack off of the top of the BOP. This will almost definitely increase the pressure of the oil leaving the BOP.
posted by schmod at 8:14 AM on June 1, 2010


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