Deepwater Horizon Well Now Capped

Jordan Nevares

On Sept. 16, work crews completed drilling two relief wells set to contain the pressure of the Deepwater Horizon well. On Sept. 19, workers finished filling the Deepwater Horizon oil well with mud and cement, finally killing the leaking well after five months of disaster.  Afterwards, work crews completely sealed off the well.

Since the well’s rupture in April, two million gallons of chemical dispersant have been sprayed into the gulf to break up oil slicks.

Surprisingly, most of the oil from the gulf has disappeared.  It is not known if this was caused by the dispersants, oil eating microbes, or currents pulling oil underwater.

The explosion, caused by the release of methane gas from the British Petroleum-operated well, should have been stopped by the blowout preventer that rests on the head of the well at the deep-sea surface.  The explosion killed 11 men, and the well leaked over five million barrels of oil over the course of three months.

BP tried to block the leaking well with several failed attempts.  First a dome was deployed to cover the sight of the leak, but the buildup of ice crystals rendered it useless.  Next, ROV’s (Remote Operated Vehicles) were deployed to try and pump heavy drilling mud into the well, in hopes that it would harden and set the stage for a cement covering to cap off the well.  But the pressure overcame the lodging attempt and ultimately failed.

On July 15, a LMRP (Lower Marine Riser Package) was placed on the well and connected to the Discoverer Enterprise ship in order to temporarily siphon the gushing oil.  Meanwhile, two separate relief wells adjacent to the Horizon well drilled two and a half miles down towards the well’s base in order to decrease the pressure and prepare for a bottom kill procedure.

The effect of the spill can be felt on both Wall Street and Main Street.  BP’s share price has fallen to half its value, causing politicians to worry whether the company will be able to pay its fines.  Over a million jobs have been lost in the states affected, which include Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama.  Fishermen and tourists are turning away from the gulf, hurting these southern states that heavily rely on both industries.

Millions of people affected are frustrated over the allocation of BP’s $20 billion relief fund.  Many in the Gulf States find themselves helpless, as they find the payments to affected families lacking.  Meanwhile BP has spent $50 million on an advertising campaign to remind us that the Gulf is clean.

On May 30, President Obama issued a six-month ban on all deepwater drilling beyond 1,000 ft.  Critics of the ban say the moratorium has severely harmed the energy industry of the Gulf States because of the loss of thousands of jobs.

People affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill file claims with BP to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Photo: A. McCoy/MCT

Despite its potential dangers, deepwater drilling is an expanding sector of offshore drilling.  Companies are looking to drill in deeper parts of the Gulf while production of oil slows in shallower wells.

The Horizon oil rig marks a new era in oil exploration and production technology.  The rig is at the pinnacle of a new method of extracting from deep oil fields which otherwise would not have been explorable.

In September 2009 the Horizon oil rig drilled the largest offshore well in history, reaching a vertical depth of 35,000 ft., while operating in 4,000 ft. of water.

But with new technological drilling advancements for deepwater rigs comes increased risk.  The pressure from the wells is enormous, and if improperly controlled, as in the case of the Horizon explosion, methane gas can shoot up the drilling column and explode on the rig platform.

The potential hazards of working on deepwater platforms can be avoided provided that proper safety equipment is fully functional.  The six-month moratorium is aimed at providing time for researching and implementing more drilling safety standards.

The Horizon explosion however is only part of a long list of BP’s safety violations record.  The company is also responsible for a Texas oil refinery explosion that killed 15 workers in 2005, and the oil spill in Alaska’s North Slope from a pipeline in 2008.