As oil company and government task-force teams struggled futilely for another week to control an offshore oil leak spewing an estimated 5,000 barrels per day into the Gulf of Mexico, forces on land prepared to mitigate the damage when the toxic spill comes ashore.
On May 11, Congress commenced hearings on the disaster. On the same day, the federal government began to apply lessons learned from the April 20 disaster. The Obama administration tasked the National Academy of Engineering with running a technical, independent investigation. The U.S. Dept. of the Interior froze offshore drilling permits and announced a restructuring of the Mineral Management Service.
DOI Secretary Ken Salazar said the MMS will establish an independent safety and environment entity. One arm will run inspection, investigation and enforcement operations; the other will manage leasing, revenue collection and permitting. As hearings and investigations began into the April 20 explosions that left 11 workers dead the workers at the hearing recounted mud raining down, multiple explosions and crew members jumping from Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon on that day.
Officials from the principal companies involved in the rig—BP America, Halliburton and Transocean Ltd.—acknowledged there was a sudden catastrophic failure of the cement sealing the well but disagreed on who was to blame.
Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP America, said that BP’s own investigation is focusing on what caused the explosion and fire on the Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon and why Trans-ocean’s blowout preventer (BOP) failed.
“We do know that there were anomalous pressure test readings several hours prior to the explosion. These could have raised concerns about well control prior to the operation to replace mud with seawater in the well in preparation for the setting of the cement plug,” McKay told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
BP is working on several solutions to contain the unchecked oil after its first solution—a 98-ton, one-story fabricated steel box, lowered onto a riser pipe—clogged up with ice because of an unexpected amount of gas and water in the oil coming out of the leaking riser.
“We have a small army working to halt the blowout,” said Kent Wells, BP senior vice president.
Tony Hayward, chief executive officer of BP, said on May 10 that a smaller, 5-ft-tall, 5-ft-dia “top hat” dome would be ready to deploy within 72 hours. The company will pump methanol into the dome to keep ice from forming.
Hayward said BP will also try “junking” the blowout preventer with debris to clog up any leaks. A similar technique was used in Kuwait to extinguish oil-well fires, Wells said, adding that it had never been tried in deepwater.
The company also is considering replacing the faulty blowout preventer with another BOP that it has on-site. BP has also started one relief well; on May 10, it had reached 9,000 ft. A second rig is expected to begin drilling before May 17.
BP and the Coast Guard have skimmed 4 million gallons of oil and water from the surface. They continue periodic surface burns of oil and are discharging dispersants on top of and below the surface of the water. About 1.4 million ft of boom has been deployed, 500,000 ft more are ready to be deployed, and 2.5 million ft are in transit, Hayward said.
HNTB Corp., Kansas City, has contracts in place with the state of Louisiana and the Corps of Engineers for engineering and geotechnical services. The Corps’ New Orleans District has issued the only oil-spill-related permits to date.
Some 1,700 fisherman are involved actively in the cleanup effort, while more than 5,000 vessels have applied to participate. “There’s not very much for them to do because there’s not much getting to shore,” Hayward said.