BP's Fatal Design Errors

Early in May, BP had built a Cofferdam intended to contain the oil spill. The device was lowered on top of the leaking oil pipes on May 8. After a short period of operation, it froze up. BP decided to remove it.

A few days later another device, the Top Hat, was lowered and again the device froze up and was removed.

On May 26, BP tried its “Top Kill” attempt. BP declared it a failure on May 30, 2010.

BP will now try its luck with a new containment device that it intends to lower onto the sawed off pipe exit on the non-functioning Blow Out Preventer. In the meantime, the crude oil is gushing at a rate in excess of 20,000 barrels per day.

Two relief wells are being drilled but will not be ready before the middle of August. Realistically, the people in the Gulf Region must look forward to another 75 days of leaking oil. At the estimated leak rate of 20,000 barrels per day, the additional amount of oil will amount to more than 1.5 million barrels or to 60 million gallons. An additional amount of at least 0.8 million barrels or 34 million gallons were leaked earlier.

The damage to wildlife in the Gulf is amplified by the injection of more than one million gallons of dispersants. These dispersants are known to have a huge biological oxygen demand. Their total effects on marine life are unknown.

The earlier tried and failed concept of catching the oil with a containment vessel was a very sensible approach. It has the additional advantage of being able to serve as an emergency device for future, permanent deployment along the shores of the US in case another well disaster in deep waters should ever happen again.

What went wrong with earlier containment efforts? BP explained the failure of its designs as the result of freezing of seawater caused by hydrate formation. This freezing action clogged the openings that BP had installed for pumping the collected oil to the surface and for collecting it in the holds of waiting tankers.

Unfortunately, BP overlooked a very simple, obvious, and sure fire countermeasure; preventing the leaking mixture from freezing by keeping it warm.

Everybody knows that the temperatures at extreme water depths are in the range of 4 degrees Celsius or 40 degrees Fahrenheit. How does one prevent freezing at these very low temperatures and these great depths?

The crude oil, which is reaching the break in the pipe, is obviously still warm enough for leaking out without freezing. After exiting the broken pipe and loosing the protection of the drill pipe, the mixture abruptly enters into a different environment. The mixture is suddenly subjected to the hydrostatic pressure at the bottom of the sea and is exposed to the low temperatures of the surrounding seawater.

In this changed state, it undergoes a few minor changes itself.

It now depends on the actual processes, which will take place under these suddenly changed pressure and temperature conditions. It is important that the crude oil stays liquid, creates a temporary suspension, and does not form chunks of frozen hydrates and ice.

Videos of the rising oil plumes do not show any large pieces falling from the plume and do not show any accumulation of solids on the sea floor. It is, therefore, logical to expect that conditions do exist that prevent the formation of large chunks of frozen solids.

What are these conditions? The conditions are exactly those that facilitate the flowing of the oil plume from the broken pipe, letting it rise and reach the surface. Therefore, the plume must be allowed to rise without premature human interference!

BP did not look at nature for help. They were the experts. They did not need help from outsiders or from nature.

By building a large containment dome and by lowering the device over the failed Blow Out Preventer, it becomes possible to catch the leaking oil completely.

The correct design of the containment dome is elemental. The cardinal rule is to make the dome large enough to give the crude and gas mixture the opportunity to thoroughly mix with the surrounding seawater. The high overpressure of the crude-gas mixture provides the necessary mixing energy; the lower densities of crude and gas assure their continuing rise to the surface.

It now becomes easy to properly design a sizable containment device that can be lowered over the leaking pipe breaks and that can safely let the leaking crude oil rise to the surface. At the surface the crude can be discharged into waiting oil tankers and can be shipped to an oil refinery for further cleaning and for conversion into transportation fuels.

A minimum amount of 100 million gallons of oil can be collected potentially. At a value of roughly $1.50 per gallon of crude a cool $150 million dollars can be collected. Wetlands, coasts, and beaches will be spared, and less of the toxic, submerged oil plumes will reach Europe.

Oil tankers with large holding capacities can be commandeered to the Gulf and can assist in slurping up and separating some of the oil spills on the surface and those submersed under water.

Separating the toxic dispersants from the crude will become a major challenge.

Threatening damages can be reduced significantly! All we need is some well directed and expertly managed cleaning action!


About the Author:
In “Clean Energy for Centuries” Dr. Hemsath presents a comprehensive plan for ending Global Warming and Climate Change. A new book “Petroleum Substitutes from Biomass” is in progress. For fifty years he has developed, designed, and installed advanced energy technologies as scientist, process engineer, inventor, Corporate CTO, CEO, entrepreneur, and author. He holds more than 60 US Patents. Visit http://www.thermalexpert.com for information.
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