MMS permits first new Gulf well since BP Disaster
MMS Permit may allow drilling to 5 miles below Gulf—high pressure / high temperature hazard
*with help from Keon Monroe
Today the embattled Mineral Management Service issued a permit to Bandon Oil & Gas for a new offshore oil well some 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. According to Interior Department officials, this well is being allowed because its in water that’s only 115 feet deep. The moratorium exempts operations in less than 500 feet of water. The story was posted first by AP reporter Mike Baker. The Bandon site is located about 200 miles to the west of the Deepwater site, south of Louisiana’s Rockefeller Wildlife & Game Preserve.
What MMS isn’t talking about: the permit apparently will allow Bandon to drill to a maximum depth of 25,000 feet below the bottom of the Gulf. This figure is stated as the rated well depth in the company’s application form provided to me by Interior Department’s spokesperson Frank Quimby. It is clear that DOI’s focus and the terms of the moratorium focuses narrowly on water depth without considering the risk factors associated with drilling depth. Drilling depth was clearly a factor in BP’s Deepwater Horizon accident and its many failed efforts to stop the oil gush. See coverage of this blog post in SF Chronicle Column by Yobie Benjamin
Why is drilling depth a critical risk factor? The risk of a blowout (the cause of the BP disaster) increases with the depth of drilling. The deeper the oil is buried in the earth’s crust, the higher the pressure and the hotter the temperature. The greater the pressure and temperature of these fluids, the more difficult it is to control the the rate at which oil and gas is moving upward with drilling mud.
To make matters worse as the hot oil and gas rise there is a rapid pressure drop and gases expand and even small bubbles of gas grow to enormous size as they move up toward the surface. For a good explanation see Popular Mechanics article. The article quotes Bill Marcus, VP for response of renowned well control company Boots and Coots. “That’s the inherent danger of drilling deeper,” “You have small gas influxes all the time, but in ultra deep they become radical.” This problem may have contributed to the blowout and explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig.
What is also stunning is that Bandon Oil and Gas applied for its permit in April after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank and then received approval little more than a month later. In an excellent June 2 article by Yobie Benjamin, SF Chronicle points out that the permit was issued without any information to the public on the specific risk factors and measures employed to obtain this oil from 25,000 into the earth’s crust.
It’s also stunning that the sole focus on water depth as a criteria for permits and the administration’s highly touted moratorium does not extend to wells being drilled to depths where drilling is inherently risky and accidents difficult to control. Who’s in charge?
We also note that lots of blowouts occur in shallow water, as the following table illustrates: