UpdateGulf spill estimate too low as BP recovers 5,000 bbl/day of oil

20 May 2010 20:16  [Source: ICIS news]

Gas flared from spill(adds updates throughout)

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--BP is capturing 5,000 bbl/day of oil and 15m cubic feet/day of natural gas from a leaking well nearly a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico, acknowledging that earlier estimates of the size of the leak were too small, the company said on Thursday.

The siphoning rate would have meant that 100% of the oil was being captured if the prior 5,000 bbl/day estimate were accurate. That did not appear to be the case, according to BP officials.

The initial estimate was given weeks ago by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and BP spokesman Mark Salt said the company stuck with that figure because it was never given an update from the agency.

The company noted that its experts said there was no reliable way to estimate the flow from the well. Several US scientists had claimed the flow could be at least 10 times higher than the 5,000 bbl/day estimate.

“Now that we are collecting 5,000 barrels per day, it might be a little more than that,” BP spokesman Mark Proegler told news agency AFP.

BP declined to give an estimate as to how much higher the figure could be.

BP said earlier Thursday that the siphoning rate was 3,000 bbl/day, up from 2,000 bbl/day on Tuesday and 1,000 bbl/day on Monday. The oil and natural gas was being collected by a mile-long riser insertion tube and sent to the surface, where the oil was being stored and the gas was being flared on the drill ship Discoverer Enterprise.

The company increased the extraction rate slowly throughout the week in order to prevent excess water from entering the insertion tube, which connected the ship to a riser pipe extending from the well, it said. Excess water could have increased the chances of crystallised gas hydrates forming, which could have blocked the flow, the company said.

Elsewhere, the company was continuing to work on its “top kill” operation, in which heavy drilling fluids would be injected into the well to completely stem the flow, followed by cement to seal the well.

BP said that most of the equipment for the top kill operation was on site and preparations were ongoing, with deployment expected in the next few days.

Also on Thursday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered BP to use a less toxic and more effective dispersant than Nalco's Corexit - which BP had been using and credited with playing a significant role in breaking up accumulations of heavy oil.

The less toxic alternative would have to be identified within 24 hours and then used within 72 hours of its submission to the EPA, the agency said.

While the Nalco dispersant was on the EPA's approved list, the agency said it was concerned because BP was using it in unprecedented amounts and that much was unknown about use of dispersants under water. As such, the EPA asked BP to use the "least toxic product authorised for use".

If BP would not identify available alternatives, it would then have to provide the EPA with a detailed description of the alternative dispersants it investigated and why it believed those products did not meet required standards.

Nalco, which earlier in the week said the use of its dispersant in Gulf spill efforts had added $40m (€32m) in sales, said toxicity data indicated no significant effects on marine life and that it welcomed the test of any alternative technologies.

Oil began leaking from the offshore well after the 20 April explosion of the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers. The company said Tuesday that overall cleanup costs had already reached $625m.

($1 = €0.81)

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By: Ben DuBose
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