First Fatal Error on Gulf Rig

I heard the other day an interview with Mike Miller, a long time oil-fire-blowup expert, and not just in academia. His crew from SafetyBoss took the lead in extinguishing the hundreds of oil fires in Kuwait set by the routed Iraqi army in 1991. He is very attuned to the enormity of the Gulf spill and the difficulty of working one mile under the sea. But, in an almost off-hand reply to a interviewer question he let loose a damning assessment of the actions on the rig in the first hours. I haven’t been able to locate the interview on line, but here is the gist of it in a Science News article.

… a number of people within the industry are themselves speculating widely about the accident as well.

Among them: Mike Miller, chief executive officer and senior well-control supervisor at Safety Boss. Headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, his half-century old Canadian company specializes in fighting oil-well fires, blowouts, pipeline ruptures and processing-facility fires. He’s curious why BP rushed to put out the rig’s fires.

“At least while the rig was burning, all of the effluent from the well was coming to the surface and burning at the surface,” Miller notes. Indeed, burning oil — even on the sea surface — is an accepted spill-mitigation technique. So he’s puzzled why water boats were deployed to dowse the burning platform.

A mile down and out of sight
“What they did was fill the rig up with water. At which point it sunk,” Miller says — a full 5,000 feet to the seabed. And that, he maintains, violated “the first rule in offshore fire-fighting, which is not to sink the ship.” The reason: As soon as the rig submerged, it took down the riser pipe, which in this case was a 5,000-foot-long tethered straw through which the oil was gushing up from a reservoir 13,000 feet below the seafloor.

This riser didn’t just break loose and fall down when the platform sank: It crumpled. And where it suffered acute bends, it weakened, opening up at least two secondary gushers. So instead of having the oil coming out as a single fountain at the Gulf’s surface — one that people could reach — it’s now spewing from multiple holes in a damaged pipe nearly a mile beneath the surface

Contributed by Bob Whitson

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