Deepwater Update

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is finally coming to an end. After over 100 days, it seems that a cap, a static kill and the relief well will finally stop oil from pouring into the sea.

The estimate for the flow of the well has changed many times over the past 3 months. It seems to be topping out at around 62,000 barrels a day. This is much higher than the original estimates, but how do they calculate the flow? The USGS used video of the oil spill, mass balance calculations and remote sensors to determine how much crude oil was flowing out of the break.

Chandeleur Islands - May 9, 2010
Creative Commons License photo credit: lagohsep

So what has happened to all the oil? Well, the White House says that 75% has been dispersed, collected, burned off or evaporated. Other reports have different numbers. In July the old cap on the well was replaced with a new and better one that captured most of the oil. Then a static kill, which uses mud to force pressure down in the well, helped to stanch the flow. The relief wells have been drilled and there seems to be no seeping. All of that means that the oil spill is over. 4.9 million barrels was pumped out in the Gulf, making this the largest oil spill in the Gulf and the third largest oil spill in history.

BP is waiting on a pressure test to see if they need to initiate a bottom kill. A bottom kill is when they drill to the bottom of the well and pump in mud and cement through the bottom of the well.

The spill has caused a lot of things to change. A moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf was put into effect. There have been several challenges to this.

Transocean's Development Driller III
Creative Commons License photo credit: uscgd8

Also the Mineral Management Services (MMS) has been broken up into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The MMS was responsible for conservation and environmental protection on federal land used by energy companies as well as collecting royalties and enforcing regulations on companies that used federal lands to produce crude oil and natural gas. They were plagued with accusations of corruption and ineptitude. The new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or Bureau of Ocean Energy, has been subdivided into the Offshore Energy and Minerals Management and Minerals Revenue Management. This means that the people who enforce the regulation are not the same people who collect the revenue.

The 4.9 million barrels that were pumped out into the ocean will have long reaching environmental consequences. Some scientists worry that all the natural bacteria that ate the oil will help to form an area that is low in oxygen. However, a mass killing of fish does not require an oil disaster. Numerous beaches were closed to tourists and locals alike. Also some areas set aside for fishing (and shrimping) were closed because of the oil spill. Unfortunately, it will take a long time to see what the real lasting effects of the spill are. In fact, it will take years to determine the true effects. Most of the beaches and fishing areas have been reopened.

Waking up on April 20, no one would have thought that we would be dealing with an unprecedented disaster in the Gulf. No one thought that such a disaster would be linked with how we perceive the modern world or our every day life. Will we take steps to prevent the next one?

Au reservoir: A guide to new oil discoveries

My place of work
Creative Commons License photo credit: Robnas Monster

Many of you have read the article in the Houston Chronicle where  BP announced they have found 3 billion barrels of crude oil off the coast of Texas. Many of us instantly think, how do they find that oil? How do they determine how much oil is there? And how does that compare with other fields around the world?

So, I thought I’d answer some of those questions. Companies find oil fields by using many different types of scientists and surveying tools. Geologists and geophysicists (two types of scientists that really rock) use a variety of surveying methods such as 3D and 4D seismic scans, magnetic surveys, and gravity surveys. All of these scans and surveys help them to examine rock cores to see what the permeability and porosity of the formations are. These are not the only scientists or tools used for oil fields, but they are some that are mentioned in our Wiess Energy Hall.

Creative Commons License photo credit: nestor galina

Once the scientists think they know where the oil will be, a test well is drilled. If oil is found in the rock formation, then the scientists go back to the seismic data to see how large the formation is. They will drill more wells (well, well, well) to find more information on the formations such as where the oil comes into contact with the water. They will also go back to the core sample to look at the characteristics of the rock the oil was found in.

Now that they have found the oil and looked at the characteristics of the reservoir, how do they estimate the number of barrels of oil? There are the proven reserves which is the amount of oil that the scientists are sure of getting out of the field using current methods. The unproven reserves are the amount oil that the scientists think are there but cannot be reached yet.

back alley
Creative Commons License photo credit: tvol

But how does that new field off the coast of Texas rate with the others in the world? Well, its not the biggest. That award goes to the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia. It is estimated that the field has 71 billion barrels of oil. Saudi Arabia claims to have over 200 billion barrels of oil in its fields, while America, before this new discovery, claimed to have 21 billion barrels of oil still in its fields. But what it really comes down to is production; or how many barrels of oil does a field produce a day. The Ghawar field produces 5 million barrels a day! The world produces 80 million barrels a day. America only produces 5 million barrels a day but uses 19 million barrels a day. Most of which is used for gasoline (America uses about 378 million gallons a day.)

So the scientists use a variety of surveying methods to find oil fields and to determine their size. The new find off the coast of Texas increases America’s crude oil reserves by 33%, but what will really matter is how much the new field can be made to produce. (How much crude could a crude field churn out if a crude field churns out crude?)