Deepwater

100421-G-XXXXL-_003_-_Deepwater_Horizon_fire
Creative Commons License photo credit: uscgd8

On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people were lost and over 5,000 barrels of oil a day have been pumped into the gulf. It is a tragedy and one of the worst environmental disasters of all time.

This blog will help to explain why there is oil offshore, what an offshore oil rig is, what cementing and containment domes are and how we can help.

Crude oil is made form the desiccated remains of microscopic organisms that plied the water ways millions of years ago. They died (the very theme of nature), fell to the bottom of the ocean and were covered by layers of rock, sand and other debris. Through compression and temperature they were converted into hydrocarbons (crude oil and natural gas). Thanks to plate tectonics, many of these hydrocarbon reservoirs have ended up on land, but there are also many that are still under the ocean floor.

Colorful Old Oil Barrels
Creative Commons License photo credit: Magnera

The Mineral Management Service has estimated that there are 17.8 billion barrels of oil off the cost of America (for comparison the Ghawar field is Saudi Arabia has 60 billion barrels). So why do we drill for oil offshore?  Here are a few numbers that will help explain.  America uses 21 million barrels of crude oil each day (most have been refined into gasoline), but we only produce 9 million barrels a day.

The two countries that we import most of our oil from, Canada and Mexico, also have large offshore oil projects. Canada produces around 368 thousand barrels a day and Mexico produces 2.2 million barrels form their offshore wells. Other counties such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia also have offshore production.

So what are offshore platforms? An offshore oil rig is like an extreme onshore rig. Not only does the rig have to drill thousands of feet through the earth, there is also have hundreds of feet of water on top of the drilling site. The rigs must also survive whatever the sea can toss at them, whether it be waves, hurricanes or tsunamis. There are many different types of offshore oil rigs. Deepwater Horizon was a semi-submersible rig, meaning that there were large tanks that would fill with water to submerse some of the oil rig, so that it would not move off the site it was drilling at. It can be put in water depth from 200 to 10,000 feet. A fixed platform is fixed in place by cement or steel legs and can go up to 1700 ft. A jacked up platform can use their legs to jack the platform up till it is above the water level, and then jack back down to move to a new location. They usually operate in up to 400 ft of water. A drillship is not a platform at all but a ship that can be used to drill wells. Its uses a series of thrusters to maintain position and it can operate in up to 13,000 feet of water.

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Semi-submersible rig
Creative Commons License photo credit: roger_melb

So which one is the best one? Because all the different offshore options can operate in varying depths and environments, it really is dependent on the location.

Cementing has come up a lot in the news recently. Most people may not know what that means. After a well is drilled and the casing is laid in, a special mixture of cement can be poured down to help support the well. It can help to keep the pressure constant, to reinforce the well walls or to plug up a well that is no longer producing. The cement used for the wells very from well to well. The mixture is based on the rock in the well and other variables such as the pressure at different depths.

If the pressure becomes too much an uncontrolled release can occur called a blowout. It can be oil, natural gas, water or a combination of two or three of those. One the most iconic examples of a blowout is Spindletop. No one wants a blow out. Not only does can it cause environmental damage but it can threaten the very lives of the people who work on rigs. To stop this there are automated measures and human control methods. For example, an operator could notice a change in pressure in the drilling mud. He would then try to relieve the pressure in a controlled method. If all else fails a blow out preventer can be used. A blow out preventer is a device that physically plugs the well so nothing can escape.

So if a blowout happens, then what? What happens when an offshore oil rig can’t stop producing such as Piper Alpha or Deepwater Horizon? Remote operated vehicles (ROVs) can be sent down to assess the situation and try to stanch the flow. A remotely operated vehicle is just that, a vehicle that is operated remotely by a person. If the ROVs can not stop the well a containment dome can be lowered down to cover the leak. A containment dome works by covering the area and then channeling the pressure off, and in this case to collect the crude oil. The first containment dome lowered down on the Deepwater Horizon was unsuccessful due to a build up of methane hydrates (or fire ice) on the dome. There are plans to drop a smaller dome, which would be easier to heat up if methane hydrates forms.

There are also efforts to contain and remove the oil that has come up. One of the choices is to burn off the crude oil. This can only be done under certain conditions, such as low winds, calm seas, and can not work on every spill. Another way is to put a boom around the spill to contain it and reclaim it. If the oil is on the surface, a skimmer can be used to gather and separate the oil. Chemicals can be sprayed on the oil spill to make the oil disperse or to clump together. Two types of dispersants have been spread on the Deepwater Horizon spill to help disperse it.

Another way to try and stop the oil that is coming out of the well is to drill a relief well. This would take the pressure off the well hole (it is like opening another hole in a shaken coke bottle to take the pressure off the main hole).

So what can we do? The national wildlife federation has created a page to help with that. Check with your barber or hair stylist to see if you can donate hair to make a boom. The best thing you can do is become energy aware. To understand where we get our energy from and how much of it you use. That is the first step to true energy independence.

Au reservoir: A guide to new oil discoveries

My place of work
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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.

Taladro
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
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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?)

VIDEO: Explore The Wiess Energy Hall

Energy is a topic that relates to every one of us – and with the recent spike in the price of oil, it’s something we’re all following closely. I can’t think of a better place to learn quickly and easily about the oil and gas industry than the Weiss Energy Hall, here at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The Oil & Gas Investor agreed – and now, you can see us featured on their Web site. In her article, Meredith Cantrell does a great job of getting the point across that the Wiess Energy Hall is a great resource for all ages and for people from all walks of life.  I was excited when I heard that such a financial icon was coming to check us out.  If I were an investor, I would want to know all I could about the industries that I was investing in.  

While they were here, Meredith interviewed me and compiled a short video. The film also shows the large variety of displays in the hall.

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Explore Energy! Meredith Cantrell speaks with Claire Scoggin, Director of the Wiess Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, for a piece in the Oil & Gas Investor online. They have kindly agreed to let us share it here. Videography by Lindsay Goodier.

The day this was filmed, we also met Lindsay Goodier, the Online Editor for Oil and Gas Investor, who has a blog called Oil Rules which I thoroughly enjoy reading. She is always on top of what is developing in the oil and gas industry and has fun talking about it. Check it out!

Octane Pain

The price of a gallon of gasoline
Has gotten obnoxiously high.
The gas in the tank and the cash in the bank,
(As shown in reports and projections)
Despite what we do or try to pursue,
Are going in downward directions!
The reasons for such
Are many and much,
And here I will now tell you why.

147 2008

Feeling nostalgic…
Creative Commons License photo credit: dougsymington

The supply of crude oil over the world
Inevitably is going down.
We are finding more
In places offshore,
But there’s only so much in the ground.

And the crude from the well
(If you look, you can tell!)
Is not going to go in your tank
The sticky black goo
Will simply not do;
Your engine is not going to crank.

Crane
Creative Commons License photo credit: Strocchi

To make gasoline
(As you may have seen)
The unrefined crude must be changed.
By heating and cooling,
And chemical retooling
Its molecules are rearranged.

The places that do this
(But maybe you knew this.)
Are refineries whose numbers are shrinking.
Their costs are not cheap
In fact, they’re quite steep,
This whole process, then, needs some rethinking.

But demand for gasoline
Is growing obscene,
In the world and the U. S. of A.
We can’t make enough
Of the valuable stuff
And thus at the pump you now pay.

shine
Creative Commons License photo credit: s2art

And the whole situation
‘Round the globe and the nation
Is infinitely much more complex.
There are markets and forces
And political courses
That the brainiest brains will perplex.

There’s war in Iraq,
Fear of terror attack.
There’s OPEC and Saudis and Russians,
Political flak,
And reservoir lack,
And pundits in endless discussions.
There are plots and some coups,
And some radical views,
And “economically motivated misinforming.”

around the world
Creative Commons License photo credit: cherry+

Not to mention Detroit,
Where some are adroit,
At downplaying dire global warming.
So many forces are doing their work
In multifarious giving and taking,
The price at the pump
Is not gonna slump,
Despite all this quaking and shaking.

So read ‘em and weep,
Or just go to sleep
Or go on your own hunger strike,
But if I were you,
I wouldn’t be blue.
I’d just go and get a new bike!

Vespa
Creative Commons License photo credit: micampe