We will have to wait for the full report on the Deepwater Horizon well to find out exactly what went wrong. But this is a fascinating industry press piece that damns BP:
Engineers contacted by Technology Review insist that conclusive answers will come with completion of the investigations, but criticize, for example, BP's decision to install a continuous set of threaded casing pipes from the wellhead down to the bottom of its well. "The only thing I can figure is they must have thought it was a cost-cutting deal," says Bommer of BP's well design.
This can be problematic in deep, high-pressure wells for two reasons.
First, it seals off the space between the casing and the bore hole, leaving one blind to leaks that sneak up around the casing pipe (as the BP Deepwater blowout is suspected to have done). Second, the long string gives gas more time to percolate into the well. A preferred alternative in high-pressure deepwater is a "liner" design in which drillers install and then cement in place a short string of casing in the lower reaches of the well before casing the rest of the well. This design enables the driller to watch for leaks while the cement is setting.
"It takes a more time and costs a little more but it's a much safer way to do it," says Geoff Kimbrough, vice president for deepwater operations at Houston-based drilling consultancy New Tech Engineering.
Kimbrough cautions that transforming corporate cultures will take time because choosing the more conservative operation can easily cost $10 million to $20 million. Not all companies have leaders who readily support these decisions, says Kimbrough: "The courage to do that doesn't come overnight. It comes from years and years of support from senior management."
If this pans out, we need to see these corporate criminals in the slammer.
(Illustration by Mike Mitchell.)