Gulf of Mexico Oil: Visualizations of Sea Floor Situation – Update 3

Like many others, I am trying to keep up with the Gulf of Mexico situation, particularly efforts to stop to flow of oil from the damaged 5,000 foot long riser line. I have found it difficult to get a realistic picture of the situation on the seabed floor, 5,000′ below the Gulf surface.

I will be posting what I find here.

######### Update3  5/16/10 @ 9:15 AM ESY

BP continues to try to capture oil release from the sunken riser.  Here’s a  BP graphic showing their Riser Insertion Tube approach. has a PDF file at this link.

########## Update 2  5/11/10 @ 11:00 PM EST

BP’s dome approach did not work because build-up of methane crystals  in the top opening of the dome. BP is going to try a smaller containment device, called a “top hat” which is smaller, hopefully reducing the potential for hydrate crystal formation. BP plans to inject methanol and heated water to keep crystal formation under control.

########### Update 1   5/4/10 @ 9:30 AM EST ############

Here’s a YouTube Video that does a pretty good job depicting the below water situation.

############ Original Post #########################

Visualizing The Sea Floor Situation Below the Deepwater Horizon Rig

The remains of the Deepwater Horizon rig lay on the sea floor, 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. It is difficult to visualize the situation because there are no overall photographs of the scene. This makes understanding the situation even harder for those of us not familiar with the details of deepwater oil exploration. We see new terms like riser pipe, drill pipe, blowout preventer, relief well, dome containment and we wonder what they are and how things will work.

Many people are developing sketches to help explain the situation. In an effort to consolidate  these visualizations in a single location, I will be linking to these images and giving my understanding of them.

Map View of Sea Floor

This image, located on US Coast Guard District 8 flicker page (link), shows the location of the Deepwater Horizon, the riser (blue and red line) and the Blowout Preventer (BOP).  The sonar scan show the rig on its side, it appears to be well away from  the BOP. The riser line has a length of approximately 5,000 feet. Based on this schematic, the riser appears to have twisted and turned as the rig sank to the sea floor.

Where Is the Leaking Oil Coming From

The Remote Operated Vehicles (ROV) have on-board lights and cameras to enable the ROV operators to see and record underwater. This next image, located on US Coast Guard District 8 flicker page (link) is a 4/24/10 incident schematic the shows 2 photos of the oil leak cross-referenced to a conceptual diagram showing the BOP and twisted riser with the approximate locations of 2 oil leaks. This image is

Figure 2: Schematic of Riser Leaks

A 3rd leak was discovered and a Simplified Riser Diagram showing the 3 leak locations was posted on the US Coast Guard District 8 flickr page (link) on 4/29/10.

Figure 3: 3rd Leak on Riser

The Times Picayune (link) has an on-going page dedicated to the Horizon Explorer incident.  they have an effective visualization that depicts the rise on the sea bed floor with 3 leaks as well as the planned relief well line that is intended to intercept the original oil well and cap it to stop oil flow to the damaged riser.

Figure 4: NOLA.Com Visualization - Beneath the SOil Slick

BBC Visualization – Tackling the Leak Underwater

The BBC Gulf incident web page has a helpful visualization of the medium and long-term leak solutions. In the medium term, the plan is to cover the leaking riser section with a steel and concrete doom with a suction line so the water-oil mix can be pumped to barges on the surface for proper handling.

Figure 5: BBC Visualizations of methods for tackling teh leak underwater

33 responses to “Gulf of Mexico Oil: Visualizations of Sea Floor Situation – Update 3

  1. sherman powers

    After viewing the underwater view of the BOP with aflange attached on top is there any reason that the top flange could not be removed and another flange built containing a valve in the middle of the new flange with the valve open until it is bolted down then closing the valve to shut off the well. After thirty three years of oil field experience and and more than my share of blowouts i would appreciate your comments on if this solution will work.

  2. I agree that it is definitely looking at changing the BOP. It should also be a stadardized system, so that any blowoup preventer can be changed at any time if it needs to be That would give an industry wide solution for these kinds of problems.

    It is also importand that we look right now to implement a PLUG & CAP system.

    The plug will take a big percentage of the oil and the cap can get the rest.

    Remember that the kinked riswer pipe was already stopping 20% of the flow, so we can stop at least that much with the plug without fear of a pressure blowout at the well head

    Go to this link to see a PLUG and CAP system

  3. Dennis Strawn

    I think we need to change our thoughts from stopping the flow of oil to rediverting it. Removing the BOP has to be done. It failed, the integrity of the riser has been compromised. We must remove these possible future problems. A drilling rig will need to be placed above the old well site. a new riser with a proven BOP can be lowered to the oil well pipe. A special pipe connection can be made to rest partially inside the well pipe and come to rest on the flange below the existing BOP. It can the be secured to the flange on the well head. Oil can be loaded on to tankers and barges until connections can be secured. After that the BOP can be turned off or the well should be able to be put into production . Just a thought. The problem is oil and pressure. I think this idea address’s both issues.

    • Dennis Strawn

      I would also like to add that as a former resident of florida, as an american, and as an inhabited of planet earth, I want to know why the BOP failed and why BP says they will not remove it. Is something being covered up here?

  4. Questions:
    Are BOP’s the only flow control at sea floor level after a well is completed? If so then BP must own the BOP and are then responsible for its failure.
    How much ecological damage can be expected from the release of methane? I understand it removes oxygen from the water. Does it create acid?
    Does the high pressure behind the leak give cause for concern about rapid erosion corrosion?
    Is the reservoir tapped into by the Macondo well the same reservoir BP predicted had 3 billion barrels of oil?

  5. Why not flange up a valve to the top of the bop? This seams to easy.
    I am starting to beleive that they don’t want to completly cap the well because the bop is not secured to the sea floor due to the accident and they are worried that the capped pressure will possibly blow the bop from the sea floor.


    The compression plug would be attache to a sreel beam which is attached to two concrete blocks to weigh the plug to force it inside the whole


    Insert a compresssion plug that is operated by compressing a rubber gasket between to steel plates The Gasket is tightenened with a screwing motion

  8. I’ve written a little site explaining some well control fundamentals for those interested:

  9. Firstly Great Site, excellent pictorials.

    After reading your comment on cutting the riser at or near the BOP I can offer this. If your cut the riser you have a great chance of wiggling of moving the drillpipe within. Right now the BOP’s are partially engaged, the shear rams did not do their job but are partially shut (probably on the tool joint of the drill pipe) So any movement in the drillpipe may open the partially closed BOP thus allowing more flow and as such is a no go for BP. Could it work, yes, but the chance that it may make the leak worse is too high.

    • Thanks on your comments mate. I want to make a safety suggestion for preventing such disasters in the future. My suggestion should go directly to the governing body that enforces HSE policies for offshore deepwater drilling. I will be delighted and thankful, if you can provide me with the address.

  10. Put a pipe down inside the casing with a bladder tool to seal off the leak.

  11. My suggestion is:
    tie some balloons to a tube that reaches the seabed ;once they have been inserted in the hole they self-inflate, plugging the hole (stopping the leak)

  12. Tony Manriquez

    Yea I know it is a sad sad event. I work for parks and wildlife myself and that is just totally against our mission statement. Damn,that is still alot of crude spilling into the Gulf. What bothers the heck out of me is that working for the state and the feds you always have to have contingency plans, mitigation procedures and so forth for every possible scenario. Why did the government not monitor this more closely? But like you said it is going to change the world of drilling from now on with changes, I HOPE!!!

  13. Dale A Berg PE

    Lift the containment dome and drop it onto the riser pipe that rests on the seafloor. Repeat as necessary. This adds constrictions, not necessarily complete shut-off, decreasing the flow for insertion tubes, etc.

  14. Tony Manriquez

    Thank you for further explaining and going into further detail. I am not a driller so I don’t know all the details of the riser and the drill string but sort of had the concept in my mind. So how come we haven’t heard anything on the news anymore. Have they reduced the flow of oil leaking?

    • Tony,
      I am watching the progress on the CNN news everyday and Its reported on AC 360 degrees that the oil spill is estimated to be about 70,000 bbl per day. BP says that they are siphoning out 5,000 bbl per day but then what about the other 65,000 bbl, is it still going into the ocean. BP’s Chief Executive on the Larry King programme says that the worlds best minds are putting in their best idea’s for a early solution soon. I wish them all the best and want them to succeed. It breaks my heart to see the environmental damage that is being done. When rigs went in for deep water drilling in the recent years, companies kept to the old standard and policies. Now this disaster will change the rule for deep water drilling and a new standard of drilling policies will emerge to saeguard against such an incident.

  15. Tony’s suggestion looks like the right way to proceed and siphon out 97% or almost all of the oil to the top and onto a waiting tanker ship. Connecting a pipe to the wellhead after the riser is cut off, is out of the question. The BOP is bolted on the wellhead flange and the riser is bolted from the top of the BOP on its flange. The diameter of the riser pipe is 21 inches O. D. The riser which sheared off from the rig is all twisted up and lying on the sea floor and oil is gushing out from three places. In all probability, there is a drill string lying within the riser. Before the rigs final moments, it did a cementing job to probably set the liner inside the casing and the cement had to go through the drill string. Now to cut off the riser, there will have to be a straight piece of riser pipe above the BOP before it starts to take the downwards bend. The ROV’s have to cut the riser pipe above the BOP where it is straight using a Ridgid casing cutter and also cut the drill string which may be inside. Cutting the drill string will be a difficult job for the ROV’s. The riser if straight can be done with the Ridgid casing cutter without too much difficulty. While the cutting is going on the riser will require support from above for easy cutting. Once the rest of the riser pipe and drill string is cut off, a crossover pipe of 21.000 inch + 0.020 inch or 0.025 inch I. D. (these plus tolerances will let the crossover slide onto the 21 inch O. D. riser pipe. Must be checked in the workshop carefully) connecting with 11 inch or 7 inch I. D. piping to the top can be set on the straight riser pipe which is on the BOP. This would direct almost the entire oil spill to the top from where it can be pumped into the waiting tanker ship. The crossover and piping can be laid out while the cutting is in progress and set straight away when the cutting is finished to save on precious time.

    • Dam Joe,why don’t you send this idea to the white house or to someone that is in command or with a voice?I live here in Louisiana and what we are seeing happening to our environment is so sad and I,we, feel and are so helpless and so played.Then I want to know what right does anyone have to dirty up ours or any waters and shores for personal gain,let alone some foreign corporations and for foreign consumption?Is MMS,or rather are they so addicted to the drugs ,highlife and incompetant to do their jobs.The average worker that is lacking job performance will come under speculation and therefore will be subjected to drug tests.What happened here?These people are still employed with MMS but then again, my bad was forgetting they work for the government and therefore are exonerated and excused for wrong doing and criminal activity.These people should not even be tried in court simply give them the punishment.What they did is criminal by death just like they are and have done to all the wildlife and our lives for years to come.

  16. Tony Manriquez

    With everything that has been tried and failed, I would think that anything else is worth trying. I would suggest to cut the riser from the well head where the valve is at and simply slip a casing slighly larger over well head and continue on to the top with casing to have oil float up through the casing and have it sucked out closer to the top. There is no way this wouldn’t work. it would only taking a matter of days to tie together all those pipes, BUT isn’t it worth it?????

  17. Hmm, instead of cutting and such, the type of steel is known, wrap an undamaged section of riser pipe near the BOP with a calibrated explosive charge enough to crimp the pipe shut. Its a massive pipe and seems cutting through it would take a long time.

  18. Why not use another Semi-Submersible rig to hook up its hydraulic hoses and electrical wiring to the BOP of the Deepwater Horizon, which is firmly on the sea bed and on top of the now flowing well. Once hooked up, this rig can operate the shear rams from their BOP control unit and shut the well in. The BOP will manage to contain the high pressures and stop the crude and gas from flowing out into the ocean until the relief Sem-Submersible rig is able to drill into the well and bring it under control.

  19. Thanks for the wonderful insight to the situation. This might be from my lack of experience in the field, however, while the all the suggestions make sense I think that we are forgetting the drastic differences in pressure and temperature that are being presented in this situation. While ideally capping the leaks would be the most simple solution, until there is a definite diameter to each break, strength of the materials after the bending, and pressure of the escaping sweet, light crude oil is known any attempt is just futile and just adds to the costly event. I am all for the idea of reattempting the domes with a more insulated, heated tube in which to pump the collected oil and hopes that solves the problem temporarily. However, with the failure of the BOP, the only feasible thing that I can think of really is that the relief well will have to be in place in order to redirect the flow of the oil underground. With this there is still the threat of extreme pressures from built up methane gases, which first attributed to part of the blowout of Deepwater Horizon. Over all though, I think this is the best thing to do in order to not only preserve the delicate environment of the Gulf Coast, but also a natural resource in which we are highly dependent on. Yes drilling a relief well will add an extensive amount of money to the toll, but will work and can still obtain oil, which can then be turned around to help make up for the cost of this horrible incident.

    If there is anything wrong in my thoughts please let me know, I’m still learning. I would be really interested in any other ideas in which to redirect the flow of the oil.

  20. Is there a chance of lowering a solid concrete or steel form similar to a pyramid over the pipe and smother it with the sheer weight or is the pressure too strong ? Also how about inserting a large version of a medical stint into the pipe roboticaly and inflating it ? Something has to be done quickly.

  21. My suggestion is:
    tie some balloons to a tube that reaches the seabed ;once they have been inserted in the hole they self-inflate, plugging the hole (stopping the leak)

  22. I’m happy to see all the pictures but have the following question. The Simplified Riser Diagram shows a 3rd leak coming from the drill pipe. I thought the drill pipe was within the riser pipe and both of them where going thru the BOP. So where is the oil coming from?

  23. Dieter Schmied

    Joe’s idea might work depending on the flow and pressure of the escaping oil and if the bladder can be made small enough to pass into the stream of oil within the pipe.

    I had a situation once with a 6″ pipe that I could not turn off. I got to a straight unkinked section and cut it with a big tubing cutter. Then quickly with a fully open ball valve with a compression end , I slide the valve over the stream and onto the pipe and tightened the compression fitting and then turned off the valve. Once the pipe was cut , it took less than two minutes.
    If the riser pipe is distorted, the consider the Blow Out Preventer.
    I was not underwater at the time and I am not familiar with the dexterity of the robots but they had to install the BOP at one time.

  24. Does the BOP rest solidly on the sea floor, or is there some riser pipe exposed between the BOP and the sea floor?

    • The BOP is solidly fitted to the casing which is set and cemented into the well. The riser is fitted from the top of the BOP to the Semi-Submersible rig. All further drilling operations till final completion is done through the riser. The riser acts as annulus through which drilling fluids return back to the rig for processing and re-pumping back into the well through the drill string. Only the BOP can shear off the drill string that is probably there inside the BOP and within the riser. The shear ram will totally shut the well in. The BOP is operated from the rig using brute hydraulic force of very high pressures. If another Semi-Submersible could be hooked up to the BOP of the Deepwater Horizon, the rig can then operate its own BOP control hydraulic unit and shut the well in using the BOP’s shear rams.

  25. I don’t know the diameter or thickness of the leaking riser pipe, so I may be talking out of my ass, but what about the idea of sending a ROV with a “jaws of life” type crusher attached to it and simply crimp the pipe shut. A few crimps should be more than enough to temporarily seal the pipe until the relielf well can be dug a few months down the road. Just a thought…….

  26. Joe, The problem with cutting the line, right now the riser pipe is buckled. Which the buckle in the riser pipe is keeping the oil leaking at 5000 barrels a day. If they cut the riser pipe and cannot successfully cap the well a full gusher of 40,000 – 60,000 barrels a day will continue! Making the spill substantially worse!


  28. Why not send down the ROVs and cut of the riser just above BOP? Then there is just one leak to contend with. Put a pipe down inside the casing with a bladder tool to seal off the leak. Then install another BOP.

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