Chaos to Containment

Thursday, October 7, 2010 @ 03:10 PM gHale

A day-by-day account of the drilling accident that will shape America’s energy policy, and also safety requirements, for decades to come.
By Bob Felton
With President Obama’s order to stop to exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the cancelled permits for construction of other wells, as well as a reorganization to separate federal permitting from federal oversight of operating wells, it becomes clear that, whatever the long-term costs and consequences of the Deepwater Horizon failure prove to be, the accident has birthed in a new era in domestic energy policy. In addition to a graphical timeline, here then, a day-by-day account of events of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

• 2001: The Deepwater Horizon, a $560 million semi-submersible offshore drilling rig, is built in South Korea by Hyundai Heavy Industries for R&B Falcon, subsequently acquired by Transocean Ltd., the world’s largest deepwater drilling contractor. The rig was 396 feet long and 256 feet wide and could operate in waters up to 8,000 feet deep, to a maximum drill depth of 30,000 feet. Transocean registers the platform in Majuro, in the Marshall Islands, and signs a lease with BP that runs to September, 2013.
• 2009: Positioned in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50-miles off the southeast corner of Louisiana, the rig drills a well more than 35,000-feet deep, the deepest in the world. The water depth is 4,132-feet.
• April 19, 2010: The well is temporarily out of service for maintenance work. Halliburton places concrete about the well casing to secure it in place and reinforce the well-head. Additionally, a delegation of BP executives visit the rig to update the crew on work plans following completion of the well – and to congratulate them for a 7-years long record of working without a lost-time incident.
• April 20, 2010: At 11 p.m. (all times EDT), there are two explosions and fire spreads across the rig. In the engine room, Douglas Brown was thrown against a control panel and fell through a hole in the floor to a lower deck. A second explosion rocked the rig, and the ceiling fell in on him. Jimmy Harrell was in the shower when the first explosion hit; a few seconds later he smelled gas and felt a strong draft, and the rumble of the second explosion rolled across the rig. Stephen Stone was in his bunk sleeping when the first explosion occurred. Awakened and disoriented, the second explosion hit seconds later, dropping the ceiling on him. Of 126 people on board, 11 die and 4 are airlifted to a hospital in New Orleans. The U.S. Coast Guard and fire-fighting ships respond to the scene, but are unable to douse the fire.
• April 21, 2010: Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry is appointed coordinator of a response team comprised of representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and local and state jurisdictions.
• April 22, 2010: There is a second explosion aboard the rig, and the Deepwater Horizon sinks at 11:22 a.m., breaking the well riser and coming to rest approximately 1,300-feet northwest of the wellhead. No longer confined to the drill stem, oil pressurized by more than 5-miles of overburden begins to escape into the gulf waters.
• April 24, 2010: Radio-controlled underwater robots get a first look at the damage on the sea floor, observing 2-leaks. First estimates put the leakage at 1,000-barrels per day, later revised to 5,000-barrels per day.
• April 27, 2010: The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Interior jointly launch an investigation into the causes of the accident; the investigating committee has the power to issue subpoenas and compel testimony.
• April 29, 2010: DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano formally declares the accident to be an event of “national significance,” triggering appointment of a national incident commander.
• April 30, 2010: Defense Secretary Robert Gates mobilizes the Louisiana National Guard to assist communities with coastal protection and clean-up.
• May 1, 2010: Secretary Napolitano appoints Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen as the National Incident Commander.
• May 2, 2010: BP begins drilling the first relief well, an attempt to intercept the well bore and divert flow toward a controlled discharge.
• May 4, 2010: The Pentagon approves the mobilization of 17,500 National Guard troops to assist local communities with coastal protection and clean-up.
• May 5, 2010: BP announces that flow from one of 3 identified leaks has been stopped, though the overall rate of discharge does not appear to be affected. BP announces, also, plans to capture the leak in a 125-ton, 14-ft x 24-ft x 40-ft cofferdam – basically, an immense steel dome.
• May 7, 2010: NOAA enlarges the area closed to fishing, and the EPA orders the end to the use of dispersants pending test results. The Department of the Interior announces that no additional offshore drilling permits will be issued until a safety review requested by the President has been completed.
• May 8, 2010: BP’s effort to contain the leak using a cofferdam fails due to a build-up of hydrate crystals as it is lowered to the sea bottom. The cofferdam is left on the ocean floor.
• May 11, 2010: DOI Secretary Salazar reorganizes the Minerals Management Service to separate safety and environmental regulation. Further, he announces that he will request a separate investigation of the accident by the National Academy of Engineers.
• May 14, 2010: President Obama announces that he will request Secretary Salazar to conduct a “top to bottom” review of the Minerals Management Service.
• May 15, 2010: Secretaries Napolitano and Salazar send a letter to BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward notifying him that BP will be expected to fully indemnify losses caused by the spill.
• May 16, 2010: A tube is inserted into the broken riser pipe, capturing a portion of the oil leaking from the well. BP estimates that the tube captures approximately 2,000-barrels per day, or approximately 40% of the estimated leakage.
• May 17, 2010: Drilling of a second relief well begins.
• May 19, 2010: The Minerals Management Service is formally divided into 3 separate branches, with responsibility for leasing, safety, and revenue collection. Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey, Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, requests that BP make available to the public its video feed of conditions on the sea floor, including the leak.
• May 20, 2010: The EPA notifies BP the tested oil dispersant is not satisfactory and instructs the company to select a less toxic dispersant within 24-hours and begin using it within 72-hours of selection. BP begins to publish a live video feed of the leak.
• May 22, 2010: President Obama establishes a commission charged with investigating ways of responding to future spill events associated with offshore drilling.
• May 24, 2010: More than 65-miles of Louisiana shoreline has been affected by oil, and 19% of Federal waters in the Gulf are closed to fishing.
• May 26, 2010: BP commences ‘top kill,’ an attempt to seal the leak by pumping high-density, viscous drilling fluid into the leaking pipe; partial success is reported, though leaking resumes as soon as pumping pressure is relaxed.
• May 28, 2010: Though initially projected to last approximately 24-hours, BP announces the ‘top kill’ procedure will probably continue until May 30, for a total of 4-days of work. The cost of BP’s clean-up efforts, the company says, is roughly $950 million. President Obama visits oil-fouled beaches in Louisiana.
• May 29, 2010: Contradictory reports of ‘top kill’ progress emerge; the Coast Guard and BP remain cautiously optimistic the procedure will plug the leak, but The New York Times reports a confidential source has told them that 90% of the drilling mud injected into the pipe has been forced out by the highly pressurized oil. Meantime, researchers discovered the spill is more widely dispersed than originally thought, extending as far as 75-miles northwest of the leak, and closer than thought to the Florida coast. Late in the day, BP declares the ‘top kill’ effort a failure and begins to ready an attempt to install a valve on the riser pipe, a procedure expected to take between 4- and 7-days.
• June 1, 2010: United States Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government is opening criminal and civil investigations into the spill. NOAA enlarges the no-fishing zone to almost 62,000-square miles, or slightly more than 25% of the Gulf of Mexico. BP begins work on its plan to cut off the top of the riser pipe and attach a cap to the pipe.
• June 2, 2010: BP announces it spent more than $1 billion on spill-related expenses.
• June 3, 2010: BP successfully cuts the well’s riser pipe with hydraulic shears after delays caused by a jammed circular saw, and prepares to maneuver a 4-story containment cap over the blowout preventer. Market analysts cut BP’s debt rating as costs mounted and market cap plummeted, and estimates of the eventual cleanup cost hit $3-billion.
• June 4, 2010: BP successfully installs a cap over the riser pipe, saying it may enable the company to capture as much as 90% of the runaway discharge. Tar balls begin to appear on beaches in the Florida panhandle.
• June 5, 2010: The U.S. Coast Guard estimates the BP cap is capturing 1,000 barrels of oil per day, or less than 10% of the oil discharged from the well. BP stock closed down 15% for the week.
• June 6, 2010: BP say its latest effort had captured 10,500 barrels of oil (439,950 gallons/1.67 million liters) in 24 hours and a second containment system should soon enable it to control the vast majority of oil.
• June 7, 2010: BP, which says it has now spent $1.25 billion on the spill, sees shares gain on news of the progress in containing the leak but still faces tough questions from investors and U.S. lawmakers.
• 8 June, 2010: In an interview on NBC Obama says he would have sacked BP’s chief executive if he had been working for him.
• June 11, 2010: Gulf coast locals petition President Obama to lift oil drilling moratorium.
• June 14, 2010: President Obama pressures BP on oil spill clean-up financial responsibility.
• June 15, 2010: BP oil spill containment operations interrupted when lightning struck Discoverer Enterprise, a ship siphoning about 630,000 gallons of oil daily from the BP well. Officials quickly extinguished the fire with no injuries.
• June 18, 2010: BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward said, “There are no suggestions I have seen so far that anyone put cost ahead of safety.”
• 19 June, 2010: One of BP’s partners, Anadarko Petroleum, refuses to accept any responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon explosion despite owning a quarter of the well. Its Chief Executive, Jim Hackett, says BP’s actions probably amounted to “gross negligence or willful misconduct”.
• 20 June, 2010: Photographs of Hayward attending a yacht race on the Isle of Wight with his son cause anger in the US.
• 21 June, 2010: A Deepwater Horizon worker claims the oil rig was leaking several weeks before it exploded.
• 22 June, 2010: Hayward fails to make an appearance at a gathering of the oil industry on the same day that control of the oil disaster passes to American Bob Dudley.
• June 23, 2010: Judge Martin Feldman rules to overturn government’s six-month moratorium on deep water oil drilling in Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar orders a new moratorium.
• June 24, 2010: New Orleans Federal Judge Martin Feldman turns down Obama Administration’s request for continuation of the offshore oil drilling moratorium pending appeals decision, hence allowing offshore oil drilling to continue during moratorium appeal.
• June 25, 2010: Reports from Hurricane Center of 70% chance of storm in the Gulf, which may worsen oil spill situation. BP shares hit a 14-year low of 304p after the clean-up bill reaches $2.35bn.
• 28 June, 2010: Russia’s top energy official says he expects Hayward to step down soon. BP denies he is close to resigning.
• July 1, 2010: Based on U.S. government estimates of spill volume, now as high as 140.6-million gallons, the Deepwater Horizon spill passes the Ixtoc I spill and becomes the largest to ever occur in the Gulf of Mexico.
• July 2, 2010: NOAA models indicate that oil may come ashore in the Florida Keys, and Miami.
• July 5, 2010: BP said its clean-up costs have passed $3 billion. Oil is reported at the Rigolet Straits, in Louisiana.
• July 7, 2010: Tests show tar balls washed up on the Texas coast are from the spill, meaning every U.S. Gulf state — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and now Texas — has been soiled by the spill.
• July 10, 2010: The well cap is removed in anticipation of attaching a new, tighter cap. Oil resumes flowing into the Gulf without interruption.
• July 12, 2010: BP installs a “capping stack,” which has a better seal than the last cap placed on the well and aims to stop oil from spewing out.
BP starts shutting a sequence of valves after getting approval from the U.S. government, delaying testing by 24 hours on fears the process could irreparably damage the well. BP starts a critical pressure test to gauge pressure in the well on July 14.
• July 15, 2010: BP says it has stopped the leak — at least during testing — with the new tight-sealing containment cap.
• July 16, 2010: The company is carrying out tests on whether the well remains intact as BP moves to plug the leak permanently with the relief well intended to intersect the ruptured well and and seal it with mud and cement in August. The yield of the skimming operations is negligible, and that part of the clean-up work ceases.
• July 22 , 2010: Ships and personnel leave the clean-up area as tropical storm Bonnie approaches. Approximately one-third of the Gulf is re-opened to fishing.
• July 24, 2010: BP announces that an internal investigation has cleared the company of wrongdoing. Clean-up ships and personnel return to the area of the well.
• July 27, 2010: Bob Dudley named new chief executive replacing Tony Hayward.
• August 2, 2010: The Flow Rate Technical Group, an ad hoc committee of scientists from the public- and private-sectors assembled by the federal government, estimates the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf is 4.9-million barrels. A highly public dispute erupts over the dispersant used by BP during the early stages of the clean-up, with Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) complaining BP had “carpet bombed” the ocean, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introducing a bill regulating the future use of chemical dispersants in spill clean-ups. The EPA releases a report finding the dispersant used by BP “is generally no more or less toxic than mixtures with the other available alternatives” and “dispersant-oil mixtures are generally no more toxic to the aquatic test species than oil alone.”
• August 3, 2010: BP begins experimenting with a “static kill,” permanently sealing the well with drilling mud injected into the top of the well through the blowout preventer. Drilling of the relief well, which will seal the well using concrete, continues.
• August 4, 2010: BP reports its “static kill” well-plugging procedure has succeeded, stopping the flow of oil using drilling mud injected through the blowout preventer.
• August 14, 2010: Obama, on his fifth visit to the region, goes swimming off the coast of Florida and declares the Gulf area’s beaches “open for business.”
• September 1, 2010: A U.S. judge rejects the federal government’s request to dismiss the driller lawsuit challenging the deepwater drilling ban.
• September 3, 2010: BP removes the failed blowout preventer from the well to replace it with another that works before proceeding with the relief well and the final kill.
• September 4, 2010: Retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top U.S. official overseeing the spill response, declares the Macondo well “secured” with no further threat of a leak.
• September 8, 2010: BP unveils a report of its internal investigation into the disaster. The company zeroed in on eight failures in engineering and design, operations and human judgment, most of which pointed to Transocean and Halliburton. BP accepted partial blame for only one of the failures. The other two companies dismissed the report.
• September 15, 2010: Hayward appears before British members of parliament and defends BP’s safety culture and denies that cost cuts were behind the spill.
— Allen says BP resumed drilling on the relief well after it had been on hold for weeks for other procedures, and that the Macondo well could be dead in four days.
• September 16, 2010: BP’s relief well intercepts the Macondo well.
• September 17, 2010: BP pumps cement into the Macondo well through the relief well for seven hours, stops to let it cure.
• September 19, 2010: U.S. government declares the Macondo well dead.

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