Oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico and new information suggests some of the public’s worst fears may be true. A post at the Oil Drum, from a Democratic Underground link, suggests that the well is structurally damaged in a way that makes it nearly impossible to fix.
The poster, Dougr, claims that the well bore structure is damaged. This means that any of British Petroleum’s attempts to push mud into the top of the well cannot work. The basic explanation is that the top several hundred feet of the well is a pipe built in soft sea floor material, which consists of sand and mud, and this well pipe itself is now damaged, is leaking oil far underneath this sea floor layer, and is in danger of falling over since the weakened sea floor cannot support the structure. According to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the top layer of the sea floor consists of sand and mud sediment which can be up to a kilometer thick.
A relief well is one method of redirecting this oil flow. According to the Globe and Mail, Canada requires a same season relief well requirement. This requires any oil extraction company to have the ability to drill a relief well during the season it drills the extraction well. Oil companies contest this law because it can take more than a season to drill wells deep below the ocean, several years in some cases. Canada has strict relief well requirements because it is not possible to drill relief wells under the ice in winter. This regulation still potentially allows a lot of oil to spill. If oil is leaking at 100,000 barrels a day, it’s possible that 9 million barrels could leak out in a month, since a season is around 90 days.
Dougr claims that BP’s other alternative is simply to let the oil flow out of the well and attempt to clean it up afterward. This explains why BP abandoned its top kill attempt, since pouring 115,000 barrels of mud per day into the pipe is greater than the highest estimates of the oil flow speed and would have closed off the well if the pipe was not damaged. Opening the well up as far as possible releases all of the oil into the same area, so the oil will be concentrated in one spot for the tankers to collect. If BP has done this and the rate of oil flow has not increased, it means that the pipe was already leaking as much oil as the maximum controlled extraction rate. According to Macleans, BP told the US government that a relief well blowout could spill oil at the same rate as the main well, doubling the flow rate.