On Wednesday, Day 30 of the Gulf Disaster, "[h]eavy oil . . . wash[ed] ashore for the first time" and invaded marshes that are "nurseries for shrimp, oysters, crabs, and fish," Reuters reported early Thursday.[1]  --  "The discovery of heavy oil in marshlands at the southern tip of Louisiana's peninsula showed that authorities lacked the capacity to track undersea oil effectively," a marine conservation biologist told reporter Matthew Bigg, adding:  "I am very confident that a lot of the oil that has come out has not surfaced yet and the government can't track subsurface plumes."  --  In other news of the catastrophe's widening scope, "the U.S. government's top weather forecaster said a small portion of light sheen from the giant oil slick had entered the powerful ocean flow known as the Loop Current."  --  Meanwhile BP, still implausibly claiming to believe that only 5,000 barrels of oil a day are gushing into Gulf waters, said it is now siphoning about 3,000 barrels a day.  --  But Science News reported that a Purdue researcher told the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment that he believes the actual amount of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico is at least ten times greater, and probably much more.[2]  --  In addition to the 70,000-barrel-a-day estimate he made of the main gusher last week, Steve Wereley analyzed video clips BP released Tuesday of another hole in the piping and calculated that this higher-pressure stream is also spewing "somewhere in the neighborhood of another 25,000 barrels of oil each day."  --  Wereley said the methods he used to calculate the flow is well established and highly accurate, and that the best estimate of the rate of flow is 95,000 barrels a day.  --  BP's estimate of 5,000 barrels a day is not even within the realm of possibility, he said....



By Matthew Bigg

** Schlumberger says it had a crew on rig before explosion **

May 20, 2010


VENICE, La. -- Heavy oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill threatened Louisiana marshlands on Thursday after washing ashore for the first time since a BP-operated rig exploded a month ago, sparking ecological disaster.

Calling it a "day that we have all been fearing," Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said on Wednesday that heavy oil -- not simply tar balls or sheen -- had entered the state's prized wetlands.

"It's already here but we know more is coming," he said.

The marshes are the nurseries for shrimp, oysters, crabs and fish that make Louisiana the leading producer of commercial seafood in the continental United States.  A large no-fishing zone in Gulf waters seen as affected by the spill has been imposed.

Energy giant BP Plc scrambled to contain crude from the gushing undersea well, which ruptured after an April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers.

The company said it is now siphoning about 3,000 barrels (126,000 gallons/477,000 liters) a day of oil, from what it has estimated was a 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) a day gusher.

The company said it could begin injecting mud into the well as early as Sunday in a bid to permanently plug the leak.

BP shares closed down nearly 2 percent in London on Wednesday, extending recent steep losses.

Adding another name to the group of companies connected to the doomed rig, Schlumberger Ltd said it had a crew on the Deepwater Horizon that departed only hours before the explosion and fire that engulfed it.

The world's largest oilfield services company had not previously revealed its work on the Horizon.


The discovery of heavy oil in marshlands at the southern tip of Louisiana's peninsula showed that authorities lacked the capacity to track undersea oil effectively, marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner said.

It also called into question a containment effort that focused on oil on the surface of the Gulf, Steiner said.

"I am very confident that a lot of the oil that has come out has not surfaced yet and the government can't track subsurface plumes," said Steiner, a retired professor at the University of Alaska who has just spent a week on the Gulf coast.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government's top weather forecaster said a small portion of light sheen from the giant oil slick had entered the powerful ocean flow known as the Loop Current, which could carry the oil down to the Florida Keys, Cuba and up the U.S. East Coast.

Wildlife and environmental groups accused BP of holding back information on the real size and impact of the growing slick, and urged President Barack Obama to order a more direct federal government role in the spill response.

Obama plans to create a commission to investigate the cause of the spill, evaluate industry practices, and study government oversight.

Fall-out in Washington increased.  The U.S. Interior Department said on Wednesday its embattled Minerals Management Service will be broken up into three separate divisions, as part of an effort to restructure the way the department handles offshore energy production.

Top Democrats in the U.S. Senate urged Obama to order immediate, enhanced inspections of all offshore oil rigs and production platforms.

"Until we can ensure the safety of our offshore platforms, our nation's coastlines will be threatened by the possibility of more man-made catastrophes," the letter said.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)



By Janet Raloff

Science News

May 19, 2010

** Actual flow rates may be more than 10 times what BP is reporting, his calculations indicate **


“It’s not rocket science.”  That’s how a Purdue University mechanical engineer described his calculations of startling amounts of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from fissures in heavily damaged piping at a BP drill site.  During a May 19 science briefing convened by the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, Steve Wereley walked members of Congress through his use of particle image velocimetry to explain how he and other engineers track changes in video images of gases or liquids to estimate the volumes billowing before their eyes.

This technique has been around for a quarter century and has thousands of practitioners.  So it’s “well-established,” Wereley said.  And when done carefully -- with good starting imagery -- its accuracy can approach 99 percent, he observed.

Six days earlier, BP for the first time publicly released seafloor video of the oil spewing from pipes at the site of its Deepwater Horizon accident.  As soon as engineers saw this video, Wereley and a few of his colleagues started mapping features in the roiling plumes and measuring how quickly those identified features sped downstream.  Landmarks of known dimensions helped them calculate cross-sections of the plume and its density.

After probing a 30-second live-action snippet from the well’s damaged riser pipe, a conduit that had essentially served as a huge straw to carry oil from the seafloor to a floating platform 5,000 feet above, Wereley calculated the gusher’s flow rate.  Then he projected the daily quantity emerging from the pipe’s wound-- a staggering 70,000 barrels per day.

On May 18, BP released a few more video clips, this time showing a 1.2 centimeter diameter hole in another segment of piping.  Wereley's preliminary calculations indicate that the jet of high-pressure oil shooting out of it unleashes somewhere in the neighborhood of another 25,000 barrels of oil each day.  “It seems incomprehensible that so much oil would be coming out of that hole,” he acknowledged.  But this tiny breach is upstream of a plume shooting out of the riser pipe, he explained, “so its flow is at a considerably higher pressure.”

An hour or so earlier, at a hearing before the House Transportation Committee, BP America president Lamar McKay was asked whether his company still subscribed to the view that the damaged well’s maximum release rate hovered around 5,000 barrels a day.  “That is the best estimate,” he said.  But estimates are hard to make, he noted, since there's no way to attach a flow meter to the top of the gashes in the damaged pipe.

But when Purdue’s Wereley was asked to hazard a reasonable estimate of the damaged well's oil-release rate, he concluded that BP's quantity was a pipedream.  A far more likely figure, he offered, was 95,000 barrels a day, plus or minus 20 percent.  At least four other independent engineers have pegged the figure at between 25,000 and 100,000 barrels a day, he reported. So all of these estimates from outside the industry “are considerably higher than BP’s,” he pointed out, “and there’s a good overlap between the outsider estimates.”

This would suggest BP’s number is an outlier, said subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (Dem.-Mass.).  It is, Wereley assured him.

Is there any chance BP got the number right, Markey asked?

“I don’t see any possibility -- any scenario -- under which their number is accurate,” Wereley said.  He could envision his own estimate dropping, if longer streams of video were made available and they showed large quantities of gas were being emitted, temporally edging out the oil. T he big variable, he said is the gas-to-oil ratio emanating from the well.  BP has those numbers but hasn’t shared them yet.  And the oil giant also has not been sharing much video.

Earlier in the day, Rep. Markey said, he put in a formal request to BP asking that it begin making live streaming video from its wellhead available to the public.

That’s a good start, Wereley said. But the video he’s seen was “compressed” so that much of the fine detail in its data was missing. What proves critical for high-quality flow analyses, he emphasized, is “original unadulterated footage.”

Markey pledged to look into getting it.