BP Oil Well Is Dead ... But What About the Nearby Seeps?

George Washington's picture

Washington’s Blog

Oil-industry expert Bob Cavnar says that the Macondo well is dead.

True, there may still be some bubbles leaking:



However, that might just be naturally-occurring methane being released from the seafloor.

For example, this video made by University of Mississippi researchers in the Gulf in 2006 - years before the BP blowout - shows methane bubbles rising naturally from the seafloor (when contained by a test tube, they turn into snowflake-like methane hydrate crystals).

As I noted in June, areas in close proximity to the BP well have long been known to have enormous amounts of methane and methane hydrates. And see this.

Indeed, as oil disaster expert Dr. Robert Bea pointed out in May:


About a month before the blowout, a "kick" of gas pressure hit the well hard enough that the platform was shut down. "Something under high pressure was being encountered," says Bea—apparently both hydrates and gas on different occasions.


Sealing the well wouldn't necessarily close off all of the normal avenues for methane bubbles to escape from the seafloor in a high-methane region. Therefore, I'm not sure that the small bubbles seen after the relief well was completed mean much.

But What About the Nearby Seeps?

A more interesting question concerns the seeps.

As Dr. Bea explained to me last month:


WB: Is it possible that this fractured, subsea salt geology will make it difficult to permanently kill the oil leak using relief wells?


Bea: Yes, it could. The Santa Barbara channel seeps are still leaking, decades after the oil well was supposedly capped. This well could keep leaking for years.


Scripps mapped out seafloor seeps in the area of the well prior to the blowout. Some of the natural seeps penetrate 10,000 to 15,000 feet beneath the seafloor. The oil will follow lines of weakness in the geology. The leak can travel several horizontal miles from the location of the leak.


[In other words, the geology beneath the seafloor is so fractured, with soft and unstable salt formations, that we may never be able to fully kill the well even with relief wells. Instead, the loss of containment of the oil reservoir caused by the drilling accident could cause oil to leak out through seeps for years to come. See this and this for further background].


As I wrote in June:


The deep sea subs have found other leaks a couple of miles from BP's gushing blowout preventer and riser.


For example, the Houston Chronicle noted on June 21st:

A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Monday noted research vessels found natural gas seeping from the sea floor several miles away from the well.


The Chronicle goes on to explain:

Those appear to be pre-existing seeps that occur naturally, a NOAA spokeswoman said, and unrelated to the spill.

But the Washington Post made a very important point yesterday:

Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, said additional leaks are a possible source of deep-sea plumes of oil detected by research vessels. But this part of the gulf is pocked with natural seeps, he noted. Conceivably the drilling of the well, and/or the subsequent blowout, could have affected the seeps, he said.


"Once you started disturbing the underground geology, you may have made one of those seeps even worse," he said.

Remember that geologists have said that if the well casing is substantially breached, the oil and methane gas will find a way through fractures in the surrounding geology and make it into the ocean. For example, the Houston Chronicle notes:

If the well casing burst it could send oil and gas streaming through the strata to appear elsewhere on the sea floor ....

Obviously, if there are natural oil or gas seeps nearby, there are already pre-existing channels up to the seafloor ... so that may very well be the path of least resistance for the subterranean oil to flow up to the seafloor.


Therefore, if there were a substantial breach in the well bore, nearby natural oil and gas seeps could very well increase in volume.




So don't be surprised if - when formerly tiny seeps become gushers - BP tries to pretend that they were always that large.

As I noted in July:


The Times-Picayune reported yesterday:

Scientists have discovered four gas "seeps" at or near BP's blown-out Macondo well since Saturday ...




Berkeley engineering professor Bob Bea has very little confidence in what’s been said publicly about the seeps.


He’s troubled that we’re just now hearing about seeps three kilometers away, because a survey of the seabed conducted before BP drilled its well didn’t indicate anything like that.


“There was nothing that indicated the presence of such a seep,” Bea said. “I wonder why we’re just now finding that out?”

BP has yet to release other ROV video that Bea’s study group requested more than a month ago about what may have been shots of nearby seeps.

(Bea explained to me last month: "In May, ... Senator Boxer subpoenaed information from BP regarding footage of the seafloor taken before the blowout by BP's remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). We still have not received a response 12 weeks later.")

I also noted in July:


Thad Allen said today that there are anomalies on the seafloor within 100-200 meters of the blown out well. And oil expert Bob Cavner told MSNBC today:


You know, these seeps that the admiral talked about within 100 meters of the well concern me some… The ones close really concern me.


And there is a possibility, if you look at the well diagram which is complicated and I won’t get into it. There is a path for oil and gas to get out into the sub strata. And I’m concerned about that.



A 20-year petroleum geologist - with 13 years spent in offshore exploration in the Gulf of Mexico - "gasmiinder" noted yesterday:



Mapping of natural methane seeps is required as part of the process of obtaining a drilling permit in the Gulf of Mexico. This is required because the "methane seep communities" are considered environmental "havens" as it were - you have to demonstrate you're not disturbing the critters. [My comment: There are ecosystems which can thrive around small natural seeps. But huge gushers like the BP blow out can kill everything in sight, especially given the large amounts of methane which have spewed from BP's well]. The process does not measure the rate of seepage but you would have some guess based on the areal extent of the communities. This report is filed with the MMS and should be available. I'm surprised and enterprising reporter hasn't requested a copy from the MMS. (Of course enterprising reporter might be an oxymoron in the modern era)


I attended a scientific talk about 20 years ago where the study results estimated about 1 million barrels of oil a year seep into the Gulf from natural seeps. Of course that is spread over a huge area on an entire year.


In response to the above post, blogger CD notes that page 16 of BP's Initial Exploration Plan for the well states:


There is no evidence for the existence of high-density chemosynthetic communities within 1,500 ft of the proposed well location.


Gasmiinder responds:


The statement regarding the chemosynthetic communities requires a seafloor survey - that's what I'm referring too where there will be a report available having mapped them (the partners will have copies of that report as well).


Gasmiinder adds:

Here is a copy from the webpage of a company that consults on the interpretation of the hazard surveys. It should give at least a feel for the level of information that is believed to be present in the data (meaning this is what they claim to be able to accomplish with the datasets):

• Assess seafloor conditions and stratigraphy, and geologic processes to evaluate well site locations

• Identify shallow gas and shallow water flow potential [my note: they are referring to shallow layers that could be hazards to drill through)

Interpret and map geologic constraints, such as faults, gas vents, seafloor depressions and mounds, and any other geologic phenomena that are detectable with seismic data

Identify potential chemosynthetic communities, archaeological sites, and man-made infrastructure and debris

• Assess mooring spread, anchor locations, and foundation zones

• Produce supporting maps to show water depth, topography, shallow structure, and seafloor and shallow geologic conditions and features in an area that may have an impact on drilling

• Prepare final reports needed for permit application to governmental and insurance bodies

So BP (and its partners in the well, Anadarko and Mitsui) would have maps of all of the nearby seeps which were there before well blew out.


Moreover, Dr. Bea told me last month that there might be other leaks near the Macondo wellhead:


WB: The chief electronics technician on the Deepwater Horizon said that the Macondo well was originally drilled in another location, but that "going faster caused the bottom of the well to split open, swallowing tools", and that BP abandoned that well. You've spoken to that technician and looked into the incident, and concluded that “they damn near blew up the rig.” [See this and this].


Do you know where that abandoned well location is, and do you know if that well is still leaking?


Bea: The abandoned well is very close to the current well location. BP had to file reports showing the location of the abandoned well and the new well [with the Minerals Management Service], so the location of the abandoned well is known.


We don't know if the abandoned well is leaking.


WB: Matthew Simmons talked about a second leaking well. There are rumors on the Internet that the original well is still leaking. Do you have any information that can either disprove or confirm that allegation?


Bea: There are two uncorroborated reports. One is that there is a leak 400 feet West of the present well's surface location. There is another report that there is a leak several miles to the West.


[Bea does not know whether either report is true at this time, because BP is not sharing information with the government, let alone the public.]


The bottom line is that I believe that the Macondo well has successfully been capped by the relief well.

And I have no evidence that there is increased seep activity after the relief well was completed.

But the government and BP must do the following before we can have reassurances that there are no nearby seeps which are now larger because of the April disaster:

(1) Release - at least to Senator Boxer and Bea's study group - maps and video of the seeps within a 5-mile radius which existed before the blow out; and

(2) Release current maps and video of all seeps within a 5-mile radius.

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The Rogue Trader's picture

GW stay away from Heart Attack Hot Tubs....

MGA_1's picture

I'm still perplexed about the whole Matt Simmons thing - was he totally off his rocker?  He certainly seemed cogent and sane when he was on air...

gasmiinder's picture

Not if you knew anything about what he was saying - he was clearly off his rocker.

kimyo's picture

he was right that the leak was much larger than was being reported.

he was right that the methane was as big or a bigger problem than the crude.

he might well turn out to be right on the 40% claim, dr. joye's most recent trip is finding seabed oil everywhere, and with it, dead seabed organisms, implying a break in the food chain for all the marine life above the sampled areas.

and he might just well turn out to be correct on the need to evacuate gulf coast residents. people reporting voc's in their blood, holes in their skin which won't heal.

lastly, wasn't he right on bp's ability to pay for this? ie: they can't possibly even begin to pay.

feinberg scored ~$5k per ground zero worker. so far, his success is paying pennies on the dollar for a small fraction of well documented claims.

i guess i'm just not as good at pretending as you are.

MGA_1's picture

Well, he was definitely right about some things, but the thing that scared me was the claim of the uncontrollable gusher miles away - he seemed quite certain about it - but it also seems that it is simply not true.  I'll have to say his story is one of the stranger stories I've seen (including his death).  Irregardless of all this, the gulf coast residents will probably suffer for years because of the spill.

gasmiinder's picture

he was right that the leak was much larger than was being reported

As everyone with an IQ over 40 knew (that of course did not include the government - unless they were lieing,,,,naw)

he was right that the methane was as big or a bigger problem than the crude

Based on what?  Can you point to damage from the methane?  The oil certainly impacted coastal marshes and as you state below has impacted the food chain that depends on seafloor life.  Tell me please what impact the methane has had?????

he might well turn out to be right on the 40% claim, dr. joye's most recent trip is finding seabed oil everywhere, and with it, dead seabed organisms, implying a break in the food chain for all the marine life above the sampled areas

Bullshit.  There are certainly seafloor impacts and we do NOT know how severe but the deepwater seafloor fauna does not have a large input into the food chain (it's basically a desert)  The shallow water is definitely a concern but losing the shallow shelf sealife was a better tradeoff than the coastal marshes which are the oceans nurseries. 

and he might just well turn out to be correct on the need to evacuate gulf coast residents. people reporting voc's in their blood, holes in their skin which won't heal

Are your frikkin serious?  We should have evacuated the Gulf Coast?  

lastly, wasn't he right on bp's ability to pay for this? ie: they can't possibly even begin to pay

Can't even begin to pay what?  They have set up a 20 billion dollar fund and expenses to date don't even begin to approach that.  I am not defending BP but it's clear he was utterly clueless about their ability to weather this storm.

i guess i'm just not as good at pretending as you are

I guess you're not as good at evaluating facts versus moronic Mother Jones/Simmons rantings.  I'm not pretending anything - BP should be charged with criminal negligence as I've said many times.  They won't be because our fine progressive government was in bed with them all the time - sure hope everyone likes it when they own health care.

kimyo's picture

so, in your pretend world:

methane did not induce oxygen depletion, and those fish kills (multiple species, locations) did not actually occur.

dr joye did not report: "If you take a close look at the snow layer, small oil aggregates are visible. Also visible are (much larger) pteropod shells (which must have been recently deposited because the shells dissolve rapidly) and remnants of zooplankton (skeletons) and benthicinfauna (dead worms and their tubes). Microbial aggregates are visible and abundant but the normal invertebrate fauna you’d expect to see in these sediments were not present

national geographic didn't report: 'By sinking en masse, the marine snow may have deprived fish larvae of a crucial food source—the phytoplankton itself. When fish larvae hatch, they have less than a day to find sustenance or they'll starve, Passow noted.'

gov riley didn't say this: 'if the lost income claims of these businesses in these beach communities are not paid quickly and fully, the businesses will not survive the off season. Because of their dependency on this single source of economic life, the communities themselves will fail financially.'

and oil will stop washing ashore. it's all gone.

that's good pretending there. i can't top that.

gasmiinder's picture

You must be a lefty kimyo, I base this on the fact that your entire comment is strawmen and a redirection of our argument which is invariably what happens when you try to have a discussion with lefties (if I'm wrong I'll happily apologize).

I have for 6 months been saying dead zones were the REAL issue.  However dead zones are just as much due to the oil and corexit as to the methane.  YOUR argument was that MATT SIMMONS oil industry expert was correct on much that he said including your comment that "he was right that the methane was a much bigger issue than the oil".  That statement is what I replied to and you are changing the subject.

A molecule of methane requires two molecules of oxygen to breakdown.  A molecule of oil or a molecule of propylene glycol requires many more.  Therefore not a single one of your arguments above in any way addresses your statement.

The original line of this thread was whether Matt Simmons was correct - I maintain he was off his rocker.  That does not mean that some of his statement may not have skirted reality - it does mean he was stating MANY things that were utterly impossible from a physical reality standpoint. 

kimyo's picture

what is your estimate of the total cost of remediation?

how would you rate feinberg's performance?

where is the bottom cement plug in relation to the reservoir?

when do you think oil will stop coming ashore?

what 'inning' are we in?

gasmiinder's picture

Playing "20 questions" are we?

None of these relate in any way to the conversation we started and that I'm attempting to address.

Matt Simmons was a joke on this topic and the media gave him much more time than necessary.  It was ridiculous.

kimyo's picture

1) what is your estimate of the total cost of remediation?
2) how would you rate feinberg's performance?
3) where is the bottom cement plug in relation to the reservoir?
4) when do you think oil will stop coming ashore?
5) what 'inning' are we in?

"None of these relate in any way to the conversation we started and that I'm attempting to address."

i beg to differ:

1) i maintain that bp can't possibly cover the cost of remediation
2) i submit that feinberg's payment of pennies on the dollar is proof of 1 (as is his denial of valid claims)
3) cavnar said 'obviously there is communication between the reservoir and the annulus.' knowledge of the location of the bottom plug is key to this discussion, as is the condition of the plugs set back in march prior to the blowout, when they 'lost millions of $'s worth of drill string'.
4) oil continues to wash ashore in la. it may just be beginning to come ashore in western florida. how can you determine that bp is capable of paying the damages if you don't know the extent?
5) really, what inning are we in? you can call me a lefty, criticize my reading material, but if you really want to advance the conversation, provide links, instead of talking louder.

gasmiinder's picture

You can plead to differ but it doesn't matter.  The question was "was Matt Simmons off his rocker?"  I maintain yes.  You responded with a list of ways he was "correct".  I refuted your list in detail.  You responded with another list of new questions, I'm not your freakin research department.  I don't recall Matt Simmons mentioning Feinberg; I do recall a very large number of utterly impossible assertions.  The cost of remediation won't be know for a minimum of 20 years given the pace of our legal system.  Cavner is a full of shit leftist - and you don't have a clue what the f*&k you are talking about in number 3.

We're done unless you have something to say that makes sense on topic.

kimyo's picture

matt simmons needs not to have said a word about feinberg.

was he correct that they can't pay?


how much wiil mexico get? they've filed their claim. will idled oil platforms collect?

how can you possibly know the hit when the damage hasn't even begun, west florida, oil washing ashore from the desoto canyon.

i don't care to discuss simmon's sanity, i think zhedge is about discussing his ideas/statements.

it's an easy out to disparage his sanity, illustrating the weakness of your arguments.

gasmiinder's picture

i don't care to discuss simmon's sanity

Then why did you post a comment in reply to a question about his sanity?  It would appear all you want to discuss is the ultimate cost.  In twenty years we'll see what that was - in the meantime have fun with your BP shorts.

MGA_1's picture

I mean, I know he was saying there was a giant blowout and coverup, but did he just goof and refuse to admit his mistake?  I can't imagine he did it just to short BP.

imapopulistnow's picture

Complete crap.  GW it is time to move on......

gasmiinder's picture


Since you're quoting me to make your point I'll weigh in very quickly.

For Dr. Bea to compare Santa Barbara leaks to GOM leaks is weak at best - the rocks and the difficulty of sealing are extremely different.  Additionally the comment above:

In other words, the geology beneath the seafloor is so fractured, with soft and unstable salt formations, that we may never be able to fully kill the well even with relief wells. Instead, the loss of containment of the oil reservoir caused by the drilling accident could cause oil to leak out through seeps for years to come.

is completely and utterly bogus (following it up with two links to your own blog on stories long ago discredited doesn't add any authority). The "soft and unstable" formations (I'll quibble with the use of salt as a modifier another time) make it MORE difficult for the oil to continue to leak.  The bottom kill sealed this well, even if leaks shallower were occurring, and we can clearly see now that they were not, the bottom kill has removed the energy that drove them.

This story is dead, you can quit milking it.  The glory days of 200 comments instantly on Simmons/Cavner idiocy regurgitation are over.  Although I must take this last opportunity to mention to all the massive junkers (all my love to Wang & CogDiss) that essentially every point I made was born out.  You're welcome.  All the bullshit fantasies of disaster were, well, bullshit fantasies.  And yet I still haven't picked up my first shill check.

Sun Tsu's picture

Bravo! gasmiinder    

GW et Al's rubbish junked location is explainable by the government's permitting process, as a difference in the initial application for a permit to drill and the MMS final approved drill site.  

ZH, it is time to take the Trash Out.

kimyo's picture

"even if leaks shallower were occurring, and we can clearly see now that they were not"

please back this statement up with a link.

how do you know this?

gasmiinder's picture

A link isn't necessary.  I know this because the top kill worked.  I was very concerned pre-top kill, as previous comments will attest, because the publicly available data did not allow us to determine whether this was an issue.  However, if there had been communication between the wellbore and the shallow substrate then the top kill procedure would have made them WORSE rather than holding pressure as it did.  That is why I say "we can clearly see now they were not".

kimyo's picture

perhaps you'd like to rephrase that?

'based on the information bp has presented us, it is clear that the leak has been plugged.'

is that not your position?

what about the 'seeps' detected by the 'thomas jefferson' prior to top kill? do you have data showing that those have ceased?

gasmiinder's picture

Rephrase what?  Please don't build strawmen and ascribe them to me.

Keeping in mind that natural seeps leak 1 MILLION barrels of oil a year into the Gulf and many of those seeps occur in this area - do you have data suggesting that any seeps seen by any monitor were due to the Macondo blowout?  Do you have any data suggesting that any such "unnatural" seeps are still seeping oil?  Since you are the one positing significant impact from an ongoing situation why would it be up to me to prove your negative?

The wellbore is filled with cement top & bottom, that top plug (the less robust of the two) was a good enough seal that they were able to remove and replace the BOP without problem.  The physical realities of seepage and what is required to drive fluid flow through the sediment column Require energy, the energy to make that happen is now GONE.  Further - and this was my real point above - if there had been open fractures in the wellbore communicating with the shallow substrate, then the process of pumping the top kill would have signficantly increased the flow out of those fractures, that pressure drop would have appeared on the monitors, increased seepage would have occurred and our glorious progressive government committee would have stopped the procedure.

DaveyJones's picture

is it hard or is it easy going through life knowing everything? Do you have sympathy concern or disdain for the ignorant folks who have nothing better to do but fantasize about big government and big business working in tandem to control information?

gasmiinder's picture

Davy if you had been following the last six months of this discussion you would know that: 1) I busted my ass to explain clearly what the real "science-based" issues were and what REAL concerns existed during the process, and 2) argued that BP & the government WERE controlling information in tandem to keep us in the dark, then 3) in return I was attacked ad-hominem constantly and repeatedly, not once on the basis of the facts presented but instead, well, ad-hominem...4) got massive junks simply on the basis of the fact my handle appeared and 5) was repeatedly accused of being a BP shill.  This shill accusation was argued based on "you write clearly, you make rational arguments, and you criticize BP" (that's not a typo, they thought so much of the brilliant logic involved there that they linked back to it repeatedly........)

So while my post above did have a touch of arrogance I think it was deserved - and your interpretation of that arrogance was not accurate.

DaveyJones's picture

we both wrote our response at the same time. I hear you and respect your input. I may have misread the arrogance    

gasmiinder's picture

As I have respected your comments.  You'll notice the junk that has already appeared above.  It's almost funny how opposed to the facts some remain.

economicmorphine's picture

Cheap shot, DaveyJones.    Just because government and big business work in tandem to control information doesn't mean that every fucking little thing that comes down the pike is a conspiracy.  The well is dead.  Long live the well.

DaveyJones's picture

Ironically, all I did was mirror his sarcastic tone: "quit milking it" "bullshit fantasies" to criticise his own "cheap shot," a shot that suggests that George has no other motive than his own selfish one. A shot that suggests that delusions are all his work has ever produced. I, and a decent number of readers, disagree 

halvord's picture

Santa Barbara has always had seeps. That's how they knew to drill there. I do not know if there is more seepage now than before.

bigkahuna's picture

I am still concerned about this well. The events around this well blowing up including the federal government response bear a resemblance to the standard government cover up template. One-ignore or discredit witnesses - two, keep any critical media outlets away while 3, any evidence is removed, negated, or destroyed. Tell me to take off my tin hat and I will tell you to shove it up your third point. 

DollarMenu's picture

The MSM has moved on.

Last night on TV was a bit about the lack of payments

for damages, and the slowness of the process.

Thanks for your work G.W.

DaveyJones's picture

they'll release that data as soon as they release (1) the energy commission notes about Iraq from the prior administration (2) Rohm's notes from the meetings with the drug and insurance companies and (3) the Fed's books   

Ned Zeppelin's picture

News Flash: whatever truths ever existed about problems in the GOM and this well, are now buried in the muck at the bottom and have been completely forgotten.  Now when does that new season of Idol start and I get to see how big Jennifer Lopez's _ _ _ is?

George Washington's picture

Newsflash: Only if we let 'em ...