What Are the Results of the Oil Well Integrity Test?

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Washington’s
Blog

UPDATE:  Oil
Pressure Stopping Short of Target ... Does that Mean the Well Integrity
Test Is Failing?

If you don't know what the results of BP's oil well integrity test
are, you're not alone.

As I pointed
out
Wednesday:

BP suspended the "top kill"
operation for 16 hours -
because, according to numerous experts, it was creating more damage to the well bore - without
even telling the media, local officials or the public
that it
had delayed the effort until long afterwards.

BP also admitted
- many days after it stopped
the top kill attempt - (1) that BP had to stop because mud was leaking
out below the seafloor, and (2) that capping the well from the top
could blow out the whole well.

Similarly, it took more than 5
hours
for BP to publicly announce the delay of the "well integrity
test" after the decision to delay was made.

So BP doesn't have a
great track record of promptly informing us of what is happening.

Because
so little information is being released, even oil industry experts like
Rob Cavner are resorting to watching the underwater video cams to try
to figure out what's happening.

And Cavner says that BP and the
government are making things up on the fly, so it is a very fluid
situation, and that long periods of silence mean that something is
happening:

It’s clearly been on the fly. There’s a
lot more discussion behind the scenes obviously with the government
and bp team than what they’re disclosing to the public. What I’ve
learned in this whole experience, if you get a long on period of
silence, something’s going on. I think that’s a lot of what happened
today.

YouTube Video

Fortunately,
Cavner says that it looks like BP is doing a thorough job of monitoring
visual and sonar images for leaks.

For example, the Geco Topaz
is conducting seismic surveys over a range of many miles. Indeed, the Topaz has sailed perhaps 50
miles in and around the site of the oil gusher. See this
and this (the Topaz is
the ship indicated in light blue).

So What Do We Know?

Even independent oil industry experts are guessing at this point because
BP is keeping everything close to the vest (and that some allege
that the government is not publicly disclosing what it knows).

And the stakes are high.  As president Obama said this morning,
there is a risk that - if the well is incorrectly capped - numerous
leaks could spring from the seafloor:

(starting
at around 30 seconds.)

So the question is what we do
know
at this point?

Putting aside Matt Simmons' (Simmons was an energy adviser to
President George W. Bush and was a prominent investment banker to the
oil industry.  NOTE TO ZH READERS: IF YOU CAN FIND ANY CONFIRMATION OF SIMMONS' CLAIMS, I'LL EDIT THIS SENTENCE) claims that there is a conspiracy to cover up a larger
leak miles from the cap - for which there's been no independent
confirmation
to date - here's everything that we know at this
point:

  • Well pressure is currently a
    little above 6,700
    psi
    , far short of the 8,000 psi which would prove that the well
    integrity is more or less intact.
  • If the well
    pressure keeps rising, and stabilizes at 8,000 psi or higher, then the
    well is fairly stable, and the below-seafloor
    damage
    to the well is not significantly impacting well strength. 
    It would not be unexpected for the pressure to start lower and then to
    rise, so at least another 24 hours is needed to get the final result.  
    BP says "The pressure has been a very steady build as predicted by
    engineering anlysis we did. "  BP also says that the seismic, sonar and
    visual inspections so far indicate "no negative
    evidence".
  • If well pressures rise
    and then suddenly drop, then
    the well integrity test itself has caused a new leak.
  • If
    well pressure stabilizes far below 8,000, then there are major leaks.
    Oil industry professionals posting at the Oil Drum hypothesize:

    What this could indicate is that there is a
    possibility of crossflow
    at the bottom of the well. What this
    means that the oil and gas that are flowing out of the reservoir into
    the bottom of the well, are, under the pressure in the well, now flowing
    into a higher reservoir of rock, now that they can't get out of the
    well. Depending on where that re-injection flow is, this may, or may
    not, suggest that the casing has lost integrity. This is a topic that
    has been covered in the comments at The Oil Drum, where fdoleza
    - "a petroleum engineering consultant retired from a major
    multi-national oil company" - has noted:

    ... I believe the flow will be coming out
    of the bottom sand and going into the upper sand. It would not be a
    leak, but it would tell them why their pressure data ain't a classical
    surface buildup. And I sure hope they're modeling temperatures and so
    on, because this is a very interesting case. They don't have downhole
    gauges, so they'll have to take the way the oil cools down as it sits to
    get a better idea of the way things are moving down below.

    If there are questions whether there is still flow in the formation
    or from the original formation into surrounding rock, then it is
    possible that the relief well (RW) is close enough to the original well
    (WW) that putting a set of very sensitive microphones down the RW might
    allow some triangulation to estimate where such a flow might be
    occurring. It might make it easier that the well hasn’t been finally
    cased yet. But the test has 2 days to run, and will be evaluated every 6
    hours. With time some of these questions may be answered as the test
    continues. (If there is no flow anywhere, after a while all the
    readings should become quite stable).

Updates as they develop ...