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You are in the current Gulf Watchers BP Catastrophe - AUV #483. ROV #482 is here.

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Well, thank goodness the paperwork is not dangerous...

Still believed to be a ticking time bomb in the Gulf, a federal investigation has declared the working conditions at the Atlantis deepwater platform, operating in water nearly 2000 feet deeper than the Deepwater Horizon drilled, are safe.

A database of thousands of documents related to the performance of the rig was found to be "disorganized, inadequate, and confusing" but did not jeopardize workers at the site. After an 11-month probe, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) said the violations were "unfounded" based on statements from a former BP contractor that workers on the platform lacked access to critical engineer-approved drawings of the facility.

Industry experts liken the database to an "operating manual" that is critical to being able to respond to an accident or technical problem, particularly if they involve components thousands of metres under the water.

But the investigation found that the allegations that engineers on board the platform lacked access to the right documents was "without merit" and said no evidence had been found that the database deficiencies made for unsafe operating conditions.

The Interior Department agency issued an "incident of noncompliance" citing BP for not giving the government required drawings depicting changes to components at the site. But the bureau did not seek civil penalties in connection with the violation after concluding that the issue was swiftly corrected and did not pose an immediate safety risk.

The investigation, which had also been called for by members of Congress, said that there were no grounds to force BP to suspend operations or remove its license. But it did make recommendations to tighten up existing regulations to require all operators to keep up to date the "as-built" drawings and documents of components that show how they have been installed on each platform.

The whistleblower, Ken Abbott, who worked for a BP subcontractor on the Altantis rig before being fired, made the allegations before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. The discredited – and now dissolved – offshore regulator MMS eventually began an investigation following pressure from members of Congress.

BP had always denied the claims that were laid against it, although some appeared to have been substantiated by its own independent safety ombudsman.

Abbott said in a statement that he was "disappointed but not really surprised." He took a jab at the ocean energy bureau, previously known as the Minerals Management Service, which he said aims first "to protect themselves and then the oil companies."

"They may have changed their name, but not their way of operating," Abbott said. Abbott vowed to continue pressing his case, which has been joined by Food and Water Watch, an environmental advocacy organization.

The group's executive director, Wenonah Hauter, said the bureau's report was "seriously flawed" and showed the agency was "protecting the interests of its industry cronies, rather than the public."

"The federal government dragged its feet on this investigation, and its findings are appalling - like a doctor's note for a truant student," Hauter said. "They are a weak attempt to cover BP's foul play. After all this time, the public deserves better."

After the blowout at BP's Macondo well last year, lawmakers seized on the Atlantis platform allegations and insisted that government regulators shut down the facility while Abbott's claims were investigated. But regulators rejected that request.

Congress - including Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., - said they were worried that because of the volume of oil produced at the Atlantis platform, a blowout there could make the Macondo gusher look like a trickle.

Operating in 7,000 feet of water, the Atlantis pumps crude from 16 production wells in territory far deeper than the destroyed Deepwater Horizon rig, which was drilling an exploratory well about 5,000 feet below the surface.

The Atlantis rig operates in the Green Canyon 743 field, southwest of where the Deepwater Horizon exploration was located. BP Atlantis pulls about 190,000 barrels of oil equivalent out of the field each day, an amount nearly four times what was spewing out of the Macondo well when it was capped last July.

BP has estimated that the Atlantis field contains recoverable reserves of 635 million barrels of oil equivalent.

...but the BOP doesn't work...

Does this second story seem to conflict slightly with the first? We know from the first story that apparently the Atlantis has bad paperwork. Other than workplace stress that might cause a heart attack, paperwork doesn't usually kill people. Did Cameron install the BOP on the Atlantis? One would think so. And do the same problems with the BOP exist there? How close are we to seeing 200,000 barrels a day gush from that rig, and in even deeper water? In the event of another blowout, would the BOP and comm pods on the Atlantis prove to be as flawed as the ones on the Deepwater Horizon?

The control pods for the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon did not work... because of a fundamental design flaw that resulted in the inability to control the well in the event of a blowout. Federal investigators asked Friday that more testing be done on the BOP currently at NASA's Michoud facility near New Orleans. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has objected to the government's decision to halt testing of the blowout preventer on Friday. The team is jointly run by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement.

The safety board has been among the groups allowed to monitor the testing.

The Norwegian firm doing the testing, Det Norske Veritas, is expected to submit its findings by March 20.

A spokeswoman for the joint investigation team, Melissa Schwartz, said in an e-mail to the AP that the scope of the work done by DNV was developed in coordination with other interested parties, including the safety board, and in consultation with the Justice Department. She said there have been no other objections.

She said the team believes DNV has performed the tests necessary to determine why the blowout preventer did not function as intended.

Cameron, the company that made the blowout preventer used with BP's blown-out well, had no comment, according to a spokeswoman.

Blowout preventers sit at the wellhead of exploratory wells and are supposed to lock in place to prevent a spill in case of an explosion.

The 300-ton device that was used with BP's Macondo well was raised from the seafloor on Sept. 4. It sat at the NASA facility for two months before testing began.

The USCG-BOEMRE panel recently said that it won't finish its final report on what caused the April 20, 2010, rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by the one-year anniversary of the disaster as it had hoped.

Delays in testing the blowout preventer forced the panel to seek another deadline extension.

Its final report was due this month. Instead, the panel now has until July. It will make a preliminary statement by mid-April.

The BOP just sat there for two months, and now they need more time? What the hell were they waiting for? For everyone to forget it ever happened?

* Update: But maybe any report from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab should be taken with a half-ton of salt...because of where their funding apparently comes from...

Scientists at the Dauphin Island sea lab on the Alabama Gulf Coast are trying everything in an effort to come to a conclusion on what is causing the deaths of bottlenose dolphins in record numbers during the first two months of 2011.  The 87 dolphins, forty-six of which were infants or stillborn, is a twelve-fold increase from the usual mortality rate.

The die-off had prompted fears that exposure to toxins from the BP spill had interfered with last year's calving season, causing miscarriages.

However, scientists at the Dauphin Island sea lab in Alabama suggested the dolphins may have succumbed to the cumulative stresses of the BP spill, disease such as the outbreak of a measles-type illness, or a sudden gush of extremely cold fresh water from the Mississippi – all of which lowered their resistance.

"The ultimate frustration in all of this is that unless they find a heavy body burden of toxins that can be attributed directly to the oil from BP's well than I am afraid we are never going to find an answer," said George Crozer, the director of the lab.

"The oil spill is probably the most probable cause that we have now, but there are actually lots of other factors, and my bottom line is that it is a cumulative effect of all the stresses the dolphin population has been subjected to over the last year."

In addition, he said a decline in the Gulf's shark population may have left more dolphin carcasses to wash to shore, rather than being eaten at sea.

Dolphin carcasses have been sent off to be tested for exposure to toxins related to the BP spill.

"Right now nothing has been ruled out – chemical, biological, even cold weather," an official at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies said.

US oil company Apache has accused BP of selling it oil field assets that are in breach of Canada's environmental laws.

Apache Corporationbought a $7bn package of oil fields from BP immediately after the Gulf of Mexico spill. It was the first disposal made by BP as it sought to cover the cost of the accident.

However, Apache has now started arbitration proceedings in Canada, claiming that it should not have to pay as much as BP wants for the fields. It claims that work will have to be carried out on the fields in Alberta to make them compliant with local law.

"Apache Canada claims that the purchase price should be adjusted for its estimated possible costs," the company disclosed in a note to its annual report.

"BP Canada Energy denies such costs will arise or require any adjustment to the purchase price."

The case is the latest in a string of legal fights entangling BP, including more than 200 cases related to the Gulf of Mexico, an inquiry into alleged price-fixing of the US propane market and an arbitration battle with its billionaire Russian partners. Descriptions of current legal cases ran to 5,000 words in the company's annual report, compared with just over 1,000 the year before.

Damn the torpedoes...and the blowouts, and the lawsuits...full steam ahead!

Putin says BP can help develop arctic oil

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said an oil partnership TNK-BP may help develop Kara Sea oil fields if agreeable terms are offered to Russian companies.

"There is a law, under which we have entrusted Rosneft and Gazprom with work on the (Arctic) shelf. If TNK-BP offers suitable terms of joint work to one of the companies, it can (participate), why not?" Putin said, RIA Novosti reported Saturday.

Three reserve fields in the Kara Sea, East Prinovozemelsk 1, 2 and 3, are estimated to hold 5 billion tons of oil and 10 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

British petroleum giant BP agreed in January to a deal valued at more than $8 billion to buy 9.5 percent of Rosneft and participate in Kara Sea development. But TNK-BP shareholders said the deal violated a previous agreement with BP to have all deals in Russia funneled through them.

Putin said BP claimed the agreement was "not absolute and universal, saying they work, for instance, on Sakhalin without TNK, and they hope to solve the conflict amicably or find a compromise."

BP-Reliance deal may usher fresh oil, gas investments
BP’s $7.2-billion-deal to jump into India’s oil and gas sector with Reliance Industries is the first sign of new investment that could attract more players, helping to boost output and meet surging demand.

Asia’s third-largest economy is expanding at more than 8% a year. But it struggles to pump even a third of the oil it guzzles, while gas use — limited by poor infrastructure — is already 30% more than production.

India has sought to attract the big international players since 1999 with its New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) but still only two foreign companies — BG and Cairn Energy — are producing any serious amounts in the country.

“This deal brings in one of the majors in a material way. Twenty-three blocks and an important gas play,” said Richard Quin, lead analyst for West Asia, North Africa and India at energy research consultancy Wood Mackenzie. “I suspect the government is very happy about it.”

BP, which has only one block, picked up through the government auctions, is now paying Reliance for a 30% stake in 23 of its blocks, including the big gas producer D6 in the Krishna Godavari basin.

The blocks now produce about 1.8 billion cubic feet/day (bcf/d) — more than 40% of the country’s total production and more than 30% of total consumption.

The British-based company figures there are at least 15 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas resources in the blocks — enough to meet India’s current rate of consumption for seven years.

It is BP’s biggest investment in exploration and production in Asia, with a potential total of $20 billion linked to exploration successes.

“It would be wrong to downplay the prospectivity of the 23 blocks. There has to be a reason BP bought in. Fundamentally, BP is in the business of producing hydrocarbons,” Quin said.

And what do you do with a drunken sailor? Take him back to court...

Exxon Mobil Back in Court Over $100 Million Valdez Oil Spill Claim

Although it happened more than two decades ago and until the BP oil spill last year, the Exxon Valdez oil spill was considered the largest in U.S. history. But even though the U.S. is still struggling to recover the Gulf of Mexico region from the devastating oil spill, the Exxon Valdez oil spill is still impacting the shores of the Prince William Sound shoreline. A federal hearing on Friday, March 4, will consider whether the responsible party, Exxon Mobil Corporation, still owes another $100 million in efforts and funding to clean up oil still remaining on the shore.

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker incident happened back on March 24, 1989 when it struck the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. It is estimating that 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil flooded into the Sound, making it one of the worst man-made environmental disasters. Recovery efforts have been extremely difficult in the area. While Prince William Sound is rich in biodiversity, it is a remote location that is not easily accessible by humans and can only be reached by plane or boat.

The hearing will determine weather Exxon must pay an additional $92 million plus interest, with a majority of the money going to environmental agencies that will use it for restoration of the area.

Who knew all we needed was oobleck?

Could Cornstarch Have Plugged BP's Oil Well?

While you were thumbing through your Feb. 4 issue of Physical Review Letters, perhaps you noticed the article titled "Viscoelastic Suppression of Gravity-Driven Counterflow Instability."

OK, maybe not. But it was actually worth a look. It turns out the article describes how engineers might have been able to stop the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico last year using a child's plaything: oobleck. It's a weird mixture of cornstarch and water. When it moves slowly, it flows like a liquid. Move it fast, and it freezes into a solid.

The idea of using oobleck came to Jonathan Katz, a physics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, last May. He was on a small group of experts that U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu pulled together to advise him about the catastrophe.

So Katz was on hand when BP tried to stop the well by pumping a dense fluid called drilling mud down it — the so-called top-kill approach. It failed.

"We'd predicted that [would fail], so we were disappointed like everybody else was, but not enormously surprised," Katz says. "And so I was scratching my head and saying, 'Is there some solution to this problem?' "

"I realized after a while that cornstarch suspension — oobleck, the kids call it — has this wonderful property that if it's not flowing rapidly, it's a liquid that flows pretty well," Katz says. "But if you try to make it flow rapidly, it suddenly turns stiff and it doesn't flow at all."

"And of course the drilling mud industry isn't used to mixing cornstarch into their stuff, so it was completely new for them," he says. "It wasn't something they had available in their tanks ready to go. They would have had to prepare a custom solution and take it out to the well."

They report in that Physical Review Letters article that it performed as Katz had predicted under these highly idealized circumstances. Whether it would have worked in the real world is an open question. Prof. Steve Wereley, who teaches fluid dynamics at Purdue University, says the concept is clever.

A BP spokeswoman told NPR their engineers reviewed the idea and decided it wouldn't work. But Katz still figures it's a good idea worth exploring for the next time an oil well is running completely out of control.

PLEASE visit Pam LaPier's diary to find out how you can help the Gulf now and in the future. We don't have to be idle! And thanks to Crashing Vor and Pam LaPier for working on this!
Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:
3-04-11 08:01 AM Gulf Watchers Friday - The Drilling Clock is Ticking - BP Catastrophe AUV #482 Lorinda Pike
3-02-11 06:04 AM Gulf Watchers Wednesday - BP Partner Gets 1st Deepwater Drilling Permit - BP Catastrophe AUV #481 peraspera
2-27-11 12:00 PM Gulf Watchers Sunday - Feinberg (Finally) Meets with Louisana Tribes - BP Catastrophe AUV #480 Yasuragi
The last Mothership has links to reference material.

Previous motherships and ROV's from this extensive live blog effort may be found here.

Again, to keep bandwidth down, please do not post images or videos.
Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Lorinda Pike on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 08:35 AM PST.

Also republished by Gulf Watchers Group.

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