Archive for June, 2010

The Case For Nationalisation

Right, so now that I have tried to add something positive to the situation in an attempt to stop the BP leak, I think it is now time to begin to examine consequences for the company itself based on what we know already. My conclusion may seem extreme to some, but I am joined already in arriving at the point I will get to by respected figures such as Robert Reich, the former Labour Secretary in the US.

First, I want to lay out what has been established from sworn testimony before the US Congress to this point with regard to the BP catastrophe. More details will come out in the multiple incident investigations that are ongoing, but there are some serious findings already, including:

1. There is evidence that the blow-out preventer (BOP):
• Hydraulic lines to control valves were known to have been leaking;
• Its shear valve was not rated as strong enough to cut all the tubular that was sent through it;
• A battery was missing from the control panel onboard the rig that powered control for a third type of cut-off valve on the BOP, a dead man valve;
• The drawings onboard the Deepwater Horizon did not match the actual system on the sea floor as it had been modified, and no updates had been provided to the rig; and finally,
• The breakaway riser didn’t, causing further damage as it tipped over.

2. In addition, the Deepwater Horizon did not have an emergency response plan that covered this type of disaster, because it got the requirement for doing an EIA waived by the Bush administration’s agency (MMS) that has been proven in court to be criminally corrupted by energy/mining lobbyists at the time.

3. There were other identified potential failings and conflicts in the emergency notification and response on the rig as the immediate disaster unfolded there. But I won’t even go into those to make my point at this time.

4. Add to the above the facts we know about the safety and environmental record of BP North America:

• In 2005, 15 people were killed and injured 170 in an explosion and fire at the Texas City Refinery. Two years later safety folks in the US (OSHA) fined BP $20 million for failing to act to correct the deficiencies cited in the investigation of the Texas City disaster. Last year, OSHA fined BP another $87 million at the Texas City refinery and their other refinery in Ohio got a fine of $3 million. Once again, BP had failed to correct known deficiencies that led to the Texas City disaster, as well as many other serious risks.

• In the past 3 years, the two refineries of BP in the USA own 97% of what OSHA classes as egregious health and safety violations, including what are known as wilful violations. Those are the ones where you know something could kill someone, but you let it them go ahead and do it anyway.

• In 2006, after attempting to hide the fact for a while, BP admitted to a 270,000-gallon crude oil spill from its Prudhoe Bay pipeline that spread over 2 acres of the Alaskan tundra. They got a $20 million fine for that one from the EPA.

Now, I work in the oil E&P industry, and before that I worked in refineries and chemical and manufacturing factories. And I have worked that whole time in the technical environmental and safety areas. So, I have an opinion on the above. BP is all about cutting costs. It’s cost savings program in Texas City rubbed up against its HSE management system and spontaneously combusted to cause that disaster. It says so right in the Baker Report on the subject. It’s cost saving maintenance program in Prudhoe Bay failed to detect and repair the leak in its pipeline there, causing that spill. There is evidence that it treats EPA and OSHA fines as a lower cost option of doing business than actually correcting its failures to protect workers and the environment. And there is evidence to suggest that it pressures it contractors to save money by skipping essential controls. Like the control tests on its cement plug that Halliburton was installing in the Macondo well that were ignored, even though they showed non-conformances in differential pressure. Like the heated argument the head of the rig (OIM) and the lead BP representative on the rig were reported to have had about the drilling program the night before the Macondo blowout.

I have always respected the opinions I have heard from Robert Reich, and he reckons that due to the above facts, that BP should be put into receivership by the US government, as if it was becoming bankrupt. He cites the similar thing that was done with failed banks and trading houses in the recent global financial crisis. But I think Robert misses the point.

I reckon BP should instead be nationalised by the US government because it has lost its license to operate. I highlight the term, because BP can have various licenses from government agencies to carry out activities, but what I mean by license to operate is the more general right given to it by society in general if it agrees to play along with the general laws, precedents and societal norms of the yanks. And I think it is time for Barack Obama to invite the head of BP, Tony Hayward, to the White House and let him know that BP had lost its license to operate anywhere in the USA, meaning:

• All BP assets operating in the territory of the USA would be immediately nationalised, and become owned by the US government;
• These assets would be sold off as soon as possible to any qualified bidder that wished to buy them in the USA;
• The US government would use the proceeds of the sale of all BP assets to clean up the damage of the oil spills, wrecked lives and wrecked livelihoods of its victims; and,
• Any remaining funds would be forwarded to BP in the UK.

This would be followed in my version of how it goes by, “Now fuck off out of my office and out of my country, Tony. You are persona non grata”.

See, while I agree with Robert Reich that this spill could kill BP through bankruptcy, I’m not certain we can rely on that, and it definitely needs killing. It needs to be told, and a message needs to be sent out to any other corporation (bank, miner, whatever) that you can lose your license to operate in a democratic society, and you have crossed the line of acceptable behaviour to all the inhabitants of the USA (including its plants and animals) far too many times.

Why we hate BP

Update on my post from yesterday is as follows. I have submitted my suggestion to BP through the process defined by them. However, they made it so difficult and bureaucratic, that I nearly gave up.

First, they wouldn’t allow anything but a US phone number in their electronic form, and with all the bells and whistles they had turned on it, it couldn’t be read by anything other than the latest version of acrobat.

Second, their form assumed I wanted to sell them something, despite being named a suggestion form. There were boxes for me to give all kinds of details on the parts or service I had, but no space for just a free form dump of the free and constructive suggestion I had.

So, I hacked their electronic form, got the email addy they could have just posted online, and now I will just sit back and “Wait for a response on your suggestion from BP, as we have received over 4000 and each will take some time to technically review”.

OK, thanks I will do that, you evil cocks

What is a dynamic plug?

I have been wanting to post on the BP catastrophe for some time, but had to clear the decks of work first.

What I am going to start with is a proposal for a fix. I reckon if the US government can get a movie director in for ideas on how to plug the well in the short term, perhaps they could use a suggestion from an engineer. I am not sure my fix will work, but I think it has a chance. In another post, I will deal with fixing the bigger issue with BP itself.

OK, so to start, I would try to stop the flow with what I will call a dynamic plug, a valve that will only activate after being inserted deep inside the well, and activated by a column of drilling mud at plug flow (or in a flow regime with a sufficiently high Reynolds number that it the velocity in the cross sectional flow is uniform, literally like a cylindrical plug of liquid coming down the tube)

To build the dynamic plug, I would start with something they have already tried somewhat successfully, the siphon tube. Before they tried the top kill, they stuck a flexible tube down the well bore and were sucking out an amount of the oil flow to pump to the surface. I would do that again, but this time I would attach to the tube a couple of expandable cones to the shaft of the tube, about a metre back from the end of it. It would look like this:
plug collapsed
The front expandable positioning (EP) cone would be flow through mesh, or just a cage that would position the siphon tube in the centre of the well casing. I would expand this when I was ready to make the attempt, after starting to pump mud down the hole, but before the mud reached the dynamic plug assembly, like this:
positioner open
Then, just as the plug flow of mud reached the dynamic plug, the rear expandable cone would be released from its closed position and would snap into place to seal the well and the dense mud flow behind it would hold the well closed until the well could be permanently plugged with cement above the dynamic plug. A tube with an inflatable end (like used in an angioplasty) might also work.
plug open
The key is that the plug it self doesn’t have to be strong enough to stop the flow of oil, but instead ust form the seal for the mass of mud that will hold it in place.

I would insert the tube down the well head through the blow-out preventer (BOP) and far enough into the well that I could pump mud down behind the siphon tube at a fast enough rate that the mud would reach plug flow, and also far enough down the well that the mass of mud behind the dynamic plug would be able to hold in the pressure of the reservoir: