WB: Is BP sharing information
with the government?
Bea: No. BP is using a "cloak of silence". BP is not voluntarily
sharing information or documents with the government.
In May, for example, 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.
[Bea subsequently clarified that he's not sure whether BP has
failed to release the information, or Senator Boxer's committee
has sat on the information.
My bet is on BP. Indeed, BP has
refused to answer some very basic written questions from
Congressman Markey, chair of the Select Committee on Energy
Independence and Global Warming. See
is unclear whether BP is sharing vital details even with Thad
Allen, Secretary of energy Chu, or the Unified Command].
WB: Might there be problems with the relief wells? I know that
it took a couple of relief wells to finally stop the
and it has taken as many as 5 relief wells to stop some
Bea: Yes, it could take repeated attempts.
WB: Are there any conditions at BP's well which might make
killing the leak with relief wells more difficult than with the
average deepwater oil spill?
Bea: That's an interesting question. You have to ask why did
this location blow out when nearby wells drilled in even deeper
water didn't blow out.
You have to look at the geology of the Macondo well. It is in a
subsalt location, in a Sigsbee salt formation. [For background,
The geology is fractured.
Usually, the deeper you drill, the more pressure it takes to
fracture rock. This is called the "fracture gradient".
But when BP was drilling this well, the fracture gradient
Indeed, BP lost all pressure as it drilled into the
WB: Is it possible that this fractured, subsea salt geology will
make it difficult to permanently kill the oil leak using relief
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.
this for further background].
WB: I know that you've
previously said that you're concerned
that there might be damage to the well bore, which could make it
more difficult for the relief wells to succeed.
Bea: Yes, that's still a concern.
WB: I have heard that
BP is underestimating the size of the oil
reservoir (and see
this). Is it possible that the reservoir is
bigger than BP is estimating, and so - if not completely killed
- the leak could therefore go on for longer than most assume?
Bea: That's plausible.
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.”
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
[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.]
WB: There are rumors on the Internet of huge pockets of
gas under the well which could explode. I've looked into this
rumor, and have
come to the conclusion that - while the leak is
releasing tremendous amounts of methane - there are no "pockets"
of methane gas which could cause explosions. Do you have any
information on this?
Bea: I have looked into this and discussed methane with people
who know a tremendous amount about it. There is a lot of liquid
and solid methane at the Macondo site, but no pockets of methane
WB: That's good news, indeed.
Bea: But there was one deepwater leak I worked with where
tremendous amounts of hydrogen sulfite were released. We had to
evacuate two towns because of the risk.
[I didn't ask Dr. Bea if
there were any dangerous compounds which could be formed from
the interaction of the crude oil and methane with chemicals in
the ocean water or dispersants].
And with the Bay Charman oil leak, more than 50% of the oil
stayed below the surface of the ocean.
[As I've previously
pointed out, the US Minerals Management Service and a consortium
of oil companies, including BP, found that
as little as 2% of
the oil which spill from deepwater wells ever makes it to the
surface of the ocean. And the use of dispersant might decrease
that number still further].
WB: I have
previously argued that nuking the well would be a bad
idea. What do you think?
Bea: [Bea agreed that
nuking the well would be
counter-productive. He told me a story about a leaking deepwater
well that he was involved in killing. A nuclear package was on
its way to the well site but - fortunately - the well stopped by
itself before a nuke was deployed. I'm not sure whether this is
classified information, so I won't disclose the name of the
well. Bea also discussed alternatives in the form of
high-pressure, high-temperature conventional explosives, echoing
what Bill Clinton said recently].
WB: Thank you for your generous time and for sharing your
expertise with us, Dr. Bea.
Bea: You're welcome.