The experts that API provided included:
Richard Ranger, Upstream/Industry Operations, API
Holly Hopkins, Upstream/Industry Operations, API
Robin Rorick, Group Director, Marine & Security, API
Allison Nyholm, Oil Spill Response Veteran, API
John Felmy, Chief Economist, API
John Wagner, Upstream Consultant, API
Holly Hopkins began by noting the scale of the effort (that data can be updated by going to the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command site which lists:
Total Vessels (including tugs and skimmers): 188
Boom deployed: 855,855 feet
Boom available: 831,553 feet
Oil and Water Mix - Recovered: Approximately 2.1 million gallons
Dispersant Used : 274,465 gallons
Dispersant available: 185,892 gallons
Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV): 4
Overall Personnel Responding: 4,520
One of the first questions asked related to the toxicity of the dispersant that BP is injecting over the spill from aircraft and underwater into the plume as a way of breaking the oil into smaller droplets to increase the rate of disintegration and dispersal. ABC News had reported that BP had stopped using the chemical, while awaiting toxicity tests. However Allison Nyholm noted that while the dispersant had been approved for aerial use, where it would not be concentrated but spread out and thus diluted, the use subsea was in a more concentrated form as it went into the plume. Since this was a new use, there were two trials of the technology, and that having completed these, the agencies and those involved had stopped the injections, while the data is reviewed.
The discussion noted that the end of the leaking pipe was sawn off, prior to a valve being attached to close the end leak of the three. (There is a Youtube video of this) .
Richard Ranger noted that the speed of the response to the disaster showed that there was a contingency plan in place, and the fact that there was such a relatively rapid response to what turned into a major disaster, showed that the plan existed and involved both industry and the federal government. Obviously, given the particular geometry that the box to plug the second leak had to fit, this had to be built after the leak became evident, but the fact that it could be built and fielded as fast as it was, speaks to the commitment to solve the problem.
Discussion switched to a letter from BP to its contractors and that had been reported in the Houston Chronicle. The letter said:
In light of the recent tragedy involving the Transocean Horizon Rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and as part of BP's overall commitment to safe and reliable operations, we are asking all our drilling contractors to review personal and process safety practices on their rigs.The article notes that the BOP in question was over 10 years old. (I have heard that it was uprated from operating at 15,000 psi to 20,000 psi but have no confirmation of that).
Our mutual goal is to provide an environment that is safe for all personnel involved in offshore drilling and one that protects the environment. Since Blowout Preventers (BOPs) are an integral part of a safe and successful drilling and completion operation, we request that you specifically confirm that the subsea BOP and associated equipment used on your deepwater drilling rigs current intended to drill fro BP have been inspected and are routinely inspected, tested and maintained to industry standards and in compliance with applicable regulations.
Additionally, if the BOP or associated equipment has been modified from the original design in any way, please confirm: (1) that such modification were made in consultation with the original manufacturer; (2) used OEM parts; (3) pursuant to a formal management of change process; (4) and in compliance with applicable regulatory requirements.
Richard Ranger noted that the move to drilling in deeper water came about as the state of knowledge and equipment improved, based on experience in shallower waters, and that it is through this gain in knowledge that deeper drilling becomes practical.
And while the topic cannot be completely ruled out, the participants did point out the great difficulty that would be faced if anyone had tried to sabotage the rig in this way.
Recently there have been tests of a fire boom to burn some of the oil in place. There was a question on why it took so long to get this process started. Alysson Nyholm noted that it took a couple of days to get the permit, and then the proper equipment had to be mobilized. (Note that a fire boom is a relatively specialized boom, and there was only one available at the time.
The "In-Situ Burn" plan produced by federal agencies in 1994 calls for responding to a major oil spill in the Gulf with the immediate use of fire booms.The extended use of this new tool can be effective in relatively calm water, but the waves at the site were over 4 ft high for a period, and this would wash the oil over the boom. But when the sea is calmer, then the tool can be more effective.
But in order to conduct a successful test burn eight days after the Deepwater Horizon well began releasing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf, officials had to purchase one from a company in Illinois.
When federal officials called, Elastec/American Marine, shipped the only boom it had in stock, Jeff Bohleber, chief financial officer for Elastec, said today.
A single fire boom being towed by two boats can burn up to 1,800 barrels of oil an hour, Bohleber said. That translates to 75,000 gallons an hour, raising the possibility that the spill could have been contained at the accident scene 100 miles from shore.The discussion moved on to the assessment of risk. The question was raised as to how many deep water wells have been drilled, and how many incidents there had been in contrast to how many oil tankers would be needed to replace that oil, and the risk of spills from their hulls. John Felmy responded that there are 500 discoveries in more than 1,000 ft of water (the current limit is 10,000 ft) and that at present some 30% of the offshore oil comes from the Gulf. And this is the worst incident in the past 40-years, so that it is somewhat uncommon.
However they did discuss the incident in the Timor Sea last year where in August there was a leak on a well under a mile and a half of water, leading to a rig fire. It took months to drill the relief well and stop the leak. While that investigation continues, Roger Ranger said that there is acceptance that the cause was, in part, a problem with the cement completion of the well.
There were additional discussions on the timing of future inquiries, and on the development of new technologies, recognizing that the industry itself is looking for ways to improve the safety and productivity of the offshore drilling rigs.
Hopefully I have captured the sense of the discussion, but the entire transcript is available for those interested.