Feds eye billions in fines in Deepwater Horizon trial

The federal government is eying billions of dollars in penalties to extract from BP for the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill. Depending on the verdict in a trial underway determining the number of barrels spilled, the fine could vary between 3.3 and 14.1 billion dollars. In order to follow the money you've got to follow the trial.

At the end of the month, the Deepwater Horizon trial moves to the next phase, determining the efficacy of the source control efforts and the total size of the spill. BP and the government have significantly differing estimates as to the amount of oil spilled. From the New Orleans Times Picayune we get this assessment.

With a high-stakes trial set to resume in less than a month, BP and the federal government on Thursday offered conflicting estimates of how much oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after the blowout of the company's Macondo well triggered a deadly explosion.

In a court filing, BP urges U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to use an estimate of 2.45 million barrels, or nearly 103 million gallons, in calculating any Clean Water Act fines. Justice Department experts estimate that around 4.2 million barrels, or approximately 176 million gallons, spilled into the water before BP sealed its well 86 days after the April 20, 2010, blowout. Both sides agree that 810,000 barrels, or 34 million gallons, escaped the well but was captured before it could pollute the Gulf.

The second phase of a trial designed to determine how much more money London-based BP PLC and its contractors owe for the disaster is scheduled to start on Sept. 30.

The public has been relentlessly exposed to the government's estimate for three years. A total of 5 million barrels has been the narrative and formed the basis for estimated fines of up to $20 billion. But now we will get other opinions. We can expect BP to put forth their expert witness, Dr. Martin Blunt. Before getting into his report, it is useful to note that findings of the U.S. Coast Guard in its Incident Specific Report. This is a report that was buried on pages 41-48 are the findings on Quantification. Here are some sample quotes with annotations.

The worst case discharge (WCD) amount was known to responders, and was part of the analytical process used by scientists in the estimation of flow rates and spill trajectories. However, with the exception of the statement made by the National Incident Commander on May 2 about the total loss of the wellhead, the WCD was not released publicly by either the response organization or an administrative agency, apparently to avoid an adverse public reaction.

The phrase "worst case discharge" is used for planning the size of the spill response, but is not an indication that the well was actually spilling that amount. Indeed, it took days for any oil to reach the surface. From page 42

April 23: At a press event and in response to questions from the media, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) states that there still is no evidence of a subsea leak but adds: "It is not a guarantee, but right now we continue to see no oil emanating from the well."

And the phrase "total loss of the wellhead" indicates a scenario that never took place. The blowout preventer remained in place and even Steven Chu should have known that the blind shear ram was activated, though it failed to make a clean cut and allowed oil to erode a path through the metal body of the preventer. Chu himself was the party who insisted upon using gamma ray techniques to get an "X-ray" of the inside of the unit. We have real time video of the inside of the BOP from September 8, 2010 showing the blind shear ram closed and erosion of the body available on YouTube.

The phrase "...to avoid an adverse public reaction" is probably the most telling of all. The Obama administration has now provided multiple examples of hiding the facts from the public so as to manage expectations and divert blame.

June 10: The Plume Team component of the FRTG obtains access to higher quality video data to conduct a more comprehensive study using a technique called Particle Image Velocimetry. The estimate by the Plume Team is "between 25,000 to 30,000 barrels per day, but could be as slow as 20,000 barrels per day or as high as 40,000 barrels per day." Note: Analysis of the video taken from the single flow point immediately after the riser was cut yields flow rates in the range of 25,000 to 50,000 BPD, with the best estimates between 35,000 and 45,000, but these figures are not made public.

June 13: National Incident Commander states that the best figure is somewhere between the extremes of the range released on June 10.

June 15: FRTG revises estimate to 35,000 to 60,000 BPD. This range is derived from a collaborative effort with Secretary Chu and his team, and members of the FRTG. The estimate of Dr. Chu's team accounts for the high end of the range, and the estimate of the FRTG account for the low end.

June 20: Congressman Markey releases an internal BP document stating that worst case flow rate from the Macondo well was 100,000 BPD.

June 21: Following further testing, WHOI releases a best estimate of oil to gas ratio of 43.7 percent oil. Previous estimates were 29 percent.

So the Coast Guard, through Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander, stated that the "the best figure is somewhere between the extremes of the range released on June 10." Those figures ranged from a minimum of 20,000 to a maximum of 50,000 barrels per day.

August 2: Using pressure measurements as the capping stack is being closed, three different teams from Department of Energy laboratories are able to provide the "most precise and accurate measurement of flow" from the Macondo well. A press release states that the flow rate at the outset of the spill was 62,000 BPD (+/- 10 percent), but had decreased to 53,000 BPD (+/- 10 percent) just prior to the well being capped on July 15. FRTG estimates that the total amount of oil released was 4,928,100 barrels (+/- 10 percent), before accounting for containment. FRTGestimates the WCD based on reservoir modeling was 118,000 BPD, which would decline overtime due to reservoir depletion.

Magically, the flow rate at the outset of the spill becomes "62,000 BPD (+/- 10 percent)" declining over time to "53,000 BPD (+/- 10 percent)"! It is no wonder that BP will seek to dispute the government estimates.

Dr. Blunt has prepared his own expert report available in two parts. The substance of the reports is summarized on Fuelfix's website. The report is available for download, Part 1 and Part 2. Here is a comparison of the dueling flow estimates taken from page 17 of Part 2.

One thing Dr. Blunt makes clear is the difference between what you saw on the subsea video and the flow of oil into the gulf. One fact widely misunderstood is that the flow was a combination of oil and natural gas. On June 21, "WHOI releases a best estimate of oil to gas ratio of 43.7 percent oil." So the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) admitted that only 43.7 percent of what you saw was oil. The balance was natural gas in a thermodynamically "supercritical" state where the gas and liquid phases are indistinguishable. Being lighter than water, the gas would naturally rise through the water column until it reached its critical point and more distinctly exhibited the gaseous property of bubble formation. From there it would bubble to the surface and evaporate into the atmosphere. Most of what the public took to be oil was really natural gas. None of it washed up on the beach. There is no one million barrels of "missing oil", as the government has alleged. Of course this administration is known for never letting a crisis go to waste.

How do we know there was a lot of natural gas in the flow? We saw the flaming stack as the oil was collected by ships at the surface. There were three independent laboratories test showing an average of 3,000 standard cubic feet (SCF) of gas per Standard Tank Barrel (STB). We remember that the cofferdam failed due to the accumulation of methane hydrates created by the mixing of methane from the well with sea water under the high pressures at the sea floor.

Here is a chart taken from Part 2, pg. 17 of Dr. Blunt's report summarizing the two differing scenarios.

Figure E.2. Different putative flow rate histories. The rate is shown normalized by the rate at the end of the spill. In red is the base case in this report -- a constant reservoir rate. In black is a rate history that corresponds to that -- approximately -- assumed in the Government reports. In green is an increasing flow rate at early time, which will give a cumulative release consistent with my material balance calculations and a final flow rate around 45,000 - 55,000 stb/day.

There is one point of personal privilege I'd like to bring to the public's attention. Credibility of the witness is important. I found this comment from pg. 21-22 of Part 2 quite satisfying.

The other, more definitive, determination comes from the injection of base oil into the capped well prior to mud injection and cementing. This oil was injected through the capping stack at rates between 1 and 7 barrels per minute. The pressure increase on oil injection was very low, around 15psi on average -- bearing in mind the gauge precision of only 5 psi, it is difficult to say more than the pressure increased slightly.

The prediction I made on July 20, 2010 at 6:48 AM CDT, was confirmed during the well injectivity test conducted as the prelude to the static kill operation.

Just pump the mud in slowly. Let us consider the ramifications of starting a new 24 [hour] well integrity test with the shut-in pressure rising at a rate of 1 psi per hour. So to stay within the agreed boundaries, they would end the 24 hr period with the pressure 24 psi higher than when they started. So pump in the mud at 20 psi above the starting pressure (4 psi below the agreed pressure limit) for 24 hours.

Given that the diameter of the kill line is about 2", the pressure differential is 20 psi, the weight of the mud is 16 ppg (SG = 1.9) we go to our handy-dandy calculator and presto-changeo we can flow 197 gallons per min, or about 5 barrels per minute or 300 barrels per hour or 3000 barrels in 10 hours. I believe the well bore is about 3000 barrels max. So you could kill the well and drop the pressure at the BOP to 2250 psi, the same as the sea water at the mud line in less than half a day.

Anybody think killing the well and relieving the pressure on the BOP before the next technical briefing might be a good thing...?

Note that writing and publishing a management of change document, before the fact, for the subsequent successful static kill, was an act of defiance against the government's narrative and their obsession with measuring the flow rate by surface collection so as to maximize the fines it expected to collect in court. Revenue became more important to the administration than complying with Malia Obama's wish, "Have you plugged the hole yet Daddy?"

I wonder if the public will ever find out that the environment meant less to President Obama than increased government revenues? We will soon see in court.

The federal government is eying billions of dollars in penalties to extract from BP for the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill. Depending on the verdict in a trial underway determining the number of barrels spilled, the fine could vary between 3.3 and 14.1 billion dollars. In order to follow the money you've got to follow the trial.

At the end of the month, the Deepwater Horizon trial moves to the next phase, determining the efficacy of the source control efforts and the total size of the spill. BP and the government have significantly differing estimates as to the amount of oil spilled. From the New Orleans Times Picayune we get this assessment.

With a high-stakes trial set to resume in less than a month, BP and the federal government on Thursday offered conflicting estimates of how much oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after the blowout of the company's Macondo well triggered a deadly explosion.

In a court filing, BP urges U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to use an estimate of 2.45 million barrels, or nearly 103 million gallons, in calculating any Clean Water Act fines. Justice Department experts estimate that around 4.2 million barrels, or approximately 176 million gallons, spilled into the water before BP sealed its well 86 days after the April 20, 2010, blowout. Both sides agree that 810,000 barrels, or 34 million gallons, escaped the well but was captured before it could pollute the Gulf.

The second phase of a trial designed to determine how much more money London-based BP PLC and its contractors owe for the disaster is scheduled to start on Sept. 30.

The public has been relentlessly exposed to the government's estimate for three years. A total of 5 million barrels has been the narrative and formed the basis for estimated fines of up to $20 billion. But now we will get other opinions. We can expect BP to put forth their expert witness, Dr. Martin Blunt. Before getting into his report, it is useful to note that findings of the U.S. Coast Guard in its Incident Specific Report. This is a report that was buried on pages 41-48 are the findings on Quantification. Here are some sample quotes with annotations.

The worst case discharge (WCD) amount was known to responders, and was part of the analytical process used by scientists in the estimation of flow rates and spill trajectories. However, with the exception of the statement made by the National Incident Commander on May 2 about the total loss of the wellhead, the WCD was not released publicly by either the response organization or an administrative agency, apparently to avoid an adverse public reaction.

The phrase "worst case discharge" is used for planning the size of the spill response, but is not an indication that the well was actually spilling that amount. Indeed, it took days for any oil to reach the surface. From page 42

April 23: At a press event and in response to questions from the media, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) states that there still is no evidence of a subsea leak but adds: "It is not a guarantee, but right now we continue to see no oil emanating from the well."

And the phrase "total loss of the wellhead" indicates a scenario that never took place. The blowout preventer remained in place and even Steven Chu should have known that the blind shear ram was activated, though it failed to make a clean cut and allowed oil to erode a path through the metal body of the preventer. Chu himself was the party who insisted upon using gamma ray techniques to get an "X-ray" of the inside of the unit. We have real time video of the inside of the BOP from September 8, 2010 showing the blind shear ram closed and erosion of the body available on YouTube.

The phrase "...to avoid an adverse public reaction" is probably the most telling of all. The Obama administration has now provided multiple examples of hiding the facts from the public so as to manage expectations and divert blame.

June 10: The Plume Team component of the FRTG obtains access to higher quality video data to conduct a more comprehensive study using a technique called Particle Image Velocimetry. The estimate by the Plume Team is "between 25,000 to 30,000 barrels per day, but could be as slow as 20,000 barrels per day or as high as 40,000 barrels per day." Note: Analysis of the video taken from the single flow point immediately after the riser was cut yields flow rates in the range of 25,000 to 50,000 BPD, with the best estimates between 35,000 and 45,000, but these figures are not made public.

June 13: National Incident Commander states that the best figure is somewhere between the extremes of the range released on June 10.

June 15: FRTG revises estimate to 35,000 to 60,000 BPD. This range is derived from a collaborative effort with Secretary Chu and his team, and members of the FRTG. The estimate of Dr. Chu's team accounts for the high end of the range, and the estimate of the FRTG account for the low end.

June 20: Congressman Markey releases an internal BP document stating that worst case flow rate from the Macondo well was 100,000 BPD.

June 21: Following further testing, WHOI releases a best estimate of oil to gas ratio of 43.7 percent oil. Previous estimates were 29 percent.

So the Coast Guard, through Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander, stated that the "the best figure is somewhere between the extremes of the range released on June 10." Those figures ranged from a minimum of 20,000 to a maximum of 50,000 barrels per day.

August 2: Using pressure measurements as the capping stack is being closed, three different teams from Department of Energy laboratories are able to provide the "most precise and accurate measurement of flow" from the Macondo well. A press release states that the flow rate at the outset of the spill was 62,000 BPD (+/- 10 percent), but had decreased to 53,000 BPD (+/- 10 percent) just prior to the well being capped on July 15. FRTG estimates that the total amount of oil released was 4,928,100 barrels (+/- 10 percent), before accounting for containment. FRTGestimates the WCD based on reservoir modeling was 118,000 BPD, which would decline overtime due to reservoir depletion.

Magically, the flow rate at the outset of the spill becomes "62,000 BPD (+/- 10 percent)" declining over time to "53,000 BPD (+/- 10 percent)"! It is no wonder that BP will seek to dispute the government estimates.

Dr. Blunt has prepared his own expert report available in two parts. The substance of the reports is summarized on Fuelfix's website. The report is available for download, Part 1 and Part 2. Here is a comparison of the dueling flow estimates taken from page 17 of Part 2.

One thing Dr. Blunt makes clear is the difference between what you saw on the subsea video and the flow of oil into the gulf. One fact widely misunderstood is that the flow was a combination of oil and natural gas. On June 21, "WHOI releases a best estimate of oil to gas ratio of 43.7 percent oil." So the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) admitted that only 43.7 percent of what you saw was oil. The balance was natural gas in a thermodynamically "supercritical" state where the gas and liquid phases are indistinguishable. Being lighter than water, the gas would naturally rise through the water column until it reached its critical point and more distinctly exhibited the gaseous property of bubble formation. From there it would bubble to the surface and evaporate into the atmosphere. Most of what the public took to be oil was really natural gas. None of it washed up on the beach. There is no one million barrels of "missing oil", as the government has alleged. Of course this administration is known for never letting a crisis go to waste.

How do we know there was a lot of natural gas in the flow? We saw the flaming stack as the oil was collected by ships at the surface. There were three independent laboratories test showing an average of 3,000 standard cubic feet (SCF) of gas per Standard Tank Barrel (STB). We remember that the cofferdam failed due to the accumulation of methane hydrates created by the mixing of methane from the well with sea water under the high pressures at the sea floor.

Here is a chart taken from Part 2, pg. 17 of Dr. Blunt's report summarizing the two differing scenarios.

Figure E.2. Different putative flow rate histories. The rate is shown normalized by the rate at the end of the spill. In red is the base case in this report -- a constant reservoir rate. In black is a rate history that corresponds to that -- approximately -- assumed in the Government reports. In green is an increasing flow rate at early time, which will give a cumulative release consistent with my material balance calculations and a final flow rate around 45,000 - 55,000 stb/day.

There is one point of personal privilege I'd like to bring to the public's attention. Credibility of the witness is important. I found this comment from pg. 21-22 of Part 2 quite satisfying.

The other, more definitive, determination comes from the injection of base oil into the capped well prior to mud injection and cementing. This oil was injected through the capping stack at rates between 1 and 7 barrels per minute. The pressure increase on oil injection was very low, around 15psi on average -- bearing in mind the gauge precision of only 5 psi, it is difficult to say more than the pressure increased slightly.

The prediction I made on July 20, 2010 at 6:48 AM CDT, was confirmed during the well injectivity test conducted as the prelude to the static kill operation.

Just pump the mud in slowly. Let us consider the ramifications of starting a new 24 [hour] well integrity test with the shut-in pressure rising at a rate of 1 psi per hour. So to stay within the agreed boundaries, they would end the 24 hr period with the pressure 24 psi higher than when they started. So pump in the mud at 20 psi above the starting pressure (4 psi below the agreed pressure limit) for 24 hours.

Given that the diameter of the kill line is about 2", the pressure differential is 20 psi, the weight of the mud is 16 ppg (SG = 1.9) we go to our handy-dandy calculator and presto-changeo we can flow 197 gallons per min, or about 5 barrels per minute or 300 barrels per hour or 3000 barrels in 10 hours. I believe the well bore is about 3000 barrels max. So you could kill the well and drop the pressure at the BOP to 2250 psi, the same as the sea water at the mud line in less than half a day.

Anybody think killing the well and relieving the pressure on the BOP before the next technical briefing might be a good thing...?

Note that writing and publishing a management of change document, before the fact, for the subsequent successful static kill, was an act of defiance against the government's narrative and their obsession with measuring the flow rate by surface collection so as to maximize the fines it expected to collect in court. Revenue became more important to the administration than complying with Malia Obama's wish, "Have you plugged the hole yet Daddy?"

I wonder if the public will ever find out that the environment meant less to President Obama than increased government revenues? We will soon see in court.

RECENT VIDEOS