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You are here: > News > May 23, 2010

Just how big is that gusher in the Gulf of Mexico?

After having been pasted by hecklers on Slashdot, saying that riser was only 21 inches in diameter, not five feet, so his estimates on the oil flowing from the BP well must have been wrong, Paul Noel rebuts with additional information that confirms that the this gusher has been releasing more oil every day than the Exxon Valdez catastrophe.


by Paul Noel
for Pure Energy Systems News

The cameras have come in from the sea floor. They have answered the question. The riser is the drill rod and is used to torque the bit and pump mud down the well. The well has at least 2 times cross sectional area of the riser. If the well was also only 21 inches in diameter, no mud or cuttings could return up the well from the drilling. 

The Blowout Preventer (BOP) is leaking far more oil than the riser. Exactly how much more is not yet determined but it appears to be about 2 to 3 times the Riser output. The riser has a hole in it that holds 0.61 cubic feet to the foot of pipe. Watch the live feed on the SpillCam if you want to see this. (It isn’t always available and BP controls it.) There are other leaks as well.

The formula for calculating the flow in the riser is: 0.61 cu ft/ft * feet per second of flow = Cubic Feet per second.

The riser is blowing in excess of 40 feet per second. The amount of oil emitted would be over 24.4 Cubic feet per second

The formula for converting to Gallons is: Cubic Feet per second * 7.48 gallons per cubic foot. = Gallons per second

This calculates 24.4 Times 7.48 = 182.5 gallons per second (Rounded to 180)

There are 42 gallons per oil barrel. This means that the Riser spill is 4.2 barrels per second (Rounded to 4)

Now throw the critics a 2:1 error factor and cut the number to 2 barrels per second. Then cut the BOP down to equal and exclude the obvious other leaks going on. We still have 4 barrels per second. That comes out just about 350,000 barrels of oil per day. That is a low ball estimate for this blowout.

The actual size of the gush coming out of the BOP is in the order of 2 to 3 times the Riser output. Everyone can argue any numbers but this is fudged down so far that it is probably wrong by a factor of 2 or 3 being too small for reality. The numbers suggest the possibility of a Million Barrels of Oil a day spill. (I am not willing to go that far out and prefer to suggest the 350,000 BPD rate) 

As was first noted here (PESN Exclusive) the process of this spill is only bringing a small fraction of the oil to the surface. (Initially I suggested to Sterling Allan that it might be only 20% or so.) It probably is only 5%. Research ships have now found massive plumes of oil beneath the sea. The process of fractioning the oil is spreading out the oil separated by molecular weight in the saltwater column density anticlines. The exact volume of oil in these plumes as a percentage of their volume is not known at this time but even assuming a tiny fraction unbelievably large volumes of oil are escaping the well. The reported volume for one plume alone was 1.7 cubic miles. (Do your own math it was 10 miles by 3 miles by 300 feet thick) There were at least 5 similar plumes found. 

It is entirely safe to say that this well has been releasing more oil every day than the Exxon Valdez wreck did. Nobody wants to believe the size of the spill. History will settle the matter beyond all question that my math was probably giving a very low estimate of the well output. 

Now let’s look at the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and see what we have. There is a slick there as large as the State of Maryland. (National Geographic; Picture 5/17/2010) For calculation, spread 50,000 BPD over the area for the entire time. Do not leave out one drop and don’t let any evaporate, sink or mix with the water or get disbursed by the US Armed Forces and BP effort. It actually is doing these things quite fast. The whole mess spreads out to a thickness of 20 millionths of an inch deep. That isn’t even sheen and would evaporate at that thickness in a few minutes. Do your own math if you want. The point is that the spill is evidencing massively larger numbers than even the largest academic estimates. 

One curious fact someone pointed out to me is that if the slick area were covered only 7/100ths of an inch deep in oil the volume would about equal the Mount St Helens eruption volume (May 1980). What does this suggest?

Using my estimate of 350,000 BPD * 42 gals/barrel we get 441 million gallons of spill over 30 days. That is 59,000,000 cubic feet. A square mile is 27,878,400 square feet. The area of the slick is now about 12,000 square miles more or less. This is enough oil to cover one square mile 2.11 feet thick. That averages 0.00017 inches thick over the spill area. That would hardly be a shiny surface. 

The reality is that the physical evidence supports higher numbers than I have said. (I simply do not want to guess that big) Large volumes of oil are washing up on the Coast of Louisiana as I write. Some of these frothy slimy mats are very thick others are just thick oil enough to kill everything they touch except the oil eating bacteria that lives in the Gulf of Mexico. The damaged coast of Louisiana now covers over 200 linear miles of shore line. It also covers in islands and such damage to well over 1000 square miles. That damage cannot have been done by oil 0.00017 inches thick. It took a lot more than that. 

One of the reasons all of the fuss over chemical applications to disburse the spill have been made is that it sinks the oil onto the fragile offshore reefs like the Pinnacles where much of the life cycle of the Gulf Coast sea life centers. This site is destroyed already. The fishermen are getting unbelievably angry over this careless damage. 

People reading about this spill are starting to learn a whole lot about the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico is the origin of the Gulf Stream which is the largest ocean current on earth. It is at the apex of the global circulation. Now they are going to learn a bit more than just about the Eddy and the Loop Current. 

Typically the Gulf Stream makes the Florida Strait at about 6 to 12 knots going east bound. The loop current is a large feeder of the Gulf Stream. On shore of the north coast of Florida (The Emerald Coast) and the coast of Alabama is a loop current that feeds the “Loop Current”. This lesser loop causes the shape of the coastal islands from the Apalachicola River (east of Panama City) to Dauphin Island in Alabama. By Mississippi’s Horn and Ship Islands it is largely turning south. This loop current is typically on shore seen as water moving west about 2 to 4 knots almost continuously. 

During Hurricane Season, this loop reverses, going east bound. In fact you can tell that Hurricanes are coming soon to the area by this reversal about 30 days ahead of the storms. This reversal notably causes deviations of the “Loop Current”. This reversal is fairly seasonal. The strength of the reversal tends to indicate the Hurricane strength and location. I have seen this several times myself. Deviations of the “Loop Current” have been noted in the past week or so. The winds change as well, bringing air on shore consistently when this happens. 

If this happens it will cause the spill oil to start soiling the coast of Louisiana more and more to the north and east and along the Chandelier Islands. Then it will appear in the Mississippi Sound and spread east bound along the coast of Alabama and into North Florida. Because this has happened pretty consistently for the last 5,000 years we can expect it will happen. If it happens the oil will spread to the east along the US Gulf of Mexico coast. That vast puddle of oil in the Gulf of Mexico is going to hit Alabama and Mississippi pretty hard. It is just a matter of time now. This is why BP just hired 500 workers to handle spill cleanup in Alabama. 

Some minor other issues. It is claimed by BP and others that the well only has about 19,000 to 20,000 psi pressure. This may be accurate. To clarify the scale of this is hard for most people to understand. Maybe it will become clear if you understand that the 45 cal ACP ammunition generates about the same pressure when fired. Unless you just like standing in the way of ammunition that is larger than battle ship shells driven by pressures equal to pistol ammunition I suggest you assume that the pressure is simply beyond belief. This is why solving the problem is really hard. 

Many people have discussed the issue of simply closing the top of the well. This is the famous “Junk Shot” and many other solutions. It all sounds nice. Imagine 3 miles of oil coming at you at high velocity (Several miles per hour) and under this pressure. You slap the valve closed after the mud is out of the well and the ram force may well slam the well casing, BOP and all several miles into the sky. It has happened in the oil industry before. In Libya in the 1950’s it was actually photographed that at least a mile of well pipe and equipment on top was blown into the sky all at one time. At these pressures a well without mud is out of control. At the velocities of the oil coming up this well, there is a fair question if the mud can be successfully reinserted. It might just get blown back out of the well. I have a firm respect that the Oilmen working this have a hard job. 

One thing that has happened since I have been writing here is that some people have sent me Ideas on how to fix this well. Some of these were pretty good. Sadly I have nothing I can do with them. One thing that has been driven home to me in this situation is that we do not lack for brains that want to and which could fix this situation quite promptly if they were to have influence. I am beginning to seriously think that BP should be compelled to sit down and listen to some of these suggestions. Please don’t send them to me anymore. I cannot get them done. I really wish I could get them done.

In fact the quality of the thinking I have seen on this makes me have absolutely no doubt that if these people were working on our energy problems with decent levels of support our problems would quickly disappear. 

A final point: As always I must point out that Alternative Energy is the only solution we have to such insanity. It isn’t opposition to oil, it is just sanity. To this end I suggested from the very start that this included Magnetic Energy. Some hecklers on Slashdot had a field day. They were sure I was just in fantasy land on this one. I have sad news for them. I live in Huntsville, Alabama. Magnetic Energy is a fair cottage industry here and it is proved and working. I have seen it working. It is quiet but it really is here. For the past 70 years the world has bet against every project Huntsville scientists have done. In that period we have proved all those who bet against us wrong. When my father was 20 if you had told him men would go to the moon in his lifetime he would have said you were delusional. By the time he was my age, he had sent men to the moon and brought them back alive. It was his navigation and computers that did the job (with others as well for sure). He worked Apollo mission engine controllers and navigation among other things. I would suggest that the Slashdot hecklers get on board and help the development effort and quit heckling. That way they could be on the winning side when it all comes out.  

# # #

Paul Noel, 52, works as Software Engineer (as Contractor) for the US Army at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. He has a vast experience base including education across a wide area of technical skills and sciences. He supplies technical expertise in all areas required for new products development associated with the US Army office he works in. He supplies extensive expertise in understanding the Oil and Gas industry as well. 

While not an "expert" in the field, he knows nearly as much as most industry experts. The difference? He's not afraid to talk.

Born in Lynnwood Washington, he came to Huntsville Alabama, when his father moved to be part of NASA’s effort to put men on the moon. Neil Armstrong may have gotten the ride, but his father’s computers did the driving. 

Paul is also a founding member of the New Energy Congress.

* * * *

Previous Coverage

  • Oil > Ecological Impact >
    A volcano of oil erupting - New video showing largest hole from pipe 5 feet in diameter spewing oil and natural gas at ~4 barrels per second, along with analysis of the amount of oil on the surface, supports the estimates closer to 1 million barrels per day erupting from this hole BP popped in the ocean floor that contains trillions of barrels of oil and natural gas. (PESN; May 13, 2010)
  • Oil > Ecological Impact >
    Deepwater Horizon debacle pushes alt energy - In addition to devastating ecological despoiling, the oil slick could shut down Mississippi River transport, effecting nearly half of U.S. import/export commerce. The damage to the tourism industry in Alabama and Florida could top $25 Billion a year for several years. Faced with this disaster the Obama Administration has just stopped all off shore drilling. (PESN; May 1, 2010)
  • Oil > Ecological Impact >
    Mother gusher danger not passed - With BP applying several fixes to the leaking well and the spreading oil, people might tend to classify this spill as "just another spill" among so many, which will go away after a while. A blowout is still a very real possibility, and the repercussions of the oil spilt are far-reaching. (PESN; May 6, 2010)
  • Oil > Ecological Impact >
    Mother of all gushers could kill Earth's oceans - Imagine a pipe 5 feet wide spewing crude oil like a fire hose from what could be the planets' largest, high-pressure oil and gas reserve. With the best technology available to man, the Deepwater Horizon rig popped a hole into that reserve and was overwhelmed. If this isn't contained, it could poison all the oceans of the world. (PESN; May 2, 2010)

Additional Links

  • Oil > Ecological Impact / Dependence >
    Productively directing our Deepwater Horizon anger - In response to the Gulf of Mexico predicament, Author Jeane Manning urges against depression, which is anger turned inward. Instead, she suggests that people direct their anger into propagating awareness of solutions to our addiction to oil, which have been available and suppressed for sometimes a century. The book she coauthored, Breakthrough Power, is a good tool. (JeaneManning; May 1, 2010)

See also

Page posted by Sterling D. Allan May 23, 2010
Last updated February 12, 2011


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