BP Well Plug Opens Door for Devastating Underground Blowout

Deepwater Horizon drilling unit on fire

Oil is no longer gushing into the Gulf, but the danger of the spill flowing freely once again remains. BP plans to take another stab at plugging the well permanently next week with the so-called "static kill" procedure—sending heavy mud down into the capped well—followed by a "permanent kill," which will hopefully seal the Macondo well permanently with mud, cement, and other substances deposited into a relief well. But not everyone is convinced that the static kill procedure will work. And if it fails, it could have disastrous consequences.

The danger, according to Zero Hedge, is of an underground blowout, defined by Wikipedia as "a special situation where fluids from high pressure zones flow uncontrolled to lower pressure zones within the wellbore. Usually this is from deeper higher pressure zones to shallower lower pressure formations." Zero Hedge explains:

One oil industry veteran engineer describes to me an underwater blowout (UGBO) as quite plausible, with the well being capped plus the static kill adding pressure from the top. That is, capping the well might not be such good news. The more they try to restrict the oil gush, the more pressure could be built up within the wellbore (like a soda can). The increasing pressure could eventually push the leak below leading to a UGBO.

underground blowout diagram

If there is an UGBO, it could potentially cause the seafloor to shift. And that could trigger even more oil to shoot to the ocean's surface, possibly followed by a massive eruption of hot mud (an UGBO in Indonesia has reportedly created a mudflow so big that it is visible from space).

This is all pure speculation, of course. There has never been a deepwater UGBO before—but then again, there has never been an oil disaster of this type and magnitude before either. Still, it's a situation to watch out for in the coming days as BP resumes operations.

Check out the Keith Olbermann segment below for more context.

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Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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  • Birgit J

    You do understand there are cracks in the well casing and oil, methane and mud are escaping sideways out of the pipe - could be anywhere along its 5000 foot plus depth.

    All this pressure and disturbance adds to the already unstable and steadily rising bubble of oil and methane that is showing itself through cracks and fissures.

    Where oil and methane are released, there is a negative pressure building as well, that can suck in seawater to fill the void.

    Nobody knows when, or how fast, this can happen, only that the methane bubbles themselves act this way, even without deep drilling for oil.

    Just filling the pipe may or may not work. A second, new pipe will only add to the negative pressure being created below the sea bed. We are dealing with huge forces here.

    The unknowns are many. The price of oil is great.

  • Ron Round

    Come on Ariel, let's not give credence to the tin foil hat crowd - they're already out of control (Matt Simmons' fantastically wild theories come to mind).

    It is very unlikely the static kill would cause a blow out (or any problems at all) - all they need to do is exert positive pressure (1 psi above existing well pressure would suffice) and pump in heavy "kill" mud. The heavier than oil mud would simply displace the oil forcing it back into the reservoir. Once that's done they can cement the well and permanently abandon the well. And remember, the previous "top kill" operation exerted FAR more pressure on the well as they needed to try to overcome the strong flow from the uncontrolled well.