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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.

Got information on the spill you want to share? Email us at oil@fastcompany.com. It'll go directly to the lead reporter and editor on these stories, and they'll assume all initial communication to be strictly confidential.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.