BP Well Plug Opens Door for Devastating Underground Blowout

Oil is no longer gushing into the Gulf, but the danger of the spill flowing freely once again remains.

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.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more