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CB2: Understanding the BP Relief Wells

It’s day 77 and we as a whole are losing interest in the oil spill. The top two CNN.com headlines right now are about Bobby Fischer and the heat wave, what caught my attention this morning is, “Oh cool. LiLo is going to jail,” and if you prefer numbers, Google search traffic for “oil spill” is down 63% since late May.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as our collective attention spans for disasters suck (any idea how Haiti is doing?). And honestly, there’s not THAT much exciting spill news to report every day. I’ll take that as a challenge and similar to last week’s education about hurricanes and the oil spill, this week we’ll do a little brown bag GovLunch on the important topic of relief wells.
What is a relief well?
A second well to intersect the original problem well, drilled as deep as possible. Once they intersect, a heavy mud is pumped into the problem well to slow the flow of oil. Once the flow is stopped, cement is then pumped into the well to fully plug it. BP is drilling two of these wells in case one should fail.
A relief well is our best hope for stopping the flow of oil right now, which is why this topic is so important.

Why is it taking so long?
The wells are being dug to a depth of 18,000 feet, trying to hit a tiny bulls eye – and that takes time. While BP is still saying “August” for completion, they’re actually ahead of schedule with only about 300 feet to go (or 98% of the way there). We may get lucky and see it completed this month.
How do they hit the bullseye?
By inducing current into the problem well, a magnetic field is created that can be detected by a sensor (vector magnetometer) in the relief well. The drillers can then steer the relief well toward the problem well with this real-time information. Pretty smart.

What is the biggest misconception?
I myself originally believed that after pressure was relieved from the problem well, enabling it to be plugged, they would resume collecting oil (and profits) for BP with these new wells. To paraphrase what I’ve been hearing, “BP is just trying to get to that valuable oil again.” I challenge readers to prove me wrong, but so far I have found no evidence saying that the relief well(s) will do anything but STOP oil from coming to the surface in that location.

Website of the Week: BP Concerts (what?)
To be taken with a grain of salt given its source, but this is a great video overview of the BP relief well operation. I could have done without all the hokey interviews, but nonetheless, a good investment of 10 minutes.
Preparedness Tip of the Week
Have you planned for your pet? Fido should have his own box of emergency supplies, including drinking water, canned food (with pull tab because you’ll forget the can opener), copies of vet documents/prescriptions, and possibly a carrier should he need to travel a long distance. Make sure your pet is registered with your county/municipality. Pet shelters may not take your animal if it’s not registered ahead of time.
Question of the Week
How much time do you spend each day reading/watching/listening to news about the oil spill?
Factoid About Me

Speaking of bullseyes, one of my favorite games is darts. Our office has a darts league that meets once per week over $1 beers (aim gets worse over time). My nicknames: “C.Ben” and “Bullseye Bennett.” I played in the league for over 1 year before winning a single game… and yes, I would reference that if asked about “dedication” on an interview. Pictured is me with the “Uno Glow” – when you’re ahead of everyone else… right before getting destroyed.

Read Last Week’s CB2: When Hurricanes Meet Oil.

About Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett is a self-proclaimed emergency management innovator who is trying to make government better by improving citizen preparedness and crisis communications. He’s a graduate of Wharton with a master’s from Harvard with in “Technology, Innovation, Education.” His portfolio of companies and former projects include OneStorm Hurricane Preparedness, ReadyTown, GovLive, TexasPrepares and America’s Emergency Network. Chris was the recipient of FL Governor Crist’s 2008 Public Information Award. He lives in St. Petersburg, FL, loves to fish, and has been spotted sharing a pint with GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler in Tampa.

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Sara Estes Cohen

Chris – yet again, thank you for this blog. The story is falling behind in the public eye, as news stories tend to do with the news cycle. Thank you for keeping it going. And thank you for this information.

Anyone interested in further discussion of the oil spill and the response efforts, please join the Govloop Gulf Coast Oil Spill Forum at https://www.govloop.com/group/gulfcoastoilspillforum