It’s been the subject of movies, criticism, and news headlines alike. The Deepwater Horizon blowout in April of 2010 left two different stories. One is the story of the environmental impact, and how things went wrong in the days after the spill. The second is the incredible way scientists, engineers, and others scrambled to cap the well, while also preventing as much environmental impact as they could.
This is the story of how BP capped the Deepwater Horizon oil well.
In the days after April 20, BP tried (unsuccessfully) to cap the oil well, pumping tons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. In June, BP had enough and put together a “Well Integrity Team” tasked with plugging the well once and for all.
They had a cap ready, the only problem was that BP thought a variety of pressure relief valves beneath the surface had been compromised, too. This was a problem if it were true.
If those pressure relief valves were compromised, any attempt at capping the well would result in a drastic rise in pressure. They feared this pressure would fracture the sediment around the well, which would basically open up the earth’s crust, and all the oil with it.
BP found that if pressure stayed between 6,000 to 7,500psi after they capped the well, it should hold. After they capped the well, pressures stayed somewhere between these two extremes. The only problem was it should’ve stayed near 7,500psi as a best-case scenario.
This uncertainty was unsettling, so Paul Hsieh, a US Geological Survey hydrogeologist, stayed up all night on July 15 running tests and simulations to paint an accurate roadmap for all possibilities moving forward. Paul’s work showed the cap would hold, and it did!
A few weeks later BP cemented the well, and with their triumph, the media and all attention directed towards this spot in the Gulf of Mexico subsided.
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