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BP Robot Seriously Hampers Oil Spill Containment 264

Posted by Soulskill
from the skynet-not-bothering-with-the-sky dept.
ChiefMonkeyGrinder writes "A high-tech effort by BP to slow the oil gushing from its ruptured well head led to a large accident yesterday that forced the company to remove a vital containment cap for 10 hours. Robots, known as remote operated vehicles, were performing multiple operations at the disaster site when one bumped into the 'top hat' cap and damaged one of the vents that removes excess fluid, according to the US Coast Guard. The robots weigh around four tons, and are controlled from vessels on the surface using advanced IT systems with both manual and automated functions. BP removed the cap for nearly 10 hours ... in order to assess it after a discharge of liquids was noted from a key valve. The cap's removal left the oil gushing out of the wellhead, largely uninterrupted. Admiral Thad Allen, US National Incident Commander for the response, told the media that part of the problem was the number of robots conducting simultaneous operations at an immense depth. A dozen robots are circulating the wellhead." Another factor that may hinder containment even more is the increasing potential for tropical storms in that area of the Gulf.
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BP Robot Seriously Hampers Oil Spill Containment

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  • No soup for you.

  • I, for one, (Score:4, Funny)

    by dangitman (862676) on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:55PM (#32697784)
    Welcome our new robot underlords.
  • by macraig (621737) <(mark.a.craig) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday June 25, 2010 @06:55PM (#32697790)

    A dozen robots are circulating the wellhead.

    So the well is alive now and needs to have a platoon of 4-ton robotic pacemakers?

  • OK (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland.yahoo@com> on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:01PM (#32697856) Homepage Journal

    This disaster is horrible, but on the other hand we have several 4 ton robots circling a well a mile beneath the water.

    Humans are awesome.

    • Re:OK (Score:5, Informative)

      by Idbar (1034346) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:22PM (#32698098)
      I guess the cool part is the robots. The other one appears to be history repeating [youtube.com].
    • Obviously this is a cover-up for a Metal Gear project. Those robots are just the Gear's protection.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Except apparently they are bumping into things they aren't supposed to be.

      So maybe: Humans are pretty damn good, would be more reasonable.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      We should have had more and better robots, fittings should have been optimized for ROBOT manipulation, and robot teams should be ready to deploy to _each_ exploratory rig 24/7.

      The undersea environment is even more hostile than outer space. Both merit building superb robot systems to work where man can't or shouldn't venture.

    • by tool462 (677306)

      To paraphrase Homer Simpson:
      "To Humans! The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by grandseer (1653283)
      There are no robots down there. Robots use artificial intelligence to asses a situation and act accordingly. What we are using here are Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) controlled by a human. No robots. Sorry.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by khallow (566160)

        Robots use artificial intelligence to asses a situation and act accordingly.

        OTOH, the machines probably have a number of robots on them. Keep in mind that a crude thermostat is a robot. It's "artificial intelligence" (as you put it) being a simple control system with a set point. A robot is any machine that autonomously does a job that involves getting input, no matter how limited, from an environment and acting (no matter how dumb or limited). Personally, I'd include teleoperated machines as robots simply because the characteristic of "autonomy" simply isn't that useful. Even huma

    • Robots are cool. I suggest they get one to do their PR, as the human variant didn't do so well. But if a robot were to do those press conferences, everybody would love BP and totally forget about the disaster even though it is the subject.
  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:05PM (#32697902)

    Admiral Thad Allen, US National Incident Commander for the response, told the media that part of the problem was the number of robots conducting simultaneous operations at an immense depth. A dozen robots are circulating the wellhead.

    The operators got bored, and decided to play a few rounds of Robot Wars . . .

    • Actually, Admiral Thad mulling about made the robot nervous. That guy is one toughlooking SOB. I'm waiting for him to get annoyed enough with the whole thing and just stop the leak with the butt of his tortured cigar or something.
  • My God! (Score:5, Funny)

    by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:06PM (#32697918)

    What was that robot thinking?

  • They need to drop a large (like circus tent sized) funnel over the well head, and have a long wide tube leading up to the surface from there. The oil would rise through the tube, and because it is wide (say 5 metres) it wouldn't get clogged by those methane crystals.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      These days, suddenly, everybody is a petroleum engineer [nocookie.net].

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mosb1000 (710161)
      The problem with making a wide pipe is that it would need to be very thick in order to sustain the pressure difference between a mile high column of oil and a mile high column of water. It would be too heavy to put in place as a result. Also, it's not likely to solve the hydrate problem, since the hydrate crystals would still build up on the inner surface of the pipe. They solved the hydrate problem by preventing seawater to enter the recovery system. A large containment dome would sill allow seawater i
      • I'm not talking about a pipe, as such, but simply something to surround the rising plume of oil so that it does't get "blown" all over the gulf by the ocean currents. Think more along the lines of extending the lower skirt of the containment booms all the way down to the well-head area.
    • No, what they need to do is drill the relief wells at the same time as the main well. Since it's too late for that, they need to drill the relief wells asap. Which they're doing.

      Unfortunately, threading a spaghetti noodle into a hole at the bottom of over a kilometer of water and pushing it through several km of rock turns out to be a tricky process that's very time consuming. Especially when you have to paste your noodle together a dozen or so meters at a time. Also, it would look really bad if they s

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:11PM (#32697998)
    I thought pouring oil on troubled waters [phrases.org.uk] was supposed to calm them!
  • Would using a slightly larger pipe to slide down over the existing stuff, then running it all the way to the surface for collection be of any benefit? It wouldn't even have to be sealed to the existing hardware, just rammed down into the sea floor. If it leaks as much as 20% you've still contained 80% of the flow.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Chucky_M (1708842)
      That reminds me, where did I leave that mile long pipe? I must have dropped it somewhere, if found please call... Assume it will launch and hit the moon (given BP's luck it will) then knock it off its axis and crash into North America causing the west coast to sink into the Pacific and I guess Mr DontBlama will put that bill on BP as well but dont worry BP money is endless right?......
    • Would using a slightly larger pipe to slide down over the existing stuff, then running it all the way to the surface for collection be of any benefit?

      Isn't that essentially what they're doing with the "cap"? (Except that they can get SOME sealing between it and the wellhead so the pressure will speed the flow of oil up the pipe, reducing the amount escaping around the joint.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by moosesocks (264553)

      That's basically what they're doing with the current cap, although it's a bit more complicated than that.

      The blowout preventer is still stitting on top of the wellhead, which prevents them from ramming it down onto the floor. Cutting off the BOP presents another huge series of problems, and probably shouldn't be attempted.

      The primary issue with capturing the oil is the insane amount of pressure at the wellhead. The oil is gushing out of the well, despite there being a mile-high column of water on top of i

  • Undre Pressure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Orgasmatron (8103) on Friday June 25, 2010 @07:37PM (#32698272)

    The problem is pressure. There isn't a pumpjack on the sea floor using suction to draw the petroleum out of the well. It is coming out by itself, and under very high pressure.

    You could weld a valve onto the top, but if you try to close it, the pressure will seek relief elsewhere. If you get really, really lucky, it just blows out the weld and rejects the valve. Much more likely, however, it would split the pipe under the sea floor where we don't have access. The only hope of capturing anything is if the breech remains above the surface.

    One day in July or August BP will suddenly get shit under control and the leak will stop over night. That will be the day the two relief wells come online and provide means to reduce the well pressure. BP started drilling these relief wells in April, and they take a few months to come online. Everything else is window dressing.

    • Re:Undre Pressure (Score:4, Interesting)

      by camperdave (969942) on Friday June 25, 2010 @09:15PM (#32698966) Journal
      Find out how much space would be required for the stuff coming out of the pipe to equalize to the surrounding sea pressure, and how wide of a column of oil and seawater would be heading to the surface. Build a funnel that large, with a tube to the surface. Build them out of heavy plastic film, like the plastic that matresses get wrapped in; a tube wide enough to contain the entire plume at ambient pressure. Lower that over the blow-out and voila, spill contained.

      A 40ft wide roll of black polyethylene plastic sheeting, 100ft long costs $245. for $1500, six of those rolls, heat welded together would form an 80 foot diameter hexagon shaped tube 100 feet long. Fifty of those tubes, end to end would reach the well-head area at a cost of only $75,000. Attach the tube to a giant teepee over the well head area, and one of your parent's siblings is named Robert (Bob's your uncle), the spill is contained.

      Now, polyethylene may not be the best plastic for this. Costs may alter a little bit. You still need to weld the sheets together somehow, and the system needs to be lowered into the water. You may need some stiffeners here and there to maintain the shape of the tube. You'd also need to leave space for the ROVs to get under the teepee to access the well-head. Still, for a measely couple of million dollars, this spill could have been a mere PR hiccup instead of the eco disaster it's turning into.
      • by Minwee (522556)
        Screw polyethylene sheeting, just get a couple thousand rolls of Duck Tape and go to work.
    • what if they just lowered a pipe on top of, around this one?

      • Re:Undre Pressure (Score:4, Interesting)

        by khallow (566160) on Friday June 25, 2010 @10:21PM (#32699328)
        That is what the cap is. It is the inlet for a pipe that will siphon some fraction of the oil. You can't make this second pipe a snug fit because of the pressure of the oil coming out. Obstruct the flow and your well pipe may rupture, resulting in a impossible to contain problem (for example, one Slashdotter has speculated that you could end up with a 500 feet wide pit that leaks oil instead of a small pipe).
    • Re:Undre Pressure (Score:4, Informative)

      by madfgurtbn (321041) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @12:57AM (#32700066)

      You could weld a valve onto the top, but if you try to close it, the pressure will seek relief elsewhere. If you get really, really lucky, it just blows out the weld and rejects the valve.

      Actually, they are planning to put a "capping valve" at the top of the BOP soon, replacing the top hat thingy they have in place now. They are giving very serious consideration to unbolting the flange at the top of the BOP, then bolting a new riser on top.

      Also, they are already collecting oil through from the side of the BOP, via the lines and manifold they were using for the top kill attempt, so even if they did seal the top of the BOP, there would still be some pressure relieved via those lines. However, since BP is not talking about shutting the top of the BOP, they must not believe there is enough pressure relief through the top kill manifold to ensure that the well casing won't fail.

      Here's a quote from a recent conference call by BP:

      "And then – and then in terms of the capping valve, I’ve always told you that we have three options that we’re working. That remains. The – we’re starting to favor the flange-to-flange connection. It brings some advantages in terms of its ability to hold back more pressure. In fact, we believe it has the potential to actually hold the full pressure of the well. However, its challenges are around installation and the teams have been working a lot on all of the different tools and equipment that would be required to do that."

      Full transcript of the call is here. [bp.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by blantonl (784786)

      The relief wells are being drilled so they can pump concrete into the well to plug it. "Relief" doesn't refer to "reducing the well pressure" - it means to relieve the existing well from it's duties.

      The two "relief" wells are targeted to terminate an existing well.

  • haul in lots and lots of huge car sized boulders, i mean hundreds of thousands of them,and pile huge boulders on the well site and after a layer of boulders is on it start piling smaller rock aggregate from basketball size to baseball & golf ball size. then start pouring on concrete or cement or maybe clay & sand, eventually they will seal it off, but it wont be a small task it will take a hell of a lot of boulders & rock and cement and/or clay & sand,
    • haul in lots and lots of huge car sized boulders, i mean hundreds of thousands of them,and pile huge boulders on the well site and after a layer of boulders is on it start piling smaller rock aggregate from basketball size to baseball & golf ball size. then start pouring on concrete or cement or maybe clay & sand, eventually they will seal it off, but it wont be a small task it will take a hell of a lot of boulders & rock and cement and/or clay & sand,

      Unless your boulders are the size of ships, they'll just be pushed off the pipe by the effluent oil.

  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Friday June 25, 2010 @08:05PM (#32698480)

    Kindra Arnesen [youtube.com]

    BP is a band of complete villains. Putting these psychopaths in charge of the cleanup is like putting the same cast of characters who crashed the economy back in charge of the economy. Fuck these guys.

    -FL

  • ROFLMAO (Score:2, Insightful)

    by paxcoder (1222556)

    We will all die!

  • Robot? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jager Dave (1238106)
    Robots are known as Robots. ROV's are known as Remotely Operated Vehicles. This is a human's fault, not a machine's.
  • They where useing on live tech and it lagged out makeing the bot mess up and the FAA wants to do the same thing airplanes.

  • What's going on down there? A BattleBots tournament?
  • is so depressing.
  • This robot must appear in front of a Congressional Hearing to be b%tch-slapped and ritually humiliated in a proper farcical manner.
  • I'm on a boat! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bradorsomething (527297) on Saturday June 26, 2010 @07:21PM (#32705556)
    Hello from 11 miles South of the spill zone.

    We were actually expecting a lot more oil from this news, but the surface is still relatively clear, with small, 20-50 meter blobs of oil to be collected and a great deal of green water otherwise. Two task forces are out here skimming, and 500 bbls a day is a good haul for one of the skimmers. We've been hampered by several fronts passing through the area, but collection continues. There's been a C-130 dropping dispersant in the area, with good results on the oil (although it makes the remains too thin to skim).

    Although many here will scoff at the daily take we're seeing on the skimming vessels, it's surprising how little oil you see around the spill zone. A lot, I hope, is burning in that giant fire in the horizon. I expected a spike in how much oil we'd see, but it's all going... somewhere, just not up here.

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