Petroleum Engineering Faculty Member Aids Oil Spill Estimates

June 15, 2010

AUSTIN, Texas — Dr. Paul Bommer, a petroleum engineering faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin, is the only petroleum engineer in the Flow Rate Technical Group appointed by the federal government to estimate the oil flow from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well.

As a member of the "plume team" Bommer provided conventional petroleum engineering calculations to estimate the escaping oil. 

"My duties have been to interpret the fluid and the well data for use by other members and to make my own independent estimates for flow from the well," says Bommer, who teaches courses in drilling and production after 25 years of industry experience specializing in drilling and production operations.

The plume team used observations of video of the oil/gas mixture escaping from the damaged well, applying particle image velocimetry analysis to estimate fluid velocity and flow volume. Bommer's approach departed from the rest of the team. He applied the petroleum industry's well established approach to characterizing wells. Using reservoir data, well logs, characteristics of the oil and other information he estimated the amount of pressure and oil starting in the reservoir and how it would flow through the most likely conduit to the surface.

The results of Flow Rate Technical Group calculations, which they reported in a statement June 10, estimated the range of flow before the riser was cut, as between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels a day, with the most likely rate between 25,000 and 30,000 barrels per day. BP provided raw data for the group to analyze, but had no other involvement. 

"Let me emphasize that our scientific analysis is still a work in progress and as you can tell from the range in estimates there is a significant difference between the lowest possible estimate and the highest possible estimate," said Dr. Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, which is coordinating the team of researchers and government officials assembled by the Coast Guard.

"In the coming days we'll be defining our estimate further and also developing an estimate that combines all of these data points and methodologies into a best estimate after the riser was cut."

McNutt personally acknowledged Bommer's contribution after the latest report.

"Your expertise and experience, to say nothing of your level head, good judgment and balanced scientific assessment, in time of crisis have been invaluable to the Flow Rate Technical Team," McNutt wrote in thanking Bommer for his work on the team.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident commander for the Deepwater Horizon Response team, established the Flow Rate Technical Team, a multi-agency federal effort to determine oil flow rates from the BP spill at multiple time periods following the explosion, fire and subsequent loss of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Led by the U.S. Coast Guard, Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with technical representatives from the Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the team works on a multi-agency level in order to compute the total outflow of the BP oil spill.

The Flow Rate Technical Group is composed of federal scientists, independent experts and representatives from universities around the country. It includes representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, NOAA, Department of Energy, the Coast Guard, MMS, the national labs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and academic institutions.

The technical leader of the plume team also acknowledged Bommer's contributions.

"The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a great tragedy for our nation. However, its impact is lessened when dedicated professionals such as yourself assist in the response," wrote Dr. William Lehr, senior scientist at NOAA and plume team leader. "I want to personally thank you for your significant professional contribution to the National Incident Command Flow Rate Technical Group Plume Team.

"Your insight and knowledge of petroleum engineering was of great assistance to the other team members. The University of Texas is fortunate to have such a considerate and erudite person on their faculty."

For more information, contact: Becky Rische, Institute for Computational Engineering and Science, 512 471 4978;  Paul Bommer, Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering College of Engineering, 512-471-1207.

6 Comments to "Petroleum Engineering Faculty Member Aids Oil Spill Estimates"

1.  Norman Nelson said on June 16, 2010

I've not seen a single news item since the present failed cap that addresses engineering options to stop the leak. You've basically got a giant garden hose shooting a full volume, engineering-wise how do you stop that, how do you counter that pressure? There has to be more options from the engineering community than we are seeing and certainly the news sources, let alone BP, would want to know what they are. I want to know. OK, here's my solution, build a giant cone that has a tube in the top that is used to hold ships. The pipe is cut at sea floor level, the cone is dropped, the oil rises through the tubes and onto collecting boats. Tell me why I'm wrong, so I can continue to feel very crummy about the engineering on this whole mess.

2.  bello hama adama said on June 19, 2010

If I have some ideas to stop the oil spill, who can I contact in the BP petroleum engineering company? Send to me the phone numbers, e-mail address. Excuse my English, I speak French.

3.  Doug Chapman said on June 19, 2010

How to contain oil spill:

1 ton steel ring (10" diameter)
2 pieces, clamping a 10' by 1 mile piece of fabric to bring oil to surface, lowered by cables over and around oil leak.

4.  Scott Fanger said on June 20, 2010

I have a fix that I sent BP by phone. Of course they did not respond. I have fixed broken pipes flowing at high pressure inline without being shut off because of no shut off valve installed. I seen the video on CNN after they cut the riser pipe off. There is a bolted flange below that is from riser pipe. (FIX!) Unbolt top flange of riser pipe. Have a new flanged pipe the same size on both sides. Have shut off valve bolted to the top flange in open position sending down to install. Put two guide bolts or solid rods across from each other on bottom flange. This will guide the pipe in alignment with bolt holes on flanges with pressure blowing out of well while coming down. This will guide oil through pipe through open valve. While lining up and bolting flanges together.

Then once pipe is connected all that is left to do is close the valve. I know this can be done. The ROV's are capable to guide and bolt things together. This isn't rocket science. You do not need these brainstorming, failing ideas. Simple physical mechanics and a couple of good ROV operators to complete the task. The deep depth of pressure and temperature is an excuse to play with unknown ideas. Or there wouldn't have been a well there in the first place. I know they could cap this well at any time rather well at 500 feet or 5,000 feet. They just do not want to give up that oil. I would rather have the Gulf of Mexico than that well. We have plenty of oil anyway.

5.  DW said on June 26, 2010

I agree with Scott Fanger. The flange is the answer. Remove the top flange and connect a new pipe or a new blowout preventor, a cap or something!!!. If the top flange cannot be removed for some reason, then anchor a custom fitting with pipe below the lower flange. The anchored fitting would be placed by grabbing below the flange and tightened. Stop the flow now!

6.  John Alexander said on July 12, 2010

I have a solution for the oil leak. I need to know where to fax or e-mail drawings. My solution should close off leak and give valve access.