Thursday, September 1, 2011

Problems With Major Gas Pipeline in Gulf

Yesterday BP shut down a major natural-gas pipeline in the central Gulf of Mexico because it's producing too much liquid.  Today they announced the shutdown will be extended because of a potential tropical storm brewing in the Gulf. The Destin pipeline (here's a nice map) is a major piece of offshore oil and gas infrastructure, collecting natural gas from platforms in the Mobile, Viosca Knoll, Main Pass and - wait for it - Mississippi Canyon areas.  The cause of the fluid buildup, and the type of fluids involved, was not reported.  It's not uncommon for natural gas wells to also produce liquid gas condensate, an assortment of hydrocarbon liquids, in various quantities.

Oil and gas pipelines in the central Gulf of Mexico (yellow). Locations are marked for recently sighted oil slicks and the epicenter of a shallow (5.1 km depth) magnitude 3.5 earthquake that struck on February 18, 2011 (data from USGS).

Now allow us to indulge in some wild speculation:  IF there is seawater in the pipeline (and we don't know that), it could mean that some part of the offshore Destin pipeline network has been damaged.  It may just be coincidence that one of the feeder lines on the Destin map, labeled R-13, is the closest pipeline to the oil slicks observed in the Gulf during an overflight two days ago, reported in our blog yesterday.  This is the yellow line on our map located about 5.7 miles northeast of the location where slicks were observed.  And there was a shallow, magnitude 3.5 earthquake very close to the Destin pipeline, just off the mouth of Mobile Bay, back in February.  Maybe the line got a little shook up by that small quake.  Is it possible that the slicks documented in this area on August 30 are in some way related to the shutdown of this pipeline? 

Anyone have more information to share?

2 comments:

  1. Problems with the speculation:

    1) The oil slicks and fresh oil on the shore were spotted long before the quake.

    2) The oil in the sea and fresh oil on the shore have both been fingerprinted and match the oil that came from the DWH well.

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  2. Alex - that lumps together all oil slicks noted in the northeast Gulf and all occurrences of oil and tarballs on the beaches since last summer and assumes they are all coming from just one source. This is highly unlikely: there are thousands of platforms and other structures in the Gulf, and thousands of miles of pipeline; and dozens of spills of various sizes from multiple facilities have been reported by multiple companies to the National Response Center in 2011 alone. Spills from offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf are unfortunately routine.

    And as far as I know the oil slicks filmed on August 30, 16 miles from the Deepwater Horizon site, have not been chemically fingerprinted yet. Since there are known natural seeps, platforms, and pipelines - including a major pipeline that is now having a major problem - that are much closer to these slicks, we can't conclude that those slicks came from the Deepwater Horizon site.

    So far we've seen no convincing evidence that the Macondo well is still leaking; no evidence of any major spill in the northeast Gulf since last summer; and plenty of evidence and reports of other smaller spills from other sources.

    More unsubstantiated speculation, on some possibilities that could account for occurrences of MC252-fingerprinted oil: trawlers dragging nets on the seafloor and re-suspending dispersed/sunken oil; increased water temperature or stronger currents on the seafloor causing sunken oil to become buoyant again; oil leaking steadily or "blurping" out episodically from all that sunken wreckage and riser pipe, those failed containment devices, and the discarded equipment around the Deepwater Horizon site.

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