Thursday, May 13, 2010

M/V Joe Griffin and the Magic Box

Port Townsend, today. Be forewarned, if you think you've heard enough about the ongoing disaster, or wondering what could I possibly know about this, stop here! I invite you to select from more than 400 articles I have written concerning my experiences with railroading, alpha indexed on the right margin!
Being a naturally inquisitive individual, as I watched news accounts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, I grew curious about facts not explained or supported, and questions raised but not answered, about this oil leak!

Hands dipped into a bucket of sea water right above oil leak

To be perfectly truthful, it makes me gnash my teeth! This behavior is a result of more than forty years of writing and editing radio news copy and audiovisual scripts. Many a scriptwriter sat across my desk from me, wielding a big red pen, enduring a word for word, line by line script review of their writing, before a program went into production.

Early causality at the leak site

And I have an abiding love of tugs and unusual work vessels. The oil industry has both. Against this background, as events unfolded in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the note pad next to my easy chair began to fill with unexplained facts and unanswered questions, such as:
  1. Is it a "box" "dome" or "contraption?"
  2. What kind of vessel transported the "dome."
  3. How do we end up with ice crystals at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico?
Finding facts and answers became the basis for the following story "M/V Joe Griffin and the Magic Box."

Is it a Box, Dome or Contraption?

The containment structure built to capture leaking oil has been referred to by the press, as a "dome." But it has no rounded top. As a "box." But it has no bottom. Another source referred to it as a Submersible Oil Recovery System (SORS.)

Now these people sounded like they know what it is!

I soon discovered that an outfit by the name of Wild Well Control, located in Port Fourchon Louisiana, was building the containment structure. Hark back to the days of John Wayne portraying the famous oil well firefighter, Red Adair in "Hell Fighters." Wild Well Control provides firefighting, well control, engineering and training services to oil and gas operators around the world.

Working round the clock for several days, metal fabricators and welders completed the first of three containment structures. The structure weights 98 tons, is four stories high (40 feet) and 14 feet by 12 feet. Look carefully, and you will see the compass cardinals "N, E, S, and W" painted in black on each side, for correct alignment of the containment structure over the leaking drill pipe (noted.)

The structure has no bottom. As it is lowered like a cookie cutter into dough, flukes projecting from each side, will stop it's ascent into the Gulf floor muck at a predetermined depth. And there is a fitting on it's pyramid shaped top, though which captured oil will be brought up to a tanker or barge.

The OSV chosen to deliver the cofferdam was the Motor Vessel (M/V) "Joe Griffin." The M/V Joe Griffin is owned by Edison Chouest Offshore, operating as Galliano Marine, out of Port Fourchon, Louisiana, and is under contract to British Petroleum.

She is a diesel-electric design, built by North American Fabricators, Houma, Louisiana, launched January 21, 2010, featuring 2 2,500 kw thrusters (propellers.)
  • 280' length
  • 60' beam
  • 24' draft
  • 4,750 DWT (tons displacement)
  • 7,200 hp (CAT)
  • 10,000 sq. ft. deck space
  • 13,000 bbl drilling mud ( 1 barrel = 42 gallons)
  • 105,000 gallons rig water
  • IMO 9529891
  • ON 1224614
Operated under the name Galliano Marine, 30 280 footers are in operation with another 12 under construction. And a new larger vessel has just been announced.

Anchor Lines, Vol 32 [15,039 KB]

The "Joe Griffin" was named in honor of a captain who worked with the company founder Edison Chouest, when Chouest was still in the shrimping business. Joe Griffin later followed Chouest into the oil business and eventually worked his way up to port captain, supervising several vessels at once. Griffin died in a car accident in 1970.

"The ship is one of only a few boats that isn't named for a family member," according to company spokesman Lonnie Thibodeaux. "Literally it is our latest and greatest supply vessel. She was launched in January (2010) and just chartered to work for BP."

M/V Joe Griffin Loading and Departure

On May 6, the M/V Joe Griffin met up with a self propelled platform, the Q4000. The Q4000 is another hybrid born of necessity to service offshore oil. When it's time to move, she pumps out her pontoons, and boogies onto the next assignment at 13.4k!

The Q4000 lifted the cofferdam off the M/V Joe Griffin, lowering it a mile, in pitch black darkness, to a spot the size of your living room, on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

So how do we end up with ice crystals at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico?

[Ed note: My original major at WSU was Geology. That is, until I ran into the Periodic Table; whereupon I switched to Radio-TV Speech. Geology still holds my interest. My curiosity led me to the following observations and conjecture.]

The MC 252 well is located in 5,067 ft of water about 50 miles from the coast of Louisiana. The total depth of the well was 18,360 ft below sea level (13,293 ft below the sea floor).

The environment. All this is taking place in a water depth of 5,000 feet. Call it a mile. Look out your window. See anything about a mile away? Imagine dangling a 12-inch pipe that distance. At a mile deep, the pressure of seawater is around 2,165 pounds per square inch (psi).

Draw a one-inch by one-inch square on a piece of paper. That gallon of drinking water you have in your refrigerator weights 8 pounds. That would be 250 1-gallon water bottles, pressing down on that 1" square you drew!

It is pitch black. In most oceans, daylight does not penetrate much below 600 feet. If you've ever been SCUBA diving, you know that is probably a stretch!

And is cool. BP has reported the ambient sea temperature at the well head is approximately 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

In certain areas under sea, large pockets of methane gas have formed over the eons. Ironic that these formations are also located where big oil wants to drill in the future?

When that gas is released from the rock, and exposed to that pressure (remember our inch square drawing?) a reaction takes place turning the methane gas into a slushy ice formation called Hydrates. That's about as far as I dare go with my unscientific explanation. The reaction is similar in some ways to the compression of freon in you air conditioner - which makes things cold!

Scientists have known of the existence in nature of methane hydrates. They were discovered in 1810! But until recently, they've been considered simply a laboratory curiosity. Ice worms love the environment!

But if you have an interest in chemistry, here's how that happens. Halliburton knows about this dangerous phenomenon, and documented their findings, which they presented to the oil industry in November last year!

I had little trouble locating a copy of that report posted on right here on the Internet! When you read the report, note bullet points 2 and 6 on page 10, and the footnote on page 13.

The key issue of course, has been the failure of the Blow Out Protector (BOP.) The BOP in question is one manufactured in the USA by Cameron. This is the model, Type TL, or one similar to this, that was deployed.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune Newspaper has just released a highly detailed graphic of events we call Diagram of a Disaster. [published 5-11-2010]

As a backup to the BOP, Brazil and Norway require drillers to have a backup mechanism to activate the BOP totally different from direct wiring. One system, an acoustic method - variously called an "acoustic switch", "acoustic trigger", "acoustic trigger" - in which a unique sound wave turns on a BOP if an electric signal fails. BP uses them on many wells surrounding the United Kingdom.

In what can only be described as a supercilious argument,
some American oil firms argue that "the acoustic system doesn't work well enough to require its use in U.S. waters."

Apparently U.S. water is different from Norwegian or Brazilian water.

Sadly, at the end of the day, Jim Hoffman, a former oil worker now with the University of North Texas' Professional Development Institute was recently quoted as saying, "Something broke down there. There are lots of ways to turn on the light, but if the bulb is burned out, it's not going to go on no matter what switch you use."

the Magic Box turned into an expensive failure. Methane hydrate icy slush turned the containment structure into a giant Slurpee container, clogging the outlet. But finally I found answers to questions that were not answered, and learned a lot of facts that were not explained.

And that's the story of the "M/V Joe Griffin and the Magic Box." Unfortunately for the Gulf of Mexico - indeed for all of us - the "magic" didn't happen ...

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