Washington (July 18, 2010) --- Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad W. Allen seeking more information on the testing of the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo well and on the status of any potential decision to keep the well closed permanently. Rep. Markey noted that the shutting of the well would potentially end the possibility of doing any final analysis of the flow rate of the well by collecting 100 percent of the oil into ships on the surface. BP will have to pay a fine to the U.S. government for every barrel of oil spilled per day, up to $4,300 per barrel in the case of gross negligence.
Today, BP’s chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said: “We're not seeing any problems, at this point, any issues with the shut-in,” and that because of that, Suttles said, "we'll continue to leave the well shut in." Rep. Markey wrote to Allen to seek clarification regarding this situation after Allen said yesterday, that once the test is complete, “we will immediately return to containment.”
“By shutting in this well, we could be shutting off our last best chance to determine what BP could pay in government fines,” said Rep. Markey.
“If it is necessary to again allow the well to flow, either because a decision to keep it shut in indefinitely is unsound, or in order to conduct the relief well ‘bottom kill’ then there would be no reason at that point for not taking the opportunity to conduct a 100 percent hydrocarbon collection test,” writes Rep. Markey to Admiral Allen.
“It is imperative that we understand your current plans and be able to assess the ramifications of different options at this point,” Rep. Markey wrote to Allen. “ I am also concerned, as I know you are, that continuing to keep the well fully shut in, could pose risks of additional problems with well integrity, an issue that I have raised with both you and BP in separate letters over the past few weeks.”
On Wednesday, Rep. Markey, the chairman the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, wrote to BP asking them for their commitment to conduct a full flow rate test, once an oil collection system was in place that could collect 100 percent of the hydrocarbons flowing from the well.
“If the well remains fully shut in until the relief well is completed, we may never have a fully accurate determination of the flow rate from this well. If so, BP -- which has consistently underestimated the flow rate -- might evade billions of dollars of fines,” continues Rep. Markey in the letter.
In the letter, Rep. Markey asked Admiral Allen to respond to the following questions:
1) Has a decision been made to continue to shut in the well after the integrity test is complete? If so, did you make that decision or concur in it? Do the pressure readings to date indicate that this is the preferred approach?
2) If a decision is not made to shut in the well, and a collection strategy is put in place, when will sufficient capacity and capability be available to collect 100 percent of the oil and methane?
3) If a 100 percent hydrocarbon collection capacity is installed, will a 100 percent flow rate test be conducted at the earliest possible point in order to determine the true flow rate from this well as of July, 2010? If not, how will you be able to determine with any precision the actual amount of oil that has been released from the well, so that the government can determine BP’s potential legal liability for the environmental damage it has caused?
4) How will different collection and containment strategies affect the release of oil and methane into the ocean? Will installation of collection capacity necessarily require some release of oil and methane into the ocean, as Mr Suttles indicated? If so, how much? Will the relief well bottom kill necessarily require release of hydrocarbons into the ocean, even if the well remains shut in up to that point?
5) Is it possible to design an oil collection strategy (as opposed to a complete shut in) in which no more oil or methane is released into the ocean?
6) If collection of 100 percent of the hydrocarbons becomes possible in such way as to also prevent releases of hydrocarbons into the ocean, could that be a preferable strategy until the relief well is complete, since it would both relieve well pressure and contain hydrocarbons?
A full copy of the letter can be found here: http://markey.house.gov/docs/allenletter71810.pdf
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