Professor: Low pressure reading may suggest well has lost power, not that it’s leaking


As a team of scientists works to interpret pressure readings inside the blown-out Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, a geologist who has been following the gusher said a pressure reading of lower than the 8,000 to 9,000 pounds per square inch target that officials have said they are hoping for does not necessarily indicate bad news.

The 6,700 pound- per-square inch pressure reading logged inside the blown-out Macondo well this morning may suggest that the well has lost power over the almost three-month-long period it has flowed into the Gulf of Mexico and not that the well is leaking somewhere beneath the sea floor, a geologist who has been following the gusher said.

The reservoir could have “deflated” since it began leaking April 20, reducing the amount of pressure it is capable of producing, said Don Van Nieuwenhuise, Director of the Professional Geoscience Programs at the University of Houston.

A team of scientists and engineers will use the pressure readings to determine if the well can remain shut in.

National Incident Commander Thad Allen has said that the well could be permanently shut in, meaning oil would not flow into the Gulf from the well again, if pressure reached 8,000 to 9,000 pounds per square inch, but that surface oil collection might have to resume if pressures do not reach that level. The lower pressure would indicate that oil was escaping through holes in the well and into the rock formation surrounding it.

But Van Nieuwenhuise said this morning’s 6,700 pounds per square inch reading should not cause worry.

“I don’t think it’s a cause for immediate concern, because it could reflect a natural loss of oil in the reservoir,” Van Nieuwenhuise said. “It’s amazing that it has held its strength for as long as it has.”

Six remote control vehicles monitoring the subsurface area around the well had not detected oil as of Friday morning. BP plans to conduct a seismic survey of the area to get a more detailed view of the area surrounding the well. The results of that survey won’t be available until Saturday.

Van Niewenhuise said the lack of any sign of oil so far is a good sign.

“When they first said this, I said if they can get to 7,000 (pounds per square inch) that would be good,” Van Nieuwenhuise said. “The 8,000 to 9,000 estimate reflects its initial pressure, but since it’s been bleeding so much, I’m not surprised it’s at 7,000.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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