BP Reports Leaking Abandoned Well in Gulf of Mexico

BP is reporting that they’ve observed “sheen” at the surface in the central Gulf of Mexico near two abandoned exploration wells; on August 14 someone reported to the NRC that fluid was observed leaking from one of these wells on the seafloor from an ROV (remotely operated vehicle, i.e. unmanned submarine). This is in Green Canyon Block 363, about 170 miles southwest of the site of the unrelated BP / Deepwater Horizon spill last summer:

Map showing recent report of leaking abandoned well in Green Canyon area of central Gulf of Mexico (click to enlarge). Site of BP’s oil spill last summer, and an ongoing chronic leak from cluster of wellsdamaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 (23051 site) are shown for reference.

Yesterday’s MODIS satellite imagery is partly cloudy in the area and not useful.  We’re trying to get a look at some European Space Agency radar satellite imagery (because the US doesn’t have any civilian radar satellites!) and will let you know what we find.  Data from our oceanographer friends at Florida State University show a possible natural oil seep just 2 miles from the reported well site, so the surface sheen here might be natural.

But if it’s true that an abandoned well is leaking, some things to think about:

  • This well is probably no more than 5 years old (drilled in 2007).
  • An AP investigation last year revealed there are already more than 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf, many of them much older than that.
  • These abandoned wells in the Gulf are never inspected to ensure they were properly plugged.
  • A significant percentage of abandoned wells onshore are not properly plugged, or develop problems that require “re-plugging,” often at taxpayer expense.

By the way, these wells are in the “Bushwood” prospect, in deep water about 100 miles offshore.  Yes, that’s right you Caddyshack fans – it was named after the infamous country club in that Bill Murray classic.  Maybe the gopher ate through their cement plug?