August 3rd, 2010
06:08 PM ET

Why is it called a “static” kill?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/08/03/tom.static.kill.jpg caption="Tom Foreman tests out a model of how the static kill operation will work."]

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Editor's Note: See Tom's full report tonight on AC360 at 10pm eastern.

The latest long awaited attempt to kill that leaking oil well has started deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico, and I know we’ve said this before but the authorities are hopeful. All the tests they ran this morning came back positive, suggesting as they pump that heavy drilling fluid, or mud as it is called, into the well it may indeed be able to finally contain the explosive power of all that oil trying to rush up into the water.

It is, as you might guess tricky work and even the name demands a little explanation.

“Static” in this case refers to a condition of “not moving.” So how does that apply?

Look at it this way: Right now the oil is far from static. It is wildly active. Even though it is capped off at the blow out preventer, it is desperately trying to force its way free. It is pushing up from the reservoir two miles below the Gulf floor, pushing up through the main pipe, and pushing very hard against that cap with about 7,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.

Once they start pumping the mud in at the top of that pipe, however, the mud will start bearing down on that oil. Unlike the cap, which just sits there, the mud will exert its own counter force…pushing the oil back down into its lair.

At first, this will happen very gradually and will only be possible because the mud is being pumped in under enormous pressure. But as the hours tick by and the mud starts filling the top end of the pipe, engineers will be looking for a critical milestone to be reached. The mud is heavier than the oil. So at some point, the weight of the mud alone will become enough to hold the oil down. There will be no need for pressure gauges and pipes and pumps; in truth, if it works, there would be no need for even a cap on the well at that point. Simple physics, the weight of all that mud will contain the oil. The force of the oil up, will be perfectly countered by the force of the mud down; neither one moving; a static condition. At least in theory.

But with all that pressure, all the theories are going to be put to a very stiff test.

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Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill • Tom Foreman
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Donna Moon

    Anderson, Afrter watching the disaster of the oil spill in the Gulf and all the news media that it has been given, please tell me why Shell has not been held to the same standard as BP for destroying the Niger River. I know that the government is being paid by Shell to allow this to happen but as an American company shouldn't we be concerned as to what we are doing to an improvished African nation? Shame on us to wine and moan when we are getting as good as we give? Please consider giving this air time as well.

    Thank you,
    Donna Moon

    August 4, 2010 at 4:00 am |
  2. Tom-Vermillion, Ohio

    In my comment above:
    Change from: "...because the 'moving oil' carried the oil out without ever reaching..."

    Change to: "...because the 'moving oil' carried the 'heavy mud' out without ever reaching..."

    Reason: Typo
    Thank you & sorry for the bad grammer.

    August 3, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
  3. Tom-Vermillion, Ohio

    Tom, you still don't have it quite right. Look at it this way, static means 'still' or 'not moving' and dynamic means 'moving' or 'in motion'. Right now, the well is capped off, the valve is closed. The oil is 'stopped' or 'not moving' or 'not in motion'. The pressure of 7000 PSI is just like a corked but shaken champaign bottle sitting on a table, hands off. Lots of pressure but no fluid movement, hence potential energy. Pop the cork, the pressure released, the fluid is moving (dynamic) there is now kinetic energy thus is the well. With still or static oil, the 'heavy mud' will 'fall' to the bottom of the well and will fill from bottom to top, thus 'static kill'. With the 'dynamic kill' that was tried earlier but failed because the 'moving oil' carried the oil out without ever reaching the bottom of the well which is escential in killing the well. Get it?

    Now supposedly there exists the old drill pipe that extends all the way to the bottom of the well. Let us suppose the 'static kill' now taking place is a success, with 'heavy mud' extending from the bottom of the well to the BOP. Conceivably, the new valve and the old valve can be opened to the sea and no oil will flow BECAUSE the 'heavy mud' is acting as a temporary plug against the oil that has pressure. Concrete could be injected into the old drill pipe down to the bottom of the well and then the concrete would force the 'heavy mud' out of the well at the new valve. The well could be permanantly killed, if a slow set concrete is used. And guess what, those expensive side bores about to intersect the well? Why, they are not even needed!

    August 3, 2010 at 6:59 pm |

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