What if We Can't Stop the BP Oil Leak? The Nightmare ScenarioS

What's the worst case scenario for the BP oil spill? How about the horrifying possibility of leaks in the pipe below the sea floor—leaks that could open up a "gusher... directly into the oil deposit"?

A comment from well-regarded energy policy website The Oil Drum has been making the rounds, outlining a scenario as terrifying as it is bleak: That the Deepwater Horizon rig's problems extend below the sea floor, where one or more leaks are currently weakening the seabed foundation in a way that could cause an inextinguishable "wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more."

The lengthy, extensively sourced and cited post, by commenter "dougr" (who isn't officially affiliated with The Oil Drum), is located here. It's the scariest thing you'll read today. Presenting himself as a "fairly knowledgeable" person, dougr works from BP's efforts to stem the leak to make a case for, essentially, a coverup of the well's true problems, perpetrated by BP and the government. Collecting quotations from BP officials and descriptions of their actions, which he says "make no sense," he comes to "one inescapabale conclusion... The well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking."

If that's true, what would it mean? For starters, that a "cap" won't work, as it will transfer pressure to the "down hole" (i.e., below the sea floor) leaks. But even worse, writes dougr,

This down hole leak will undermine the foundation of the seabed in and around the well area. It also weakens the only thing holding up the massive Blow Out Preventer's immense bulk of 450 tons....

When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP [blowout preventer] will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? ...it won't be too long after that the entire system fails...

All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of"... [...] the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more

It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.

Not pleasant, huh? Of course, this all comes with a massive caveat: "dougr" is just a guy on a message board (and one who may have connections to far-out conspiracy sites, at that). For all his citations and sources, there's no indication he knows what he's talking about (and just because it makes sense to the layperson doesn't make it true). Sharon Astyk of Science Blogs makes the case for taking it "a little seriously":

For those who think it is strange that I be highlighting a comment in a thread, I should note that TOD attracts many, many petroleum geologists and other professionals, and while sometimes the comments are the same "pulled it out of my ass" as on every other website, often, the technical knowledge on offer is pretty astounding. This one passes my smell test, which is usually pretty good - that doesn't mean I claim commenter Doug R is right - it means I think his information is interesting enough to be worth exposing to a wider audience for clarification or correction.

Let's hope we get some correction.

[The Oil Drum via Casaubon'sBook and Mother Jones]