Labs‎ > ‎Protei‎ > ‎Oil Spill‎ > ‎

2. Recovery Methods

You may want to see our collection of pictures of the spill to get an idea of the amplitude of the catastrophy.

Right after the incident

Cut at the source, ROVs (Remote Operated Vehicles)

Cover the source with a bell

Pump the bell

Deviate the flow


The primary objective of the top kill process is to put heavy kill mud into the well so that it reduces the pressure and then the flow from the well. Once the kill mud is in the well and it’s shut down, then we follow up with cement to plug the leak.

For the top kill procedure we are designing equipment to pump the highest kill rate we can, irrespective of the flow rate of oil from the well, to force a downward flow of mud into the well. This, combined with the heavy drilling fluid is designed to eventually stop the flow. This has never been attempted at these depths. This is very complex – and involves several complex procedures coming together.

Detailed description of the procedure

We have the Q4000 vessel at the surface which has a crane for lifting heavy equipment and is a central part of the surface equipment for this procedure. We also have a number of other vessels: the HOS Centerline, with Halliburton pumping equipment; the HOS Strongline; and the BJ Services Blue Dolphin and Halliburton Stim Star IV pumping boats.

A total of 50,000 barrels of mud will be on location to kill the well – far more than necessary, but we want to be prepared for anything. Pumping capacity on location is more than 30,000 hydraulic horsepower.

The mud will be pumped down the 6-5/8 inch drill pipe (pipe is connected to the Q4000), then through 3-inch hoses, which go through the manifold on the seafloor. Then the mud moves through another set of 3-inch hoses attached to the Deepwater Horizon BOP choke and kill lines.

With the manifold, we can also pump the ‘junk shot’ if necessary to stop too much of the kill mud going out through the top of the BOP rather than going down into the well to stop the flow. By switching valves in the subsea manifold, we can inject the ‘bridging material’ (the junk), which will prevent such losses and enable the top kill to continue.

We’ve been testing the junk shot on-shore, looking at different configurations of what might restrict the flow out of the Deepwater Horizon riser and what types of materials would help shut it off. Materials in a junk shot can include well-known items such as pieces of tires, golf balls, and pieces of rope.

Most of the equipment is on site and preparations continue for this operation. 

Riser Insertion Tube Tool

The Riser Insertion Tube Tool involves inserting a four-inch diameter tube into the Horizon’s riser (21-inch diameter pipe) between the well and the broken end of the riser on the seafloor in 5,000 feet of water

The insertion tube would be connected to a new riser to allow hydrocarbons to flow up to the Transocean Discoverer Enterprise drillship located on the surface. The oil will be separated and then safely shipped ashore. 
The insertion tube device is now on location and is in the process of being prepared for installation.

This system was designed to minimize the formation of gas hydrates at 5,000 feet below the surface. Gas hydrates – similar to ice crystals – thwarted an earlier attempt to divert the flow of oil through a larger subsea containment dome. 
The riser insertion tube will also have methanol injection to prevent the formation of gas hydrates in the ultra-deepwaters. The MMS and the Unified Area Command have approved use of methanol injections in this system. 
In addition, the new riser will be heated with sea water to promote the flow of oil from the ocean floor to the drillship above. This is a commonly used practice in ultra-deepwater production because the temperatures at these water depths tend to stymie the flow of oil.The operation is complex and has not been done before at such depths.

How it works
The insertion tube is a five foot long steel pipe about four inches in diameter with specially designed rubber baffles. The tube will be inserted into the Horizon’s riser to provide a direct connection.
The direct connection, combined with the injection of methanol, will minimize the formation of hydrates that could block the flow of hydrocarbons.
The riser insertion tube will be installed about 600 feet from the wellhead.
The insertion tube will be connected to a 5,000 foot riser that will convey the hydrocarbons to the Transocean Discoverer Enterprise drillship on the surface.
Once in place, oil will flow up into the Enterprise’s riser to the surface.
Once at the surface, the hydrocarbons will be processed and oil will be separated from water and gas. The oil will then be temporarily stored before being offloaded and shipped to a designated oil terminal onshore.
The Enterprise is capable of processing 15,000 barrels of oil per day and storing 139,000 barrels.
A support barge will also be deployed with a capacity to store 137,000 barrels of oil.

What's next
This riser insertion tube is on site and is being prepared for installation in the next few days.
ROVs will assist in the installation and connections to the riser (tubing) back to the surface.

Containment of surface plumes with pneumatic booms

This is either a temporary solution or a way to collect vast amount of crude oil.

Scooping an ocean

This is the typical response to collect crude oil in the sea, but you only collect superficial surface floating material, and the energy to push the recovering vessel is astronomical : using a lot of petrol to collect petrol...

You want to do containment work as early as possible, because once the spill starts to disperse the unpredictable waves, currents and winds take the oil in complex patterns.


Dispersants can be used to dissipate oil slicks. They may rapidly remove large amounts of certain oil types from the sea surface by transferring it into the sea water. Although laboratory experiments showed that dispersants increased toxins by 100 times and may kill fish eggs. Wave energy will cause the oil slick to break up into small oil droplets that are rapidly diluted and subsequently biodegraded by micro-organisms occurring naturally in the marine environment. They can also delay the formation of persistent water-in-oil emulsions. 

A dispersant was used in an attempt to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill though their use was discontinued as there was not enough wave action to mix the dispersant with the oil in the water. Dispersant Corexit 9500, was also used in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

As the last video demonstrates, the oil treated with dispersant only agglutinates and falls at the bottom of the ocean as a more concentrated toxic material, it is not solving the problem, it is only putting it somewhere we'll never be able to collect and act upon. Only a visual solution.

BP had applied 2'300'000 Liters of Corexit on the surface and 210,000 Liters underwater [Source]. The direct effect of this is that a large part of the transformed crude oil is now in a vast variety of depth. 

So, this is just an artist impression, but the idea is that what used to be at the surface is now all over the water column and at the bottom.

We'll need to inspect the seabed in a couple of weeks and study the agglomerated tar balls and its effect on the environment since this is the first time in history so much dispersant is used.

We have seen before that about 35% crude oil evaporates in the air as gas. Now we have 75% left. Most recent reports state that the surface oil -observable from above) represents not even  half of the mass of petrol in suspension in the water. So our problem is now not only at the surface anymore but on the whole depth of water column. The pneumatic boom would only collect a small part of superficially floating oil at this stage...

Agglomeration with natural fibers (tarballs - asphaltene)

An interesting effort has been made by a group of activist to collect organic fibers (hair, vegetal fibers) in order to agglomerate crude oil residue. Natural fibers have the immense advantage to be cheap, available in very large quantities immediately and be bio-degradable for most. [Academic Paper "Natural sorbents in oil spill cleanup" Hyung Min Choi, Rinn M. Cloud]. There is also a community of human hair and other natural animal fibers advocates, but it is currently not is use. 


Via < Sey Min >

(USGS logo) U.S. Geological Survey

Bioremediation: Nature's Way to a Cleaner Environment

The USGS provides maps, reports, and information to help others meet their needs to manage, develop, and protect America's water, energy, mineral, and land resources. We help find natural resources needed to build tomorrow, and supply scientific understanding needed to help minimize or mitigate the effects of natural hazards and environmental damage caused by human activities. The results of our efforts touch the daily lives of almost every American.

Index of Subjects

The Problem

The problem in Hanahan, South Carolina, a quiet suburb of Charleston, was not particularly unusual. In 1975, a massive leak from a military fuel storage facility released about 80,000 gallons of kerosine-based jet fuel. Immediate and extensive recovery measures managed to contain the spill, but could not prevent some fuel from soaking into the permeable sandy soil and reaching the underlying water table. Soon, ground water was leaching such toxic chemicals as benzene from the fuel-saturated soils and carrying them toward a nearby residential area.

By 1985, contamination had reached the residential area, and the facility was faced with a serious environmental problem. Removing the contaminated soils was technically impractical, and removing contaminated ground water did not address the source of the contaminants. How could contaminated ground water be kept from seeping toward the residential area in the future?

One possible solution was a new technology called bioremediation. Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) had shown that microorganisms naturally present in the soils were actively consuming fuel-derived toxic compounds and transforming them into harmless carbon dioxide. Furthermore, these studies had shown that the rate of these biotransformations could be greatly increased by the addition of nutrients. By "stimulating" the natural microbial community through nutrient addition, it was theoretically possible to increase rates of biodegradation and thereby shield the residential area from further contamination.

In 1992, this theory was put into practice by USGS scientists. Nutrients were delivered to contaminated soils through infiltration galleries, contaminated ground water was removed by a series of extraction wells, and the arduous task of monitoring contamination levels began. By the end of 1993, contamination in the residential area had been reduced by 75 percent. Nearer to the infiltration galleries (the source of the nutrients), the results were even better. Ground water that once had contained more than 5,000 parts per billion toluene now contained no detectable contamination.

Bioremediation had worked!

Why Bioremediation Works

The success of the Hanahan Bioremediation Project was no accident. It was the result of many years of intensive effort by many USGS scientists.

In the early 1980's, little was known about how toxic wastes interact with the hydrosphere. This lack of knowledge was crippling efforts to remediate environmental contamination under the new Superfund legislation---the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. Faced with this problem, Congress directed the USGS to conduct a program to provide this critically needed information. By means of this program, known as the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, the most important categories of wastes were systematically investigated at sites throughout the United States. One of the principal findings of this program was that microorganisms in shallow aquifers affect the fate and transport of virtually all kinds of toxic substances. For example:

Crude oil spill, Bemidji, Minnesota
---In 1979, a pipeline carrying crude oil burst and contaminated the underlying aquifer. USGS scientists studying the site found that toxic chemicals leaching from the crude oil were rapidly degraded by natural microbial populations. Significantly, it was shown that the plume of contaminated ground water stopped enlarging after a few years as rates of microbial degradation came into balance with rates of contaminant leaching. This was the first and best-documented example of intrinsic bioremediation in which naturally occurring microbial processes remediates contaminated ground water without human intervention.

Sewage effluent, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
---Disposal of sewage effluent in septic drain fields is a common practice throughout the United States. Systematic studies of a sewage effluent plume at Massachusetts Military Reservation (formerly known as Otis Air Force Base) led to the first accurate field and laboratory measurements of how rapidly natural microbial populations degrade nitrate contamination (denitrification) in a shallow aquifer.

Chlorinated solvents, New Jersey
---Chlorinated solvents are a particularly common contaminant in the heavily industrialized Northeast. Because their metabolic processes are so adaptable, microorganisms can use chlorinated compounds as oxidants when other oxidants are not available. Such transformations, which can naturally remediate solvent contamination of ground water, has been extensively documented by USGS scientists at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey.

Pesticides, San Francisco Bay Estuary
---Pesticide contamination of rivers and streams is a matter of concern throughout the United States. Field and laboratory studies in the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay have shown the effects of biological and non-biological processes in degrading commonly used pesticides, such as molinate, thiobencarb, carbofuran, and methyl 

Agricultural chemicals in the midcontinent
---Agricultural chemicals affect the chemical quality of ground water in many Midwestern States. Studies in the midcontinent have traced the fate of nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides in ground and surface waters. These studies have shown that many common contaminants, such as the herbicide atrazine, are degraded by biological (microbial degradation) and non-biological (photolytic degradation) processes.

Gasoline contamination, Galloway, New Jersey
---Gasoline is probably the most common contaminant of ground water in the United States. Studies at this site have demonstrated rapid microbial degradation of gasoline contaminants and have shown the importance of processes in the unsaturated zone (the zone above the water table) in degrading contaminants.

Creosote contaminants, Pensacola, Florida
---Creosote and chlorinated phenols have been used extensively as wood preservatives throughout the United States. Contaminants leaked to the underlying aquifer through several unlined ponds and were transported toward nearby Pensacola Bay. Studies at this site have demonstrated that microorganisms can adapt to extremely harsh chemical conditions and that microbial degradation was restricting migration of the contaminant plume.

Together, these studies laid the technical foundation that enabled bioremediation to be applied at Hanahan.

Technology Transfer

The Hanahan Bioremediation Project is just one of many successful bioremediation experiments that can be traced to basic research carried out by USGS scientists. Methods and technology developed in the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program are now being used by private contractors, State environmental managers, and other Federal agencies to address contaminant problems throughout the United States.

Stretching Remediation Dollars

Cleaning up existing environmental contamination in the United States could cost as much as $1 trillion dollars. Bioremediation can help contain costs as
    Treating contamination in place
      ---Most of the cost associated with traditional cleanup technologies is associated with physically removing and disposing of contaminated soils. Because engineered bioremediation can be carried out in place by delivering nutrients to contaminated soils, it does not incur removal-disposal costs.
    Harnessing natural processes
      ---At some sites, natural microbial processes can remove or contain contaminants without human intervention. In these cases where intrinsic bioremediation (natural attenuation) is appropriate, substantial cost savings can be realized.
    Reducing environmental stress
      ---Because bioremediation methods minimize site disturbance compared with conventional cleanup technologies, post-cleanup costs can be substantially reduced.

Future Challenges

Although bioremediation holds great promise for dealing with intractable environmental problems, it is important to recognize that much of this promise has yet to be realized. Specifically, much needs to be learned about how microorganisms interact with different hydrologic environments. As this under-standing increases, the efficiency and applicability of bioremediation will grow rapidly. Because of its unique interdisciplinary expertise in microbiology, hydrogeology, and geochemistry, the USGS will continue to be at the forefront of this exciting and rapidly evolving technology.

---F.H. Chapelle

from U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Fact Sheet FS-054-95

For more information contact any of the following:

Help in using USGS pages.
USGS home page
This page is <URL:>. 
For comments and questions, contact <> 
Last modified: 1030 01 Apr 97 dlb

Via < /Sey Min >


Canadian Sphagnum peat moss (yet to be proven & quantified)

Using transmission fluid, Maurice "Maui" Goodbeer, a local liason for the product, revealed how the moss works. "The phenomenon is when you dry it below 15 percent water retention, it no longer takes in water. It becomes hydrophobic and absorbs every derivative of crude oil," he said.

"As you can see, it's beginning to absorb the hydrocarbon into the cell structure," he continued. "It locks the hydrocarbon into the cell structure and the humic acid, which is naturally occurring inside the cell structure, begins to breakdown the hydrocarbon. It breaks it down into hydrogen and oxygen and then releases that hydrogen and oxygen, and then releases it as clean air."

Agglomeration with synthetic fibers

At MIT (MA) professor Francesco Stellacci "created a membrane that can absorb up to 20 times its weight in oil, and can be recycled many times for future use. The oil itself can also be recovered. What we found is that we can make 'paper' from an interwoven mesh of nanowires that is able to selectively absorb hydrophobic liquids--oil-like liquids--from water. Made of potassium manganese oxide, the nanowires are stable at high temperatures. As a result, oil within a loaded membrane can be removed by heating above the boiling point of oil. The oil evaporates, and can be condensed back into a liquid. The membrane--and oil--can be used again.

Now we need to know 
- the mechanical capacity of this membrane
- the ability to produce large amount of this material at a low cost
- the processing time
- how we could use this at sea to treat crude oil

Via <Sey Min>
Via </Sey Min>

not nano, but alien warnings (ha!)

Nano : the next dimension episode 1

Nanotechnology - Nanotopia

Water filtering "Lifesaver"

Michael Pritchard's water filter turns filthy water drinkable.
This does not provide a solution to the oil spill in itself, but indicates a possible direction for the development of technologies to clean water at low cost and large scale.


Mauro said : " 750 liters of water per minute. Have the ability to draw water, centrifuge, and separate 99% pollutants, without creating further pollution - unlike nano fabric that is expensive and labour intensive to fabricate."

How the technology works :


The actor and activist visited New Orleans, Louisiana, in May. WDSU-TV reports that he demonstrated the oil extraction device, which Ocean Therapy officials say will clean up the water to 97 percent.

"I just am really happy that this has come to the light of day," Costner said. "I'm very sad about why it is, but this is why it was developed, and like anything that we all face as a group, we face it together."

Model V20 Centrifuge

The V20 CIP centrifuge has a 20" (50.8 cm) diameter rotor and features Integrated Clean-In-Place. It has a throughput of up to 200 GPM and has bearings on both the top and bottom of the rotor.

Low-temperature thermal desorption

Oil desulfurization

Hydrodesulfurization (HDS) is a catalytic chemical process widely used to remove sulfur (S) from natural gas and from refined petroleum products such as gasoline or petroljet fuelkerosenediesel fuel, and fuel oils.[1][2] The purpose of removing the sulfur is to reduce the sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions that result from using those fuels in automotivevehiclesaircraft, railroad locomotivesships, gas or oil burning power plants, residential and industrial furnaces, and other forms of fuel combustion.

Another important reason for removing sulfur from the naphtha streams within a petroleum refinery is that sulfur, even in extremely low concentrations, poisons the noble metalcatalysts (platinum and rhenium) in the catalytic reforming units that are subsequently used to upgrade the octane rating of the naphtha streams.

The industrial hydrodesulfurization processes include facilities for the capture and removal of the resulting hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas. In petroleum refineries, the hydrogen sulfide gas is then subsequently converted into byproduct elemental sulfur or sulfuric acid. In fact, the vast majority of the 64,000,000 metric tons of sulfur produced worldwide in 2005 was byproduct sulfur from refineries and other hydrocarbon processing plants.[3][4]

An HDS unit in the petroleum refining industry is also often referred to as a hydrotreater

Wet scrubber



Wet scrubber is a form of pollution control technology. The term describes a variety of devices that remove pollutants from a furnaceflue gas or from other gas streams. In a wet scrubber, the polluted gas stream is brought into contact with the scrubbing liquid, by spraying it with the liquid, by forcing it through a pool of liquid, or by some other contact method, so as to remove the pollutants.

The design of wet scrubbers or any air pollution control device depends on the industrial process conditions and the nature of the air pollutants involved.

Inlet gas characteristics and dust properties (if particles are present) are of primary importance. Scrubbers can be designed to collect particulate matter and/or gaseous pollutants. Wet scrubbers remove dust particles by capturing them in liquid droplets. Wet scrubbers remove pollutant gases by dissolving or absorbing them into the liquid.

Any droplets that are in the scrubber inlet gas must be separated from the outlet gas stream by means of another device referred to as a mist eliminator or entrainment separator (these terms are interchangeable). Also, the resultant scrubbing liquid must be treated prior to any ultimate discharge or being reused in the plant.

There are numerous configurations of scrubbers and scrubbing systems, all designed to provide good contact between the liquid and polluted gas stream.


Simultaneous actions

As you can imagine BP and the environmental activists are not trying one solution at the time but many at the same time. BP proudly presents the variety of techniques being used on site :

Crowd sourcing environmental data
That's probably the coolest thing : a group of people set up a service to crowd source environmental reports : anyone can just send an SMS, send an MMS (with picture or video), send an email, twitt etc ... and it will be plotted on the map and participate a statistic pool. 
This is based on the amazing Ushahidi software : 

I believe Ushahidi to be a good base for monitoring and centralizing environmental informations may it be from satellites, governments, militaries, companies, everyone.

Crowd sourcing Ideas

Previous Oil Spill : Exxon Valdez, expected effect in the gulf of Mexico

It all failed, history is just repeating

That's enough, we must find solutions ...