FEA and the Deepwater Horizon

I enjoyed walking the Offshore Technology Conference exhibits in Houston this past week. I saw many of you there, though traffic was a little down this year. The attendance was just under 70,000 people down from 95,000 a year ago.

The nice thing about that was easy access to parking, bathroom lines, and exhibit aisles. Of course the downside is much less money for all involved due to the low price of oil.

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One of the things on display at OTC is BOP equipment. I took a photo of one on display that showed the blades and a cut pipe. BOP stands for blow out preventer.

This apparatus is placed on the top of an oil or gas well to prevent hydrocarbons from flowing above it. There are two main categories of these, annular and ram. The photo is of a ram type. I thought it was interesting since many people do not understand the use of these devices despite hearing the terms frequently on national news.

Unfortunately and famously, the BOP failed to shear pipe and seal the well on the Deepwater Horizon oil well in 2010 when a gas bubble had made its way up the bore. Since this was the last safety device, the gas bubble made it to the surface and ignited. The rig blew up causing the drill string to break, the spill occurred and made a huge mess for a lot of people and the environment.

Investigations into the disaster revealed that pipe buckling had occurred causing the pipe to rest on the side of the bore instead of in the center. When the BOP was actuated, the jaws of the shear were not engaging the pipe in the proper orientation and were not able to come completely together allowing the flow of hydrocarbons to escape upward until the successful relief well was drilled and the old well head was abandoned. FEA was used to investigate this and confirm these finding.

You may have a failure point that could be under the surface. As extra insurance and foresight, consider contacting our team at Meadows Analysis & Design to help you find failure situations with our FEA expertise and design capabilities. We can help you add confidence to your design or partner with you to provide full design services.

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