PEARL Recognized for its Contribution to Response to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill - November 2011

When the call came in from our NETL colleagues that we have been selected to participate in the efforts to estimate the rate at which the oil is discharging into the Gulf of Mexico, we all got very excited. After all, everyone was following the news almost continuously on the web, on the radio and on TV. I called a quick meeting of my research team (PEARL - Petroleum Engineering and Analytics Research Lab) that late evening and we all gathered in room 135 MRB for a strategy session.

After the initial excitement of being part of something so important subsided, the reality of the challenges we were facing started to kick in. We have never had to face such a situation. There was nothing academic about this. We had many facts, but there were far more uncertainties than facts that we had to deal with if we were to estimate the actual rate at which the discharge was taking place. There were many scenarios about the state of the BOP (Blow Out Preventer), how far the drill pipe had traveled upward due to the explosion? did it make to the rise or was it stuck in the BOP? What about the casing? Most probably the cement had not yet set, so the state of the last segment of the casing and its interference with the flow in the wellbore was another uncertainty that we were facing.

The data was trickling in and being modified (as new information would become available) on an hourly bases, literally. Therefore, our calculations had to be modified accordingly. Our task at PEARL was to estimate the oil rate that the reservoir was capable of producing at (with all uncertainties associated with a single well in a prolific but highly heterogeneous reservoir) and then how this potential rate is being restricted with all that was going on from the reservoir deep in the earth crust, to the sea floor and through the BOP and the collapsed riser. We soon learned that we need to come up with a technique to enable us to perform hundreds of thousands of these calculations (coupling the reservoir potential with the all the pipes to the tip of the collapsed riser on the sea floor) in very short period of time, something that we ended up doing quite successfully, using our Artificial Intelligence and Data Mining tools.

Almost every day our calculations would go through a rigorous peer review that included first and foremost our contacts at the NETL, Grant Bromhal and George Guthrie, and then the entire flow rate team. Without their help and their detail scrutiny and critic of every single calculation that we were making, our work would not have the accuracy that it did.

After many days of hard work in PEARL's Office at room 135 MRB that included evenings, weekends and many early mornings with plenty of Pizza (all provided by NETL) we were able to finally estimate the rates and quantifying the associated uncertainties. Although the numbers we have been calculating were initially unbelievably high when compared to the numbers being thrown around on the evening news (we were calculating numbers in 50 to 70 thousands of barrels of oil discharge into the Gulf of Mexico per day while the news were around 1 to 5 thousands), it was proven that our final number were very much close to those that finally were measured once the numbers from actual measurements started to be released.

All the members of PEARL (Ognjen Grujic, Camilo Calderon, Shohreh Amini, Qin He, Yorgi Gomez, Yasaman Khazaeni, Masoud Kalantari, Ali-Omran Ali-Nasar) played an important role in successful completion of this task but most important was the key role played by Vida Gholami and Saeed Zargari. Without their help we would not have been able to complete this project with the accuracy and the quality that was demonstrated at the end.

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