Lusi mud volcano: a drilling disaster

Strongest evidence to date links exploration well to Lusi mud volcano – this is quite the debacle. Obviously, there are safety concerns to be discussed regarding any sort of economic drilling. (Such as the long talk back in December about hydraulic fracturing. I think this one scores extra style points, however. There’s something impressive about drilling that’s gone so badly wrong that it’s created a freaking mud volcano. One that’s slowly covering the surrounding area in steaming, awful mud.

The group of scientists has identified five critical drilling errors as the causes of the Lusi mud volcano eruption:

• A significant open hole section with no protective casing
• Overestimation of the pressure the well could tolerate
• After a complete loss of returns, the decision to pull the drill string out of an extremely unstable hole
• Pulling the bit out of the hole while losses were occurring
• Not identifying the kick more rapidly

Just one of those errors in and of itself is bad. All five together? Ouch. Double ouch. Triple ouch.

A mud volcano may sound like a funny thing, but I don’t think anyone in the area is laughing. Take a look at the extent of the mud flow, courtesy of NASA. The area basically sits on a giant, extensional basin full of highly pressurized carbonate mud and petroleum. Lots of petroleum. Drilling there requires getting to the oil and gas while avoiding mud volcano systems, which apparently failed, in this case. Badly. It’s sort of like poking a hole in a water bed that someone’s sitting on; no wonder Lusi has been erupting for six years already and is expected to continue to do so for another thirty. There’s a lot of mud, under a lot of pressure, and a nice little path to the surface.

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