, , , ,

Biloxi, Mississippi (CNN) — The effort to place a containment dome over a gushing wellhead was dealt a setback when a large volume of hydrates — crystals formed when gas combines with water — accumulated inside of the vessel, BP's chief operating officer said Saturday.

It's not going very well for BP in their efforts to cap the oil gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and what's happening illustrates how things change under conditions very different from those found normally. At about a mile's depth, the water pressure is too high to support human activity (requiring the use of remotely controlled robots) and, as we see here, influences the chemical interactions between water and methane to produce what would never be seen at lesser pressures – crystals that are now clogging up the containment box.

One wonders how well such chemistry was understood or allowed for before drilling at such extreme depths was attempted. It seems likely to me that the chemistry was indeed well understood, but the risk and dangers were greatly underestimated.

It also seems likely that the same gas, methane, was responsible for the original drilling rig explosion.

If this dreadful accident has done anything, it has opened my eyes to the incredible risks of drilling into what is effectively an explosive, requiring only heat, lower pressures and the oxygen of the atmosphere to tear apart a massive drilling machine and kill some of its operators. 😦