Petroleum Engineering Faculty Member Aids Oil Spill Estimates

Dr. Paul Bommer, a petroleum engineering faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin, is the only petroleum engineer in the Flow Rate Technical Group appointed by the federal government to estimate the oil flow from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well.

As a member of the "plume team" Bommer provided conventional petroleum engineering calculations to estimate the escaping oil. 

"My duties have been to interpret the fluid and the well data for use by other members and to make my own independent estimates for flow from the well," says Bommer, who teaches courses in drilling and production after 25 years of industry experience specializing in drilling and production operations.

The plume team used observations of video of the oil/gas mixture escaping from the damaged well, applying particle image velocimetry analysis to estimate fluid velocity and flow volume. Bommer's approach departed from the rest of the team. He applied the petroleum industry's well established approach to characterizing wells. Using reservoir data, well logs, characteristics of the oil and other information he estimated the amount of pressure and oil starting in the reservoir and how it would flow through the most likely conduit to the surface.

The results of Flow Rate Technical Group calculations, which they reported in a statement June 10, estimated the range of flow before the riser was cut, as between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels a day, with the most likely rate between 25,000 and 30,000 barrels per day. BP provided raw data for the group to analyze, but had no other involvement. 

"Let me emphasize that our scientific analysis is still a work in progress and as you can tell from the range in estimates there is a significant difference between the lowest possible estimate and the highest possible estimate," said Dr. Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, which is coordinating the team of researchers and government officials assembled by the Coast Guard.

"In the coming days we'll be defining our estimate further and also developing an estimate that combines all of these data points and methodologies into a best estimate after the riser was cut."

McNutt personally acknowledged Bommer's contribution after the latest report.

"Your expertise and experience, to say nothing of your level head, good judgment and balanced scientific assessment, in time of crisis have been invaluable to the Flow Rate Technical Team," McNutt wrote in thanking Bommer for his work on the team.

U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident commander for the Deepwater Horizon Response team, established the Flow Rate Technical Team, a multi-agency federal effort to determine oil flow rates from the BP spill at multiple time periods following the explosion, fire and subsequent loss of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Led by the U.S. Coast Guard, Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with technical representatives from the Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the team works on a multi-agency level in order to compute the total outflow of the BP oil spill.

The Flow Rate Technical Group is composed of federal scientists, independent experts and representatives from universities around the country. It includes representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, NOAA, Department of Energy, the Coast Guard, MMS, the national labs, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and academic institutions.

The technical leader of the plume team also acknowledged Bommer's contributions.

"The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a great tragedy for our nation. However, its impact is lessened when dedicated professionals such as yourself assist in the response," wrote Dr. William Lehr, senior scientist at NOAA and plume team leader. "I want to personally thank you for your significant professional contribution to the National Incident Command Flow Rate Technical Group Plume Team.

"Your insight and knowledge of petroleum engineering was of great assistance to the other team members. The University of Texas is fortunate to have such a considerate and erudite person on their faculty."