Gulf Gusher - Where are the photos?

I've been thinking about the oil leak at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and trying to picture it in my mind. What would a tear in the fabric of the Earth look like leaking all that oil?
For me the first thing to come to mind is There Will be Blood, or Giant, which had James Dean in it, for TV shows, of course Beverly Hillbillies.

What is common about these shows, the visual of oil? It would have to be the oil drilling tower, the 'excitement' of striking oil and seeing what is called a gusher


An oil gusher (or just gusher; also sometimes called a wild well) is an uncapped oil well connected to a reservoir of petroleum oil that is under high pressure. The oil can shoot 200 feet (60 m) or higher into the air.


However excitement quickly gives way to apprehension and horror when things go wrong with these bores and they are unable to be stopped.

The Lakeview Gusher on the Midway-Sunset Oil Field in Kern County, California of 1910 is believed to be the largest-ever U.S. gusher. At its peak, more than 100,000 barrels (16 000 m³) of oil per day flowed out, reaching as high as 200 feet (60 m) in the air. It remained uncapped for 18 months, spilling over nine million barrels (378 million gallons/1.4 million m³) of oil, less than half of which was recovered.

Man's control over his environment has limitations, as was discovered back on 28 May 2006 when an exploration company in the subdistrict of Porong, Sidoarjo in East Java, Indonesia, drilling for gas, set in place a chain of events which started an underground mud volcano covering an area home to thousands of people and which to this day continues.

Sidoarjo mud flow

the drilling pipe penetrated the overpressured limestone, causing entrainment of mud by water. The influx of water to the well bore caused a hydrofracture, but the steam and water did not enter the borehole; they penetrated the surrounding overburden and pressured strata. The extra pressure formed fractures around the borehole that propagated 1–2 km to the surface and emerged 200 m away from the well. The most likely cause of these hydraulic fractures was the unprotected drill string in the second stage of drilling.

Spirits Are Angry. Bad Time to Bomb Their Volcano.

It seems that a liquid under pressure, if not contained in the case of Sidoarjo's mud flow by steel casing around the drill, the bore hole, mixed with sand then fractured and ate its own way to the surface. Because of the wide dispersal under the surface and multiple fractures, once this had begun, containment was impossible.

West Atlas a prelude to the Gulf Gusher catastrophe

On 21 August 2009, West Atlas oil rig owned and operated by Thai company PTTEP Australasia drilling in the Montara oil field offshore 200km from Broome, a West Australian town famous for its pearling and tourist industry, suffered a failure.

4th Try in 8 Weeks to Cap Timor Sea Spill, U.S. Approves Arctic Offshore Drilling
Fish Out of Water wrote an article on 21 October detailing continuing failed attempts to stem the flow of oil from a rig in pristine marine area of the North West Coast of Australia.

The disaster above closely mirrored what has just happened on the Deepwater Horizon platform.
Blow out occurs when exploration drill is being demobilized in preparation for production rig to be bought into place.
Unstoppable leak occurs which there appear to be no solution.
Rig catches fire

And of course

Halliburton also was the cementer on a well that suffered a big blowout last August in the Timor Sea, off Australia. The rig there caught fire and a well leaked tens of thousands of barrels of oil over 10 weeks before it was shut down. The investigation is continuing; Halliburton declined to comment on it.

When cement develops cracks or doesn't set properly, oil and gas can escape, ultimately flowing out of control. The gas is highly combustible and prone to ignite, as it appears to have done aboard the Deepwater Horizon, which was leased by BP PLC, the British oil giant.

In the case of West Atlas rig it was in water 238 feet deep.
They could not intersect the well even after four tries with all modern technology at their disposal.
The uncontrolled flow rate : about 3-400 barrels per day.

In March this year, less than one month ago, the following came out in the inquiry into the catastrophe.
PTTEP greed blamed for oil catastrophe
Drilling plan cut corners, inquiry told
Good oilfield practice not followed, inquiry told
Safety measures approved in 30 minutes
Montara crew 'not told to install cap'


The Deepwater Horizon semisub commenced drilling on the Macondo prospect in February 2010 and had recently terminated drilling at a depth of just over 18,000 ft.

There is no question both these events above, uncontrolled catastrophes occurred prior to the commencement of drilling on Deepwater Horizon.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last November
You said it was thelargest spill in Australia's history. It's true. It leaked 823,000 gallons of oil. As Mr. Cruickshank testified, it wouldn't even be allowed in this country because it doesn't stand up to our strict environmental rules.//snip

I mean, just the gallons are so minuscule compared to the benefits of U.S. strength and security, the benefits of job creation and energy security. So while there are risks associated with everything, I think you understand that they are quite, quite minimal.

So this all has me thinking, what exactly are we looking at with regards to the gusher at the bottom of the ocean. I know my pressures and with the depth of the water to the sea bed of 5,000 feet, the pressures there are intense.

This depth is double from the test depth of US American Navy manned submarines.

How deep can you go in a submarine?
U.S. Navy submarines can submerge deeper than 800 feet. The actual depth is classified, but it is less than the deep-diving U.S. Navy-supported civilian research submarines that explore the bottom of the oceans.

Virginia class submarine
Test depth: > 800 ft (244 m)

Seawolf class submarine
Test depth: 2,000 ft (610 m)

This has me thinking how much pressure is actually at the sea floor.

Pressure calculator
5,000 feet of water
149 bar
14,900 kilopascals
4410 inches of mercury
152 kg/cm2
2,170 psi
1,520 tonnes m2
156 tons US foot2
312,000 pounds foot2

149 Bar, 2,170psi is a lot of pressure. It is the sort of pressure one uses to run a modern day electricity steam turbine.

To overcome this pressure alone then, the well pressure itself must be much higher.

What does a pressurized oil well look like?
This clip from There Will be Blood is one of the best reenactments of an oil well blow out I could think of.

So we know that the pressure of the ocean is enough that it is too deep for day to day operation of modern submarines in the US fleet.

I also know that I used to work with robotics for two years and to learn how to program complex machines takes time and skill. BP used unmanned robotics with quality cameras and tooling to assist with this well.

In fact they had robots with special tools, normally designed specifically for a job and particularly so to operate at pressures of 150 bar, to try to manually operate the Blow Out Preventer which had failed.

has been using four robotic submarines to try to fully activate the giant 450-tonne blowout preventer and shut off the flow of oil.

Now remembering what you just saw above with the well in that movie with a drilling tower at about 100 feet, now imagine the pressure it would take to get to the top of a 5,000 foot pipe, which is what happened when the rig exploded.


First, the BP platform was drilling for what they call deep oil. They go out where the ocean is about 5,000 feet deep and drill another 30,000 feet into the crust of the earth. This it right on the edge of what human technology can do. Well, this time they hit a pocket of oil at such high pressure that it burst all of their safety valves all the way up to the drilling rig and then caused the rig to explode and sink. Take a moment to grasp the import of that. The pressure behind this oil is so high that it destroyed the maximum effort of human science to contain it.

When the rig sank, it took a twisted pile of piping, from which the indications are three leaks are flowing.

The Times-Picayune

Timeline :
Tuesday, April 20 News broke that an explosion occurred at 11 p.m. EST on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico

Wednesday, April 22 Later that day, the fire was extinguished, after which the oil rig sank.

Monday, April 26 while underwater robots have discovered at least two leaks that are dumping an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil per day in the sea.

Thursday, April 29 It is discovered that the leak is not spewing the equivalent of 1,000 barrels of oil per day, but rather 5,000.

So this is what we know.
This well is one of the deepest ever drilled. Normal operating depth for manned submarines are out, so robotic submarines have been used with skilled personnel and drivers operating them.
The initial explosion obviously unexpected, however this had happened not 12 months prior and only 3 months had expired from the failed rig, out of control oil spill, before they commenced drilling on this one.
Legislators in the US were aware of this, yet it appears the risk was downplayed despite the operating depth of the well was over 20 times the operating depth of the Montara well which could not be capped.
The robots have the capability to take photographs. Below are one of the Blow Out Preventer Valve with a robotic arm attempting to manually activate it, the other of the end of the pipe.


But I have now been looking for an hour and I can find no more photographs of the leaks detected by the robots shown in the diagram above. Even on the official site operated by BP, NOAA, US Homeland Security, Dept of Interior.
Deep Water Horizon Response

Surely they must exist.
Where are the underwater photos of the Gulf Gusher?

No votes yet


and they don't want us to know just how ugly it really is.

I think THAT's what I always get from your posts, that I find so valuable.

A mile down, on sea floor changes the pressures involved in dramatic ways and the knolwedge that they're unable to cap pressurized streams at much lesser depth, well, that knowledge just paints a patina of hellacious proportions across this landscape.

I recall my sense of proportion when you were posting on the burning Aussie rig.  This is REALLY scary.