Colloquium: March 5, 2013

The Science Behind the Taming of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Paul Hsieh

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 2:00 P.M. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Following unsuccessful attempts during May and June, 2010, to contain the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by methods such as the containment dome and top kill, and with the relief well not expected to be completed until September, plans were drawn up to install a capping stack on top of the Macondo well to shut the flow of oil. Such a shut in, however, was not without risks, stemming from concerns that the well casing might have been damaged during the initial explosion. During shut in, the rising pressure in the well could force oil to leak out of the damaged casing into the surrounding formation, initiating a hydraulic fracture that could breach the seafloor. Such an “underground blowout” would result in a renewed and uncontrolled flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico–a catastrophic development. The final decision to shut in the well required intense, round-the-clock work by scientists and engineers from the Government, industry, and academia. This talk will present some of the scientific analyses and behind-the-scene events that led to ending the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


Photo of Paul HsiehDr. Paul Hsieh received a B.S.E. in Civil Engineering from Princeton University, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Hydrology and Water Resources from the University of Arizona. He has worked as a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey for over 30 years. The main area of his research is fluid flow in the underground. During the summer of 2010, he served on the Government Science Team for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. For his contribution to stopping the oil flow, he received the 2011 Federal Employee of the Year award.