Happening today: Major Y2K Oil Well Problem

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I received an e-mail today (11/04/1998), from someone I consider a reliable source, forwarding a message from a woman whose son does computer work for a mid-sized oil company. The company did some Y2K testing (she doesn't say how) on certain valves that regulate the flow of gas and oil out in the field. I thing they did some kind of software-driven simulation testing in place of the chips that are in each valve. Each of them failed when tested by opening up completely and refusing to close. They have about 1500 valves with embedded chips and it takes many man-hours to change them in the field; the company is not sure it can change them all before 2000. What happens if some large valves open up and start spewing oil out everywhere? What about the large oil company operations? Anyone with any experience in this field?

-- cody varian (cody@y2ksurvive.com), November 04, 1998


A co-worker of mine was a programer for Chevron. He said systems were designed to shut off the flow of oil, if something went wrong. Instead of opening, all the valves shoud shut down and lock up.

-- Bill (bill@microsoft.com), November 04, 1998.

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Why can't the chips that control the opening and closing of the valves malfunction and keep the valves open? Are you saying the only malfunction could be one of the valves staying closed? Why couldn't it go either way?

-- cody varian (cody@y2ksurvive.com), November 04, 1998.

You can't tell - depends on the controller, the method of failure, the signal state, the effect of a zero/none/erractic/full signal = the result for example of a "zero" signal could open a valve, or it could shut the valve, or it could "freeze" the valve in its current condition - whether open of shut or throttled depending on when the valve was last moved.

Or a full "on" signal could open a air controller full on, thus shutting control valve, then the air bleeds off, then the valve slowly cycles shut. Name your poison.

A "safe" condition is "running correctly" - might be open, might be shut, depends on what the valve does. That's what the field work is needed for - and the telephone network. In some gas distribution networks, for as many as 15 million signals daily.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), November 05, 1998.

"from someone I consider a reliable source, forwarding a message from a woman whose son does computer work for a mid-sized oil company."

Reliable or not, that is still a lot of hands for the info to pass through.

"Each of them failed when tested by opening up completely and refusing to close. They have about 1500 valves with embedded chips and it takes many man-hours to change them in the field; the company is not sure it can change them all before 2000."

This is pure speculation, but I can't imagine they don't have away to manually close them as in say a wheel or lever of some type. Like I said, specualtion, but it would seem rather odd to me that there would be no manual override for such a critical thing.


-- Rick Tansun (ricktansun@hotmail.com), November 05, 1998.

Oh they all have manual overrides - assuming you can get to the well, tank, pump, overflow, regulator, and control station in time to do something.

These things are scattered over thousands of square miles, many far from roads, and each has to be driven to, operated, and continuously monitored(?). Can't be done. Aren't enough trained operators to do it.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), November 05, 1998.


Like I said, speculation. My knowledge on this sort of stuff is far lower than nothing:)

So again, from an uninformed view point, would it not be wise to go to the furthest away ones early and shut them off? Or does some sort of pressure build up behind the closed off valve? Please be gentle with me, this is coming from a totally innocnet, naive, uninformed person on this paticular subject


-- Rick Tansun (ricktansun@hotmail.com), November 05, 1998.

Maybe volunteers could swing lanterns by each of the valves that malfunction. Wouldn't this be like train swithches? :)

-- Anit-chainsaw (Tree@hugger.com), November 05, 1998.

On my fathers' place in KY there are about a half dozen oil wells. The company that owns them hires a local to check on them periodically. The flare fire can go out (have to burn off hydrogen sulfide - its the law - stuff is poisonous), valves malfunction and so on. I would suppose that if the company cared as to whether or not they were in business after 1/1/00 they would tell their local agents to make sure things were OK in the field.

-- Paul Davis (davisp1953@yahoo.com), November 05, 1998.

I work at a chemical plant. It is much safer in some instances for a valve to lock in the open position. The problem usually then becomes environmental. You won't blow up, but releases are possible. As far as manually turning the valves, the manual valves are usually located at either end of the pipe, process, whatever, and you still have to deal with everything in between. It does get complicated.

-- margie mason (mar3mike@aol.com), November 05, 1998.

manual control and long sections of pipe easily potentially catastrophic damage from "Water hammer" - the slam of pressure onto pipe, elbows, welds, foundations, valves, pumps, controllers, etc as the liquid mass accelerates and decelerates through the previously empty pipeline (or the vacuum pulled from a previously full pipeline.

You try to control things (fill, bleed, vent, start, stop, etc.) very carefully to avoid the pressure surges - but unskilled labor, in unfamilair situations (startup/shutdown are much more difficult thtan steady state monitoring) operating things manually isn't a good idea.

Better to spend the money up front to keep the well active, or shut it down and give up several weeks of earnings to protect future gas and oil revenues, rather than risk a fire, environmental damage, well and pipe damage to a incorrectly operately natural gas well.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), November 05, 1998.

There is a good article entitled "Y2K and Environmentalism", by Jim Lord, at http://y2ktimebomb.com/Tip/Lord/lord9836.htm. One of his strong points is that if environmentalists only understood the ramifications of Y2K, there would be no stopping them from bringing Y2K to the highest levels of attention. (Unfortunately, however, since these folks have often come across as being flakey, this might not do any good....)

-- Jack (jsprat@eld.net), November 06, 1998.

No, they are environmentalists by choice, by emotional nicity, by political corruptness - not by logic. They are (in general) therefore not capable of understanding Y2K as a technical issue, or believe the fed government "won't let it happen", or believe the myth that "they will find a silver bullet to fix it" if only "we could get the greedy, money-grubbing, capitalistic pigs" out of the way.

They are not intellectually capable of undertanding it as a technical issue - not because they are capable of understanding the details, (some I assume, despite the evidence, are intelligent) but because they do not think about things logically and dispassionitly.

I'm generalizing here, but if they understood technology (rather than intrinsically fear and loath it) then they would be fighting the Y2K probelms as you suggested. But they don't understand technology, and refuse to learn about it, nor to study it. It (technology in general, and computers in specific) won't listen to wishes and feelings, so it doesn't care what they say, only what they (or designers) do.

And a typical environmentalist group can't tolerate that, becuase he/she/it only has feel-good ideas, that increase human hardship at the benefit of their internal feelings of "niceness".

I've been picking up trash, removing litter, recycling, and saving energy since I was 10 - I respect the duty we have towards the environment, and despise the irrevocable harm being done by the former Communist governments, the Socialists, and the ignorant worldwide. In these actions, I've done positive things, and will continue to DO more effective things, than any "feel-good" earth-day tree hugger out there.

Now, if Y2K were packaged as an environmental threat - regardless of other technical issues, and if they were mentally capaable of supporting technical fixes rather than "throwing away" technology, and IF they were willing to attack the Washington wall of of silience (i.e, attack the liers, lovers, and liberals at the head of the Democratic Party over the failure of the government to respond to theissue), then the environmentalists could become a potent y2K force.

But they carry into the battle too much deadweight of preconceived nonsense, and too much deadweight of fixed political opinions, and too much emotional baggage internally that they cannot think and resolve issues.

In this humble observers opinion, based on my association with hundreds of avowed environmentalists over the years.

request responses be kept to a different thread - as this serves its function best when talking about the original oil/gas problems and their probable remote control failure(s).

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), November 06, 1998.

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