Patent application title: Methods and device to improve the quality of contained hydrocarbon liquids and particularly oil recovered from an undersea oil leak containment chamber.
Thomas Toedtman (Aptos, CA, US)
IPC8 Class: AE02B1504FI
Class name: Hydraulic and earth engineering fluid control, treatment, or containment floatable matter containment
Publication date: 2012-10-04
Patent application number: 20120251244
The invention relates the use of a containment chamber means for
capturing the undersea leaking hydrocarbon fluids typically contaminated
with seawater. A device operably suspended within a containment chamber
is comprised of an extendable tubular component with a selectable
attached bottom apparatus, and a top apparatus that is operably attached.
One or more methods are described to further manipulate the positions of
the bottom component apparatus and the top component apparatus that
enable: purging the seawater from within device; preventing the continued
emulsion of the fluids in seawater: preventing continued degradation of
the coalescing oil; and accelerating the buoyant separation of the lower
density fluid components from the oil component. These methods in
cooperation with different bottom apparatus, cooperate with different
leak source circumstances.
7. A device suspended within an undersea hydrocarbon fluid leak containment chamber where the top of the device is operably connected in a preferred position and the bottom is operably connected by hydraulic mechanisms; the device comprising: one or more an extendable elements, and one or more elements that can articulate or flexibly distort; an operably connected bottom apparatus; and wherein a containment chamber remote controller logic circuits utilizing data inputs, manipulate the hydraulic mechanisms to position the bottom of the device with the connected bottom apparatus over a leaking fluids source such that the leaked fluids buoyantly enter and rise inside the device thereby containing the rising leaked fluids flow within the device.
8. The device of claim 7 wherein the operable assembly and connection techniques are standardized to enable selection of a bottom apparatus from a plurality of bottom apparatus thereby increasing the versatility of the device.
9. The device of claim 7 that further comprises a diverter apparatus connected to the top of said device, in a location cooperating with the upper boundary layer of coalescing oil, where the diverter apparatus diverts the vertically rising leaked fluids flow to a generally horizontal exit flow emanating radially from the diverter causing the diverted flow to subsequently reduce in thickness and velocity.
10. The device of claim 9 further comprising a diverter apparatus mechanism wherein: a containment chamber remote controller manipulates the diverter apparatus mechanism to modulate the diverter exit orifice area.
11. The device of claim 10 where the bottom apparatus functions as an leak source interface of the device where this interface expands into to a funnel shape, and the apparatus further comprises an attached suitable collar external of the funnel interface, wherein the containment chamber remote controller further manipulates the hydraulic mechanisms to lower and align the device such that the collar mass compresses the funnel interface onto a surface surrounding the leak source, and wherein the device lowering mechanisms may also add a downward force to the collar mass compressing the funnel interface.
12. The device of claim 11 where the operably connected bottom apparatus further comprises one or more operably attached apparatus mechanisms that further cooperate with the collar wherein the remote controller manipulates these mechanisms to further lower and align the interface, and may add force to the collar to compress the funnel interface onto a surface surrounding the leak source.
13. The device of claim 10 with the operably connected bottom apparatus functioning as an leak source interface of the device where this interface further expands into to a shape that is connected to a collar having a outline that encompasses the leak source, and further comprising a leading edge that cooperates with the seabed wherein the remote controller manipulates the hydraulic mechanisms to cause the leading edge of the collar to cooperate with the seabed to prevent seawater ingress to the leak source, and wherein the device hydraulic mechanisms may also add a downward force to the collar.
14. The device of claim 13 where the bottom apparatus further comprises a plurality of operably connected hydraulic apparatus mechanisms cooperating with the collar, wherein the remote controller manipulates the apparatus mechanisms to cause the leading edge of the collar to cooperate with the seabed, and wherein the device hydraulic mechanisms, and or the apparatus mechanisms may also add a downward force to the collar.
15. The device of claim 10 with the operably connected bottom apparatus functioning as an leak source interface for the device where this interface further comprises a rigid collar including a seal, and hydraulic latching mechanisms wherein the remote controller further manipulates the position of the bottom apparatus to engage the interface seal with a surface surrounding the leak source, and subsequently manipulates the apparatus mechanisms to engage the latches with one or more features of the leak source surroundings.
16. The device of claim 10 where the bottom apparatus further comprises one or more openings fitted with remote controlled valves operably connected to the chamber remote controller wherein remote controller logic circuits manipulate said valves enabling a controlled release of internal fluids.
17. A method to improve the quality of oil coalescing within an undersea leak containment chamber that further comprises an operably connected device as described in claims 10-15 wherein the method includes: positioning the exit orifice of the device diverter just above the planned upper boundary layer of the contained oil; positioning the device bottom apparatus opening directly over, the leak source such that the leaked fluids rise into it; manipulating the diverter apparatus mechanism to restrict the diverter exit flow of the leaking fluids causing these fluids to collect within the device and overflow from the bottom apparatus opening; manipulating the one or more mechanisms that lower the bottom apparatus to cooperate with the immediate surroundings of the leak source, preventing continued seawater access to the leak source; manipulate the diverter mechanism to accommodate the increased leaked fluids flow.
18. A method to improve the quality of oil coalescing within an undersea leak containment chamber that further comprises an operably connected device as described in claim 16 wherein the method includes: positioning the exit orifice of the device diverter just above the planned upper boundary layer of the contained oil; positioning the device bottom apparatus opening directly over the leak source such that the leaked fluids rise into it; manipulating the one or more mechanisms that lower the bottom apparatus to cooperate with the immediate surroundings of the leak source, preventing continued seawater access to the leak source; manipulating the one or more bottom apparatus valves to an open position; manipulating the diverter apparatus mechanism to restrict the diverter exit flow of the leaking fluids causing these fluids to collect within the device and overflow from the one or more open bottom apparatus valves; manipulating the bottom apparatus valves closed; manipulate the diverter mechanism to accommodate the increased leaked fluids flow.
 The present application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent
Application titled "Device and methods for capturing, separating, and
transferring hydrocarbon fluids from underwater leak sites.", File No.
61/516,345, filing date Mar. 31, 2011 by Thomas Toedtman, the entire
contents of which are incorporated herein by reference.
 It should be understood that the embodiments herein are illustrative and not restrictive, since the scope of the invention is defined by the appended claims rather than by the description preceding them, and all changes that fall within metes and bounds of the claims, or equivalence of such metes and bounds thereof are therefore intended to be embraced by the claims.
 Referring to FIG. 2, Undersea leaks of hydrocarbon fluids can severely damage the environment where a containment system 10 temporarily contains a volume of the leaking fluids 22, where they could separate and coalesce, and are then pumped 32 from the chamber 11 through gas and oil transfer pipes 18,19 to industry equipment 30 typically on the sea surface above the leak site.
 This surface vessel equipment would prefer to transfer the oil to one or more "tanker" vessels 36. However since leaked fluids are generally contaminated with seawater, an additional processing vessel 35 would typically be required to separate the seawater from the oil and then transferring the recovered oil to an oil tanker 36.
 Referring to FIG. 1, It is important to note that one objective when implementing a containment system is achieving a flow equilibrium where the extraction of fluids flow through controller modulated flow valves 52,54 is matched to the rate of flow of the leaking fluids from the leak source 21, so that the 3 levels of contained coalescing fluids 57,58,59 shown in FIG. 1, in the chamber would remain steady. The contained coalescing oil level 59 has an upper boundary layer 48 with natural gas liquids or NGL if NGL's are present in level 58. If only oil and gas are leaking, this same boundary layer 48 would define the oil to gas boundary layer.
 The oil would be extracted from the pipe 84 extending into the oil level. The gas would be vented through pipe 82 to the transfer pipe 18 and to a gas flaring boom 37 typically. A third transfer flow control valve and transfer pipe (not shown) can be included to transfer NGL's if desired.
 Although these hydrocarbon fluids contained in the chamber will separate and coalesce to some extent while contained in the chamber, this natural process is more often severely hindered by: the emulsion of leaked fluids in seawater, the volume of contaminated fluids constantly entering the coalescing oil, and by excessive time required for leaking gas and NGL's, attempting to travel through a thick oil level, which is why the quality of the oil concentration recovered from an undersea chamber would still require a processing ship for further processing to obtain useable oil.
 A high pressure dispersion of leaking fluids and gas into seawater at the leak source 21 creates an emulsion of smaller droplets within the seawater. Smaller droplets rise more slowly. As the fluids from the leak source rise as indicated in FIG. 2, the more buoyant NLG's and gas droplets migrate through the existing heavier crude oil level 59 to the higher levels 58,57 within the chamber. This impairs the coalescing and concentration of the oil level.
 Shown in FIG. 1, a chimney device 100 is comprised of a chimney 102, where the upper end is connected by structural elements 108 to a fixed structural element 106 for example, and the lower portion is extendable using a telescoping method for example. A set of hydraulic cylinders 107 is shown as a means to position the lower chimney section separately from the top portion of the chimney, where other mechanisms to accomplish this positioning function would be assumed within the scope of this invention. Only two cylinders are shown for clarity. The cylinders would be operably connected to a hydraulic drive (not shown) and a remote controller (not shown), where the hydraulic fluid may be seawater. The bottom apparatus in FIG. 1 further shows a weighted collar 110 that would be appropriate for some applications.
 The chimney device bottom apparatus 104 is preferably interchangeable, and selected specifically for sealing to the surroundings of the leak source, where other bottom apparatus may be selected for other leak source surroundings. The apparatus would typically require additional remote functions such as hydraulic mechanisms operably connected to and controlled by the same remote controller used to control other chamber components. These mechanisms shown in the FIGS. 3, 4, 6 would manipulate collars 111 to seal the bottom apparatus to different leak source surroundings. In FIG. 5, these mechanisms manipulate latches to secure the bottom apparatus to a flange.
 The chimney device further comprises a top apparatus 101, described as a flow diverter secured to the top of the chimney to divert the rising column of leaked fluids radially in all directions within a generally horizontal plane indicated by the flow path 105.
 Although a diverter with a fixed exit area would provide considerable benefit, it would need to be closely matched to the actual rate of fluid flow, which would be difficult to predict.
 In the preferred embodiment the flow diverter 101 is remotely controlled (not shown) to manipulate the exit flow area to match the fluid flow rate, and further manipulated to temporarily restrict flow initially to force a portion of the leaked fluids to displace the seawater in the chimney and begin exiting as an overflow from the bottom opening in selected bottom apparatus 104. Shown in FIG. 6, an alternate bottom apparatus may contain fluid exit portals equipped with remotely controlled valves 125 where restricting the diverter 101 exit flow would similarly force a portion of the fluids in the chimney to exit from these controlled exit portals.
 The diverter is comprised of an upper and a lower component where either component could be fixed, and the other manipulated. In FIG. 1 the lower diverter component is fixed to the chimney, and the upper component is connected to structural element 106 by a custom hydraulic cylinder 109 where the internal piston is fixed, and the cylinder body is attached to the diverter.
 It is important to appreciate that the chimney device does not have to withstand high pressures, as the diverter 101 always remains open to balance seawater pressure, and the buoyant force within the chimney is rather small.
 Accurate alignment data to position the device precisely may be provided by known industry position sensing feedback data (not shown) to the remote controller or with camera equipment (not shown) cooperating with Industry crew who could control the device position using an alternate remote controller (not shown), considered a part of the surface vessel equipment that is operably connected with the chamber remote controller.
 To implement the chimney functions after the chamber system is positioned over the leak site, the upper chimney section comprising the flow diverter is preset or adjusted to a vertical position coinciding with the planned or actual upper boundary layer 48 of the oil level. Next, the bottom apparatus attached to the extendable section of the chimney is lowered and positioned.
 A bottom apparatus that further comprises controlled exit portal valves 125 shown in FIG. 6, could then be manipulated to a final position of sealing the bottom component to the leak source surroundings. With these lower exit portals opened, the diverter is then manipulated to restrict flow, allowing the chimney to fill with leaked fluids and expel contained seawater and fluids from these portals until the chimney is essentially purged of seawater. Then the exit portals can be closed and the diverter opened redirecting fluid flow to the diverter
 If using a bottom apparatus without controlled exit portals, the sealing of the apparatus to the leak source surroundings is delayed.
 The chimney section is positioned where the bottom apparatus opening is near or below the source of the leak when using a bottom apparatus that relies solely on the bottom opening as a fluid overflow exit. Here also the diverter flow may be temporarily restricted allowing the chimney to fill with leaked fluids and expel contained seawater and fluids from the bottom opening. Once the chimney is full with leaked fluids, and has expelled the seawater from the bottom opening the cylinders or mechanisms 120 are actuated that may lower a collar 122 or otherwise seal the bottom apparatus to the leak source surroundings, where a seal material 121 may be used as shown in FIG. 5, and the diverter is quickly opened to redirect fluid flow through the diverter.
 In FIGS. 3-6 different leak source surroundings could be sealed with alternate bottom apparatus designs to prevent seawater ingress.
 There can be many more specific bottom component designs enabling the chimney device to be effective in many leak source circumstances, and a standardized device interface to operably connect other bottom apparatus offers many cost and logistic benefits, and represents the preferred embodiment.
 In FIGS. 3, 4 the bottom apparatus mechanisms 120 retain and can manipulate the collar 122 that seals the bottom apparatus 104 to a generally flat horizontal surface, such as the concrete "well pad" 125.
 FIG. 5, illustrates a bottom apparatus 104 with sealing material 121 where the mechanisms 120 engage or disengage a latch 123 method of retention to a flange surrounding the leak source 21.
 FIG. 6 illustrates a bottom apparatus that is operably joined to a collar 122 of any reasonable size and closed shape with a suitable leading edge feature intended to seal to the seabed 16 surrounding a leak source 21, where a penetrating leading edge feature is shown. The collar is connected and manipulated by one or more mechanisms 120, and a remote controlled exit portal valve 124 is shown.
 The purging of seawater from the device assembly, and sealing of the bottom apparatus prevents seawater from intruding, where leaked fluids no longer experience seawater emulsion. Similarly the sealing and then purging method (requiring purge valves) provides the same benefit.
 The column of leaked fluids passes up through the oil level without degrading or disturbing the coalescing oil, and is released just above the oil level.
 The diverter redirects the vertical fluid flow to a 360 degree radial flow in a horizontal plane causing it to rapidly spread out into an exponentially increasing surface area, reducing both the thickness of the fluid flow, as well as its velocity. The well known science of cleaning oil contaminated water, using buoyancy separation confirms that the lateral velocity of the fluid flow must be greatly reduced for smaller buoyant droplets to begin rising. Also, the time for small buoyant droplets to exit a fluid fundamentally depends on the vertical distance they have to travel through the fluid, described as the thickness of the lateral fluid flow.
 The device diverter and method described provides these primary conditions to facilitate the separation of the more buoyant NGL and gas droplets from the leaked fluid flow into the chamber, and allow the oil component to coalesce relatively undisturbed.
DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS
 FIG. 1 is a cross-sectional side view of an undersea leak containment chamber with an oblique angled illustration of the invention within.
 FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional side view of an undersea leak containment chamber without this invention, cooperating with sea surface industry equipment.
 FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional side views illustrating a bottom apparatus sealed to a generally flat leak source and-surroundings.
 FIG. 4 is a cross-sectional side view illustrating a bottom apparatus sealed to a generally flat leak source surrounding.
 FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional side view illustrating a bottom apparatus sealed to a well equipment flange surrounding the leak source.
 FIG. 6 is a cross-sectional side view illustrating a bottom apparatus with an operably attached collar penetrating the seabed surrounding the leak source.
Patent applications by Thomas Toedtman, Aptos, CA US
Patent applications in class Floatable matter containment
Patent applications in all subclasses Floatable matter containment