(WESTERVILLE, OH — September 27, 2012) Hydrogeologist Dr. Paul A. Hsieh has received the John Hem Award for Excellence in Science & Engineering from the National Ground Water Association in part for his role in stopping the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The John Hem Award recognizes significant scientific or engineering contributions to the understanding of groundwater. The award recognizes Hsieh’s career contributions, generally, as well as his role in controlling the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The award will be presented to Hsieh, an NGWA member, in December at the NGWA Groundwater Expo and Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.
The British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil rig suffered a catastrophic blowout on April 20, 2010. A May 2010 attempt to plug the well failed and, for 87 days, oil flowed freely into the gulf. BP scientists believed the oil well below the gulf floor was compromised so that capping it could force oil out into fractures below the gulf floor — resulting in a worse uncontrollable oil discharge.
USGS and BP scientists developed a well integrity test that would measure pressure to determine if the well could be permanently capped. On July 15 — 87 days after the blowout — the well was capped and pressure readings started. The results were ambiguous, so two USGS geophysicists sent a cell phone picture of the slowly rising pressure curve to Hsieh in his Menlo Park, California, office.
“Paul spent the entire night analyzing the pressure-time behavior of the well, using a modified version of his reservoir modeling software,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Paul showed that the measured pressure of the shut-in [capped] well was consistent with a well that was not leaking.”
Based on Hsieh’s evaluation, the well was left capped. In the ensuing weeks, continued climbing well pressure along with geophysical monitoring of the surrounding formations confirmed Hsieh’s conclusion.
“I have had so many scientists, young and old, come up to me to tell me they never imagined that this kind of visibility would be possible for hydrology, all thanks to Paul’s efforts,” McNutt said. “His work on the oil spill, in particular, was highlighted when he was selected from among 2.1 million employees as the Federal Employee of the Year in 2011 — the highest honor in government service.”
The NGWA award Hsieh is receiving is named in honor of John Hem, a 20th century scientist and lifelong employee of the USGS who did pioneering work, particularly in the area of natural water chemistry as a tool in hydrological studies.
NGWA, a nonprofit organization composed of U.S. and international groundwater professionals — contractors, equipment manufacturers, suppliers, scientists, and engineers — is dedicated to advancing groundwater knowledge. NGWA’s vision is to be the leading groundwater association that advocates the responsible development, management, and use of water.
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