Matt’s Hole vs. Mel’s Hole

Back in 1997 I was on a long-distance, late-night car trip and on the radio I heard reference to this thing called “Mel’s Hole”. It was a deep and mysterious hole somewhere in Washington state, according to a caller to Art Bell’s “Coast to Coast” AM radio show, that had strange and unusual properties.

hole First, Mel’s Hole was deep, really deep. Various attempts had been made to find the bottom, but only the caller, a guy named Mel Waters, had done it, discovering (with fishing line and a weight, if you must know) that Mel’s Hole was more than 15 miles deep. Second, Mel’s Hole supposedly had mystical properties, like the story of a dying dog tossed in that then mysteriously showed up alive and well and traveling with some other (kinder, one assumes) owner. Third, some said it had cosmological significance, while others, like Waters, said it was some sort of outlet vent for Mount Rainier.

Of course, as is generally the case with such late-night radio things, there was a meta-mystery. And that was, Where the hell is it? Because there was no record of this Waters caller, no sign of the hole where he said on Art Bell’s show it was, and no-one else but him called in with fishing line and dead dog data to discuss the thing. It was left as a puzzle, one that is still lovingly remembered as “Mel’s Hole” by those of us too fond of such cultural ephemera to let the damn thing go.

I got to thinking about Mel’s Hole again recently in hearing about Matt’s Hole. That is the name I have given to the hole that oil guy Matt Simmons alleges exists somewhere near the Macondo seabed leak that is now spewing 60,000 bpd, or more. Based on data known only to him, it seems, Simmons says that there is another hole down there, one that, in combination with the original Macondo leak with its jaunty LMRP, can only be closed via a seafloor nuke that causes the well to collapse in on itself.

Could Simmons be right? Well, he has been, as we used to say in the analyst business, directionally correct. The leak numbers are now, and have always been, larger than the number from official sources. Even the 60,000 bpd revised estimates tonight are likely too low, as the leak taskforce members concedes is possible. The flow rate is increasing as erosion causes the pressures to expand the drill hole and increase the flow of oil on a daily basis. Given enough time Matt will be correct, if he isn’t already — after all, this is a 100mm barrel-ish reservoir at immense pressure.

But Matt’s Hole remains a puzzle. There is no other source for it, so it’s tough to see what data Simmons is relying on. The NOAA report that he once alluded to implies that other seabed seeps (of which there are hundreds in the Gulf, all producing at very low natural background rates) could have produced some tar balls on Florida beaches. It is a stretch from there to saying that there is a mystery hole somewhere near Macondo/Deepwater that is causing the flow rate there to to be even larger than anyone thinks.

Now, I accept that it’s possible, and even likely, that liner/concreting problems mean that the oil is now escaping into porous rock around the original shaft. And it is possible that some of that oil is finding its way to the surface. But there is no evidence I know of that the current sickening flow rates requires more than one hole. In other words, while I can see the appeal of Matt’s Hole the way I see the appeal of Mel’s Hole, I don’t (yet) see the evidence.

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