Aug 3, 2010 9:46 AM by Sharlee Barriere
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Crews hoped to begin pumping mud and perhaps
cement down the throat of the blown-out oil well at the bottom of
the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday in what BP officials said could be
the method of attack that finally snuffs the spill.
Engineers planned to probe the busted blowout preventer with an
oil-like liquid to determine whether it could handle the static
kill. If the test is successful, they plan to spend Tuesday through
Thursday pumping the heavy mud down the well.
The so-called "static kill" is meant as insurance for the
crews who have spent months fighting the oil spill. The only thing
keeping oil from blowing into the Gulf at the moment is an
experimental cap that has held for more than two weeks but was
never meant to be permanent.
BP officials had insisted for months that a pair of costly
relief wells were the only surefire way to kill the oil leak but
said Monday that the static kill alone - involving lines running
from a ship to the blown-out well a mile below - might do the
BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said that if the static kill
is successful, the relief wells may not be needed to do the same
thing weeks later, but from the bottom. The primary relief well,
near completion, will still be finished and could be used simply to
ensure the leak is plugged, he said.
"Even if we were to pump the cement from the top, we will still
continue on with the relief well and confirm that the well is
dead," he said. Either way, "we want to end up with cement in the
bottom of the hole."
Government officials and company executives have long said the
wells, which can cost about $100 million each, might be the only
way to make certain the oil is contained to its vast undersea
reservoir. A federal task force said about 172 million gallons of
oil made it into the Gulf between April and mid-July, when a
temporary cap bottled up all the oil.
The task force said actually about 206 million gallons total
gushed out of the mile-deep well but a fleet of boats and other
efforts were able to contain more than 33 million gallons.
The 172 million gallons is on the high end of recent estimates
that anywhere from 92 million to 184 million gallons had gushed
into the sea.
The company began drilling the primary, 18,000-foot relief well
May 2, 12 days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and killed
11 workers, and a second backup well May 16. The first well is now
only about 100 feet from the target, and Wells said it could reach
it as early as Aug. 11.
Retired Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the spill
response, said Monday that the focus now is on making sure the
static kill is successful. But he cautioned that federal officials
don't see it as "the end all, be all until we get the relief well
Before the effort can begin, engineers must probe the broken
blowout preventer with an oil-like liquid to decide whether it can
handle the static kill process. They had hoped to begin the
hours-long test Monday but delayed it until Tuesday after a small
leak was discovered in the hydraulic control system.
One of the biggest variables on the static kill's finality is
whether the area called the annulus, which is between the inner
piping and the outer casing, has sprung an oil leak. Engineers
probably won't be able to answer that question until they drill in
from the bottom, he said.
"Everyone would like to have this thing over as soon as
possible," Allen said, adding: "We don't know the condition of
the well until we start pushing mud into it."
The company's statements Monday might signal that it is more
concerned than it has acknowledged about debris found in the relief
well after it was briefly capped as Tropical Storm Bonnie passed
last week, said Ed Overton, a Louisiana State University
environmental sciences professor.
Plus, trying to seal the well from the top gives BP two shots at
ending the disaster, Overton said.
"Frankly, if they can shut it off from the top and it's a good,
permanent seal, I'll take it," Overton said. "A bird in the hand
at this point is a good thing with this deal."
Tropical Storm Colin formed far out in the Atlantic on Tuesday,
but early forecasts put it on a track off the East Coast rather
than the Gulf.
BP and federal officials have managed to contain large parts of
the spill through skimmers, oil-absorbant boom and chemical
dispersants meant to break up the oil.
Federal regulators have come under fire from critics who say
that BP was allowed to use excessive amounts of the dispersants,
but government officials counter that they have helped dramatically
cut the use of the chemicals since late May.
The Environmental Protection Agency released a study Monday
concluding that when mixed with oil, chemical dispersants used to
break up the crude in the Gulf are no more toxic to aquatic life
than oil alone.