Aug 15, 2010 2:50 PM by Chris Welty
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The man with pinpoint accuracy who is
drilling the relief well meant to plug BP's runaway well is looking
forward to finishing his mission and celebrating with a cigar, a
dinner party with his crew and a trip somewhere quiet to unwind
with his wife.
John Wright has never missed his target over the years,
successfully drilling 40 relief wells that were used to plug leaks
around the world. People along the Gulf Coast aren't the only ones
hoping he can make it 41-for-41.
"Anyone who has ever worked extremely hard on a long project
wants to see it successfully finished, as long as it serves its
intended purpose," Wright, 56, who is leading the team drilling
the primary relief well, said in a lengthy e-mail exchange with The
Associated Press from the Development Driller III vessel.
"That is where my job satisfaction is derived."
BP began work on its primary relief well in early May to
permanently seal the ruptured well. But about two weeks ago, around
the time the company had done a successful static kill pumping mud
and cement into the top of the well, executives began signaling
that the bottom kill procedure might not be needed. Even the
government's point man on the spill response, retired Coast Guard
Adm. Thad Allen, suggested that was possible.
Allen put that uncertainty to rest on Friday and Saturday,
saying the relief well would be finished so the well could be
killed. The bottom kill, in which mud and cement will plug the well
from below the seafloor, won't be started until at least next
Wright said he would not have been disappointed if the relief
well was halted, recalling the time his high school football team
won the city championship in Houston in 1970.
"I never made a touchdown or scored a point, but I was proud to
be part of the team that won and that I had done my job," said
Wright, who has two daughters and three grandchildren.
The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers
and causing 206 million gallons of oil to spew from BP's well a
mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
Wright said he was part of a team that started planning the
relief well in May, working 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a
week. He has been on the DDIII rig nearly nonstop since June 19.
"Offshore we sleep when we can and work when we have to,"
Wright said. "It is rare to sleep eight hours straight unless we
are on standby."
Wright said the BP well was the biggest job of his career, but
it's only the latest in a long line of wells that began after he
earned a graduate degree from Texas A&M University.
His work took him around the world, from Venezuela to Norway,
convincing him this was how he wanted to spend his life.
By the mid-1980s, "I had developed an obsession that drilling
relief wells and working on blowouts is what I wanted to do with my
career," he said.
The work on the BP well has been an intense stop-and-go project,
with Wright drilling only a short distance at a time so his team
can then do tests to make sure he's still on target. If not, the
crew adjusts the drill's trajectory before restarting.
To date, he and his team have drilled nearly 18,000 feet - more
than three miles. The grapefruit-sized drill bit is about 50 feet
from their target, which is less than half the size of a dart
board. The unusual depth, the relative weakness of the rock and the
high pressure in the well have made the task challenging.
The planning was equally arduous for what Wright says is one of
the most complex jobs he's ever worked on. One team had to figure
out where Wright needed to drill to kill the well - and another had
to work out how to get there.
"In general the shallower the intersect the harder it is to
kill, the deeper the harder and costlier it is to intersect,"
More difficult than the work, Wright said, is getting everyone
to agree on how to do things. The process has often been slowed
with so many officials from BP and the federal government involved.
"Many additional hours in meetings and preparing justifications
are necessary to get a consensus than normally would be required on
a lower profile blowout response operation," he said.
Wright, who is not a BP employee but is working on a contract
basis, is senior vice president of technology for Houston-based
Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc. Boots & Coots bought
Wright's company in 2009, and Wright became vice president as part
of the sale.
Wright and his crew have spent what little free time they have
using the rig's simple amenities - a gym, several TV rooms, a pool
table, a smoking room and a card room. Most of the workers kill
time reading books or watching movies on laptops.
The sleeping quarters - mostly two-man rooms with a toilet,
shower and TV - are far better than the accommodations on other
jobs. Wright recalled that many times, as many as 14 people share a
room, toilets and showers.
"In one case I slept for two months on a couch in the
wheelhouse with a blanket over my head," Wright said.
Things are more comfortable back in Wright's native Houston,
where he plans to go after the work is done. He and his wife spend
time there when they're not on their ranch in Texas hill country.