22
Jul
10

Storm forces Gulf oil spill ships back to port

NEWS
Storm forces Gulf oil spill ships back to port

Oil cap in Gulf to remain despite approaching storm

Thursday, July 22, 2010

••• The U.S. government has ordered certain ships working on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill back to port amid fears that a brewing storm could force a mass evacuation and derail efforts to plug BP’s runaway well.

A full-scale evacuation could delay by up to two weeks the final operation to plug BP’s runaway well, which has unleashed millions of barrels of crude on Gulf Coast shorelines in one of America’s worst ever environmental disasters.

‘Activities that are under way for storm preparedness include evacuating specialized vessels from the path of any severe weather to prevent damage and ensure that oil recovery operations can resume as soon as possible after a storm,’ a Coast Guard statement said on Thursday.

With no crews on site to monitor pressure inside the well, top U.S. official Admiral Thad Allen has warned that the cap that has prevented any toxic crude from entering the sea for the past week may have to be opened up again or even removed.

Storm warnings have been extended from the Caribbean around the Florida Keys to the Gulf Coast, but there has been no immediate order from BP or the U.S. government to suspend operations entirely and pull staff back to shore.

If the depression developing near the Bahamas, expected to become Tropical Storm Bonnie lateron Thursday, takes aim at Louisiana it will delay a so-called ‘static kill’ to seal the well with cement originally planned for this weekend.

Officials have warned it will take up to five days to get some of the biggest vessels, in particular the massive drilling platforms working on relief wells, back to port.

‘We’ve always said we need 120 hours in advance to be able to start redeploying them and then the total time off-scene would be anywhere between 10 and 14 days,’ Allen said on Wednesday.

As for what to do with the cap, this would be ‘a judgment call based on the risks,’ he said.

The first relief well was expected to intercept the damaged well as early as next week but if the storm hits that could be more like mid-August and any final operation to seal the well with cement might be delayed until September.

The storm threat was already delaying progress as work on the final casing of the relief well was suspended so a ‘storm packer’ plug could be fitted to stabilize it.

A full evacuation would be a huge blow for local residents. Tourism is in tatters and a vast swath of the Gulf has been closed to commercial and sport fishing since the BP-leased Deep water Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers.

As millions of barrels of crude spewed into the sea, the region was further hit by President Barack Obama’s decision to impose a moratorium on new deep sea drilling – a move fiercely opposed by local leaders and the oil industry.

Four of the world’s oil giants say they will create a $1 billion system to capture oil in case of another catastrophic spill.

Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and Royal Dutch Shell will each contribute $250 million to create a non-profit group, the Marine Well Containment Company.

The new venture would design, build and operate a flexible system that could mobilise within 24 hours to siphon and contain 100,000 barrels of oil per day in depths of up to 1.86 miles, the companies said.

It’s main goal would be to prevent a spill as large as the one unleashed by BP’s busted Macondo well, which sits 1 mile below the surface and was estimated to have spewed up to 60,000 bpd into the sea.

The companies said the system could be up and running within 18 months.

If an upper estimate of over four million barrels is confirmed, the BP disaster would be the biggest accidental oil spill ever.
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