02
Aug
10

Final efforts to permanently seal BP oil well in Gulf of Mexico begin soon

NEWS
Final efforts to permanently seal BP oil well in Gulf of Mexico begin soon
Static kill could start Monday, Allen says

Monday, August 02, 2010

After months of uncertainty and frustration, crews are ramping up efforts to permanently seal the ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well as early as Monday night.

The operation is one of two bids to definitively ‘kill’ the damaged well, which has spewed noxious crude into the sea since April, devastating fragile habitats and bringing financial ruin to many residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

BP officials in recent days said they hoped the ‘static kill’ operation would take place on Tuesday, but on Sunday the U.S. point man for the spill response, Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen, said it ‘could start as early as Monday night, depending on final testing of the mud injection systems’.

If successful, the ‘static kill’ will allow crews to plug the well from above with cement, but the procedure is untested and similar to a previous ‘kill’ attempt that failed at the end of May.

Still, 104 days into the spill, Americans are desperate for a sign that the leak will soon be permanently capped, allowing the full focus of BP and government officials in the region to shift to clean-up operations and repairing the economic damage caused by the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

Somewhere between three million to 5.3 million barrels leaked into the Gulf between April 20 and July 15, when a cap placed over the wellhead was sealed, fully containing the flow of oil for the first time.

Locals are eager to see the well plugged for good, but there are fears that a successful kill operation will prompt a mass exodus of officials brought into the region to respond to the crisis.

Crews have already begun collecting some of the millions of feet of protective boom after skimming vessels said they were having difficulty finding spilled crude on the sea surface anymore.

But the president of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana told CNN it was too early to scale back those operations.

‘The oil is out there,’ Billy Nungesser insisted, saying that he had ordered his parish sheriff to stop 12 trucks carrying boom from leaving the area.

BP, which leased the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and sparking the spill, has sought to reassure residents it will remain engaged and work to restore the area.

‘We’ve had some good news on the oil … but that doesn’t mean we’re done. We’ll be here for years,’ said Bob Dudley, an American chosen to replace the gaffe-prone Briton Tony Hayward as BP’s chief executive, as the energy giant tries to salvage what is left of its reputation.

Many fishermen whose grounds were closed in the wake of the spill due to food safety concerns have found work assisting the clean-up effort, but face an uncertain future.

They could soon lose their jobs again as there is less oil to mop up and there are no guarantees they will be able to return to fish soon in Gulf waters that could be contaminated for months or even years to come.

Documents released by Congress on Saturday detailing the use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf added to concerns about the long-term effects for the region.

‘BP carpet-bombed the ocean with these chemicals, and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it,’ said Democratic Representative Edward Markey, chairman of the House energy and environment subcommittee.
BP and the U.S. response team have said more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersants have been used to break up the oil, but Markey said studies show the amount could be far higher.

‘The validity of those numbers are now in question,’ he said.

Admiral Allen addressed the concerns on Sunday, insisting to reporters that he was ‘satisfied that dispersants were only used when needed’, and that it was the U.S. government on-scene coordinator’s decision to use dispersants and not BP’s.

Meanwhile on Sunday engineers were carrying out final tests to ensure the integrity of the wellhead, BP said.

Once the static kill is underway, engineers will pump heavy drilling fluid called ‘mud’ into the cap in a bid to push the oil back down into the well reservoir.

If that works, crews will then seal the well from the top with cement.

Then, as early as next weekend, BP plans to begin a ‘bottom kill’ by intercepting the damaged well deep below the seabed with a nearly completed relief well.

Engineers plan to first drill into the pipe to check the ‘static kill’ has worked before cementing in the outer well bore and blocking the oil reservoir once and for all.
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