BP well could be sealed for good by next week
Encouraged by signs that a new cement plug was setting properly, BP on Friday returned to the drilling operation that will spell the ultimate end of its notorious gulf well.
It has been a landmark week for BP, which succeeded in stuffing its damaged deep-sea well with heavy mud and then cement, effectively shutting it down, more than three months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 workers and set off a slow-motion environmental disaster.
BP was waiting for the 500 barrels of cement it pumped into the well to dry and administering pressure tests to make sure the plug was holding. “Everything I saw early on in the pressure test was very encouraging that the cement job went well,” Senior Vice President Kent Wells said Friday afternoon.
In the meantime, the company was turning to the relief well operation, which was suspended during the pumping.
That final, meticulously executed phase is expected to take about another week, as BP drills the remaining 100 feet of the relief bore in increments, periodically pausing and taking bearings to make sure the drill bit is headed in precisely the right direction.
Friday, the company drilled about 15 feet to check the condition of the surrounding rock formation and will resume the boring Sunday night. Wells said engineers expect to pierce the bottom of the damaged well sometime between Aug. 13 and 15.
Mud and cement will then be pumped into the outer area of the well, a space called the annulus.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal spill commander, has said that it would probably then be necessary to breach the inner well casing and pump mud and cement into that. But BP believes this week’s cementing, poured through the top of the well, has filled the length of the casing, likely precluding that step.
That means the ruptured well could be fully and permanently sealed by the end of next week.
The blowout preventer atop the well will then be hauled to the surface and taken to shore, where it will be examined as part of the investigation into the cause of the disaster. A new blowout preventer will be lowered into place and BP will go through a formal well abandonment procedure, Wells said.
With no oil leaking into the gulf since the well was mechanically capped in mid-July, BP has begun to wind down its massive cleanup operation.
“We’re far from finished,” Doug Suttles, the company’s outgoing cleanup chief said Friday. “But clearly we feel like we’re moving to a new phase because it has been three weeks since we’ve seen oil flowing into the sea and there is no recoverable oil on the water.”
At its peak, BP’s response effort included roughly 40,000 workers, about 6,000 vessels and the placement of more than 15 million feet of boom. As of Thursday, the company had let go 8,400 of those workers and retrieved more than 100,000 feet of boom.
Beach cleaning machines have begun to replace teams that had been scooping up oil and tar balls by hand. And BP is shrinking its “vessels of opportunity” program, which contracted with private boat operators to skim and burn offshore oil and help with wildlife rescue.
Suttles emphasized, however, that “our cleanup activities are still substantial. We still have tens of thousands of people out there cleaning shorelines.”
Louisiana parish presidents planned to meet with BP officials to ensure “that we have enough resources and assets available to get the job done; there’s still plenty of oil in the marshes,” said Kurt Fromherz, spokesman for Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.
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