With a new blowout preventer in place and a 5,000-foot column of cement filling its core, the BP well is no longer in danger of leaking oil, the federal spill response chief said Saturday — although he said it must still be plugged from the bottom for the job to be complete.
“I’m very pleased to announce that with the new blowout preventer on this well, and the cement that was previously put in … this well does not constitute a threat to the Gulf of Mexico at this point,” said Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard admiral who has served as the government’s point person on the response.
“But we need to finish the work related to the relief well, and plugging and abandonment, which will need to move forward,” he said.
The process of closing up BP’s blown-out well has unfolded slowly, a multi-stage process that has been marked by failures and successes, weather delays, tension between BP and federal experts, and a good deal of engineering improvisation.
The latest step in the undersea drama involved removing the old blowout preventer — which had failed to stop the gusher. The newer, stronger replacement is designed to handle any surge of pressure that may result when engineers intercept the outer ring of the well, called the annulus, below the Earth’s surface and inject it with mud and cement.
Sometime this week, he said, crews will begin drilling the final 50 feet in order to intersect the well.
In the past, Allen has said it would take four days to complete the remaining drilling, and several days more to inject the material, conduct pressure tests, and officially declare an end to the disaster that saw 4.9 million of barrels of oil — more than 200 million gallons — escape into the gulf.
The original blowout preventer is viewed as a crucial piece of evidence in civil and criminal federal investigations into the cause of the April 20 explosion, which killed 11 workers.
Engineers cleaned out and hoisted the 50-foot, 300-ton blowout preventer to the surface and loaded it on a large vessel Saturday night, Allen said in a statement.
Under the supervision of federal investigators including the FBI, the device will be hauled to a NASA facility in New Orleans for storage.