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Gulf oil spill: Bonnie fizzles, cleanup fleet heads back to well

July 24, 2010 | 11:13 am
The fleet of cleanup vessels tending the blown-out BP well in the Gulf of Mexico was ordered back to the spill site Saturday morning after a tropical storm system fizzled.

The weather system, downgraded Friday from Tropical Storm Bonnie to a tropical depression, was barely mustering maximum winds of 35 mph and was not expected to generate a fierce storm surge.

The ocean turbulence could actually do some good by dispersing surface slicks and tar patches from the BP spill, the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

The rough seas could also drive some oil into marshes and bayous, but federal officials said coastal residents will not be showered with blowing crude.

"Fears of raining oil are unfounded," Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Saturday.

The small fleet of response vessels that had been evacuated from the well area headed back, including the rigs that are drilling the relief wells that will be used to permanently plug the bottom of the damaged well with heavy mud and cement.

It will take 24 to 36 hours for the first relief rig to get back on scene and reconnect to its drill pipe, said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing federal response to the spill.

After that, casing will be laid and cemented in the main relief well and BP will move ahead with a "static kill" procedure to plug the top of the original well, a step that is expected to aid the final cementing of the well bottom.

In the meantime, the leak has been sealed by a cap that was installed a week ago. The cap remained closed during the evacuation, and Allen said two underwater robots stayed at the spill site to continue surveillance of well conditions.

-- Bettina Boxall