Gulf oil spill: Well kill not expected until after Labor Day
A complete sealing of the BP oil well is not likely to occur until sometime after Labor Day, the federal government’s spill response chief said Thursday.
The delay is necessary because federal officials are requiring that BP engineers take new, precautionary steps before drilling into the damaged well with a “relief well” that will permanently jam it with mud and concrete, said National Incident Commander Thad Allen.
Most significantly, experts from the government and BP have decided to replace the existing blowout preventer with a new one that should be able to withstand any pressure surges when the area outside of the well casing, called the annulus, is intersected by the relief well.
Before the blowout preventers are swapped, BP will also try to yank out a piece of stray pipe that is believed to be wedged in the existing blowout preventer.
Those steps, along with additional pressure testing, mean that the relief well will not intersect the original well until the week after Labor Day, which falls on Sept. 6.
Allen said the new moves, which were intensely debated by government and BP experts, are part of an attempt to ensure that all goes smoothly with the final “bottom kill” operation. In particular, experts want to be able to handle any potentially dangerous pressure that might build up in the annulus when mud is pumped into it.
Oil stopped flowing from the well July 15, when the company attached a metal cap on top of the blowout preventer. The well was further stabilized by a massive injection of mud and concrete.
“We are very close to putting this well away,” Allen said. “None of us wants to make a mistake at this point.”
-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta