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Blown-out BP well finally killed at bottom of Gulf of Mexico [Updated]

September 19, 2010 |  8:53 am

[Updated at 8:57 a.m.: The BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico -- source of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history -- has been permanently killed, a top federal official announced Sunday.

Thad Allen, the federal spill response chief, said pressure tests confirmed that BP's effort to intersect the well and plug it with cement nearly 18,000 feet below the ocean surface had proved successful.

"With this development, which has been confirmed by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, we can finally announce that the Macondo 252 well is effectively dead," Allen said in a statement.  "Additional regulatory steps will be undertaken, but we can now state, definitively, that the Macondo well poses no continuing threat to the Gulf of Mexico.

"From the beginning, this response has been driven by the best science and engineering available. We insisted that BP develop robust redundancy measures to ensure that each step was part of a deliberate plan, driven by science, minimizing risk to ensure we did not inflict additional harm in our efforts to kill the well. I commend the response personnel, both from the government and private sectors, for seeing this vital procedure through to the end. And although the well is now dead, we remain committed to continue aggressive efforts to clean up any additional oil we may see going forward."]

The gush of oil from the damaged well spewed 205 million gallons until engineers affixed a cap to the well in July.

The disaster, which began five months ago after an explosion sank a drilling rig, closed fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico, sidelining workers and dealing a heavy blow to the seafood industry and beach towns from Louisiana to Florida. It is blamed for the deaths of at least 5,939 birds, 584 sea turtles and more than 60 dolphins, although scientists believe the hidden toll is much higher.

The spill also led to a moratorium on deep-water drilling that has been the subject of court battles and political fighting between the Obama administration and largely Republican elected officials along the gulf and elsewhere.

BP’s market value plummeted; as of Sept. 17, the oil giant had shed 34% of its market capitalization compared with its December 2009 value. BP estimates it has spent more than $6 billion on cleanup and compensation, over and above the $20 billion it has promised for an escrow fund to compensate for economic damages.

At its height, the cleanup effort involved thousands of vessels and tens of thousands of workers deployed in four states. A mixture of Louisiana light crude from the well and chemicals used to disperse it soiled 966 miles of shoreline.

Of the 4.9 million barrels of oil that gushed from the well, 25% was burned, skimmed or piped to tanker ships, according to an August report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

An additional 25% has evaporated or dissolved, while a separate 25%, which the government calls “residual” oil, made its way into the ocean as a light sheen on the water or as tar balls.

The remaining 25% is believed to be deep below the surface of the gulf in vast clouds of atomized droplets that could alter links in the chain of sea life that scientists are only beginning to understand.

This “dispersed” oil was broken into droplets by the 1.8 million gallons of the chemical dispersant Corexit, which was sprayed on the ocean's surface and deep under the sea.

A massive federal effort to map and study these plumes, some of which are 1,200 to more than 4,000 feet below the surface, is underway.

-- Richard Fausset

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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