Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gulf Oil Update: Day 107

BP plugs well with mud; feds say much of oil gone
– Static Kill To Stop The Oil Spill

Associated Press
August 4, 2010

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO – BP claimed a key victory Wednesday in the effort to plug its blown-out well and the government said much of the spilled oil is gone — though what's left is still at least quadruple the amount that poured from the Exxon Valdez.

BP PLC reached what it called a significant milestone overnight when mud that was forced down the well held back the flow of crude.

Also, White House energy adviser Carol Browner said on morning TV talk shows that a new assessment found that about 75 percent of the oil has either been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf.

"It was captured. It was skimmed. It was burned. It was contained. Mother Nature did her part," Browner told NBC's "Today" show. On ABC's "Good Morning America," she said about 25 percent remained.

It was not clear if she was referring to 25 percent of what gushed from the well — about 205 million gallons based on new government estimates released this week — or 25 percent of what made it into the water, about 172 million gallons. The rest was either burned, skimmed or siphoned in the days after the April 20 explosion aboard the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon.

Using the lower number, 25 percent would be about 43 million gallons. Even if the Gulf well had leaked only that much to begin with, it would still be among the worst oil spills in history. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez tanker spill that wreaked environmental havoc in Alaska in 1989 spilled 11 million gallons.

In the Gulf, workers stopped pumping mud in after about eight hours of their "static kill" procedure and were monitoring the well to ensure it remained stable, BP said.

"It's a milestone," BP PLC spokeswoman Sheila Williams said. "It's a step toward the killing of the well."

The next step would be deciding whether to cement the well.

The pressure in the well dropped quickly in the first 90 minutes of the static kill procedure Tuesday, a sign that everything was going as planned, wellsite leader Bobby Bolton told The Associated Press. Bolton said Tuesday night that the procedure was going well. "Pressure is down and appears to be stabilizing," he told the AP then.

Browner told NBC it was good news that the static kill was working but that "we remain focused on the relief well."

The static kill — also known as bullheading — involved slowly pumping the mud from a ship down lines running to the top of the ruptured well a mile below. BP has said that may be enough by itself to seal the well.

But the mud that was forced down the broken wellhead to permanently plug the gusher is only half the story. To call the mission a success, crews working on a flotilla of vessels on a desolate patch of water need to seal off the well from two directions.

An 18,000-foot relief well BP has been drilling for the past three months will be used later this month to execute a "bottom kill," in which mud and cement will be injected into the bedrock 2 1/2 miles below the sea floor to finish the job, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said.

"There should be no ambiguity about that," Allen said. "I'm the national incident commander, and this is how this will be handled."

A 75-ton cap placed on the well in July has been keeping the oil bottled up inside over the past three weeks, but is considered only a temporary measure. BP and the Coast Guard want to plug up the hole with a column of heavy drilling mud and cement to seal it off more securely.

A previous, similar effort failed in May when the mud couldn't overcome the unstemmed flow of oil.

BP won't know for certain whether the static kill has succeeded until engineers can use the soon-to-be-completed relief well to check their work.

The task is becoming more urgent because peak hurricane season is just around the corner, Allen said. Tropical Storm Colin formed then dissipated far out in the Atlantic on Tuesday, but early forecasts say it will travel toward the East Coast rather than the Gulf


MC252 Well Reaches Static Condition; Well Monitoring Underway
BP Press Release date: 04 August 2010

BP announced today that the MC252 well appears to have reached a static condition -- a significant milestone. The well pressure is now being controlled by the hydrostatic pressure of the drilling mud, which is the desired outcome of the static kill procedure carried out yesterday (US Central time).

Pumping of heavy drilling mud into the well from vessels on the surface began at 1500CDT (2100 BST) on August 3, 2010 and was stopped after about eight hours of pumping. The well is now being monitored, per the agreed procedure, to ensure it remains static. Further pumping of mud may or may not be required depending on results observed during monitoring.

The start of the static kill was based on the results of an injectivity test, which immediately preceded the static kill and lasted about two hours.

BP will continue to work with the National Incident Commander and other government officials to determine the next course of action, which involves assessing whether to inject cement in the well via the same route.

The aim of these procedures is to assist with the strategy to kill and isolate the well, and will complement the upcoming relief well operation, which will continue as per plan.

A relief well remains the ultimate solution to kill and permanently cement the well. The first relief well, which started May 2, has set its final 9 7/8-inch casing. Operations on the relief wells are suspended during static kill operations.

Depending upon weather conditions, mid-August is the current estimate of the most likely date by which the first relief well will intercept the Macondo well annulus, and kill and cement operations commence.


BP reports 'static kill' success; scientists say majority of oil has been dispersed, removed

By William Branigin and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 4, 2010; 2:42 PM

A procedure to pump heavy mud into the blown-out BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has succeeded in plugging it, officials said Wednesday, and government scientists reported that most of the crude that gushed from it for three months has been recovered, burned, dispersed, evaporated, consumed by microbes or otherwise removed from the water.

But President Obama cautioned that much recovery work remains to be done, and other officials warned that the threat from the damaged Macondo well will not be eliminated until it is "killed" later this month with a relief well.

Moreover, federal officials said, the long-term effects of the oil spill, the worst in the nation's history, remain to be determined.

But in view of a series of early setbacks in efforts to control the blown-out well, BP's announcement early Wednesday that it had reached a "static condition" came as a huge relief. The term meant that pressure inside the well was brought under control through a mud-pumping process that began Tuesday afternoon.

BP called the achievement "a significant milestone" and said it stopped pumping mud into the Macondo well after about eight hours because the effort had been successful.

"The well is now being monitored, per the agreed procedure, to ensure it remains static," the company said in a statement. "Further pumping of mud may or may not be required depending on results observed during monitoring."

In a speech in Washington, Obama called the development "very welcome news" but pledged to continue recovery efforts.

He also welcomed the report released Wednesday by government scientists, saying it shows that "the vast majority of the spilled oil has been dispersed or removed from the water." He told a meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, "The long battle to stop the leak and contain the oil is finally close to coming to an end, and we are very pleased with that."

Obama added: "Our recovery efforts, though, will continue. We have to reverse the damage that's been done. We will continue to work to hold polluters accountable for the destruction they've caused. We've got to make sure that folks who were harmed are reimbursed, and we're going to stand by the people of the region for however long it takes until they're back on their feet."

As they huddled in BP's operations center, federal officials tried to manage expectations, saying that even if the operation known as "static kill" went as hoped, the well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico would not be finally plugged until it was intercepted and cemented by a relief well that crews have been drilling for three months.

"You want to make sure it's really dead, dead, dead. Don't want anything to rise out of the grave," Energy Secretary Steven Chu told The Washington Post late Tuesday afternoon.

The federal official in charge of the oil spill response, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, told a New Orleans television station Wednesday that pumping mud into the blown-out well took care of the immediate threat but that the "bottom kill" technique involving the 18,000-foot relief well would still go ahead.