Static kill plugged gusher, but BP ordered to finish relief well

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013 By

A black and white photo of an offshore oil drilling platform

Thad Allen ordered BP to proceed with the relief well, even though tests showed the static kill has plugged the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Think Stock photo.

A relief well to seal the ruptured Macondo well that resulted in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010 will be finished. BP, in hopes of using the relief well to eventually pump oil, had raised the idea that the static kill which stopped the flow of oil last month may be a permanent solution. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration’s director of the oil spill response, suggested earlier that the “bottom kill” from the relief well may not be necessary. After pressure tests on the well, he confirmed Friday that the bottom kill from the relief well would proceed as planned.

Thad Allen: relief well the only permanent solution

In recent days BP refused to commit to pumping cement down the relief well for the bottom kill, saying only that it will be put to use one way or another. The New York Times reports that BP and government scientists conducted the tests to determine the effectiveness of the static kill, in which heavy mud had been pumped into the Macondo well, followed by cement. The tests appear to show that the static kill fully sealed the well. Thad Allen said that some oil — perhaps 1,000 barrels, according to BP estimates — was still trapped in the well. The government said work on the relief well will continue.

Static kill: no guarantees

After completion of the static kill, BP engineers knew cement had plugged the well’s metal casing pipe. They didn’t know if cement had also plugged a space between the pipe and the well bore called the annulus. The Los Angeles Times reports that the tests indicate mud and cement poured into the top of the well and appear to have completely sealed the leak. Allen said the relief well needed to be the final step because it couldn’t be guaranteed that the static kill would close all the possible paths for oil to leak from the well.

Relief well homes in on tiny target

The federal government estimates that since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010 spewed 206 million gallons of oil, the worst offshore spill in U.S. history. The Associated Press reports that drilling of the first relief well began in early May. Since then, the drill has been guided some three miles from the surface and two miles beneath the sea floor to within 30 to 50 feet of the target. The drill is about as wide as a grapefruit, its target less than half the size of a dartboard. It’s yet unclear when it could be finished.

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