New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP) Aug 3, 2010
BP began operations Tuesday to permanently plug the runaway well that has brought environmental and economic ruin to the Gulf of Mexico and spilled more oil into the sea than ever before.
Engineers launched their long-awaited static kill at 2000 GMT, ramming heavy fluids into the blown-out Macondo well to force the crude back down into a reservoir almost 3.5 miles (5.7 kilometers) beneath the surface of the sea.
Having conducted "text-book" tests that showed the oil could be subdued, BP was optimistic of success, although senior vice president Kent Wells said it was too early to know if the process would take hours or days.
Once the heavy drilling fluid, known as mud, is holding down the oil, the aim is to pour in a cement plug that will permanently seal off the reservoir.
Any leaks in the steel casing of the well would complicate matters as it would mean the area between the pipe and the outer well bore, known as the annulus, would also have to be filled up with mud.
The best case scenario could see the well put permanently out of action by Wednesday, although a "bottom kill" will be performed through a relief well in mid-August to cement in the outer well bore and make sure of success.
If the well casing has leaks, a decision could be taken to hold off on the cement job until the relief well is ready.
"Based on how everything goes that's when we'll make the decision on what is the best way for us to continue to kill and cement this well," said Wells.
"We're so early in the process there's no way for me to give you any early indication. The only thing I would say is the injectivity test went well and so that gives us the encouragement."
The extent of the spill was confirmed on Monday as US government experts announced the rate the oil had been pouring out was 62,000 barrels a day -- more than 12 times faster than BP originally admitted.
This was higher than any previous official estimate and meant 4.9 million barrels of crude -- more than 205 million gallons -- had spewed into the Gulf in the 87 days it took to cap it, making it the biggest maritime spill ever.
If BP is found guilty of negligence, the flow rate means it could face up to 17.6 billion dollars in fines. The firm has also set up a 20 billion dollar fund to pay claims from individuals and businesses hit by the disaster.
Shutting the well will bring some relief to coastal residents who have faced uncertainty and frustration in equal measure since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in April and sank to the bottom of the Gulf.
The full extent of the economic costs and environmental harm will not be clearly known for some time and a study Tuesday showed the impact is already beginning to tell.
Of 1,200 coastal Gulf coast residents surveyed by researchers at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at Columbia University last month, 40 percent said they had been directly exposed to the spill, a third said it had affected their kids, and 20 percent said it had hit their wallets.
Parents reported that their children had developed mental, behavioral or physical problems -- everything from respiratory problems and rashes to feelings of sadness or nervousness, difficulty socializing with other children, or trouble getting to sleep.
One in five residents told the Columbia researchers that their household income had fallen, with poor residents -- those who earned less than 25,000 dollars a year -- feeling the pinch more than the better-off.
While there is hope that Louisiana's marshes and fragile wetlands may recover relatively quickly, this is a spill of unprecedented size and no one knows the real impact on the Gulf food chain.
Fishermen don't know when they will be able to fish again, if the fish will still be there, or if they will be safe to eat. They are also likely to lose BP clean-up jobs in the coming weeks as the surface oil is all mopped up.
Oil workers face lay-offs due to President Barack Obama's moratorium on new deep sea drilling permits, and tourists are likely to give the coastal region a miss for several years to come.
BP, which replaced its under fire British chief executive Tony Hayward last week with American Bob Dudley, also faces a rocky road to recovery and has already agreed to sell off key assets.
The company last week posted a quarterly loss of 16.9 billion dollars and set aside 32.2 billion dollars to pay spill costs.
earlier related report
BP is preparing to carry out two operations to seal its runaway well, heading off an environmental and economic nightmare that has haunted Gulf residents for more than three months.
The opening gambit, expected to begin Tuesday, is the static kill:
THE STATIC KILL
- Similar to the "top kill" that failed in late May, heavy drilling fluid known as "mud" is pumped slowly and methodically down into the well from a surface vessel through the cap that has been sealing it since July 15
- BP's chances of success are greater now because the cap has stanched the flow and mud can be pumped down at much lower pressure and a slower rate
- It is called a "static kill" rather than a "top kill" because there is no flow of oil up the well
- Since oil is comparatively light, the density of the mud allows the creation of pressure at the bottom of the well great enough to stop the flow of oil from the reservoir deep beneath the seabed
- It could take anything from a few hours to several days to jam enough mud into the well to keep down the oil, depending on whether there are any leaks in the well
- If there are no leaks or they are insignificant, BP will begin pouring concrete into the well which sinks to the bottom, sets and acts as a permanent plug
- In all an estimated 200,000 gallons of mud and cement could be jammed into the well through two pipes on the sealing cap
- If the well is not secure, officials are expected to opt not to cement from the top and proceed straight to the "bottom kill"
THE BOTTOM KILL
- For almost three months, while BP has been trying out all sorts of exotic sounding contraptions -- the giant dome, the top hat, the junk shot -- a rig, the Deepwater Enterprise III rig, has steadily been drilling a relief well to intercept the Macondo well deep beneath the seabed
- Now only 100 feet vertically and four feet laterally from the stricken well, engineers still have to hit a tiny area more than two miles beneath the seabed, which is already at a depth of 1,500 meters (5,000 feet)
- The final casing was laid in the relief well before the static kill to protect it, and BP now says it is in a position to punch through to the Macondo well between August 11 and August 15
- There is also space between this pipe casing and the wall of the well bore called the annulus
- The first thing BP will do in the bottom kill is fill up the annulus with concrete
- If the static kill cementing was carried out they will then check on its success by punching through the steel casing
- If they find concrete then the static kill worked, if not then they will pour in more to finish the job. If the well was leaking too much to cement from the top, they will insert concrete into the pipe and seal it over the reservoir
- Even if the cementing inside the pipe has already been done during the static kill, the bottom kill will still be carried out as the static kill is unable to plug the annulus
- If the static kill fails to even stanch the flow of oil, drilling mud can also be pumped in from the bottom to exert the hydrostatic pressure and suppress the flow of oil
- If drillers fail to intercept the Macondo well with the first relief well, a second one is also weeks away from completion for a possible second attempt
- The bottom kill is expected to take anywhere from from a number of days to a few weeks
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BP asset sales in Colombia -- Europe next?
London (UPI) Aug 3, 2010
British oil giant BP Tuesday said it would sell its Colombian business to raise cash for the Gulf of Mexico cleanup, as speculation was soaring across Europe what the company may divert next. BP said Tuesday that a Colombian and a Canadian company had agreed to buy BP's Colombian business for $1.9 billion - the first step of a larger attempt to raise $30 billion over the next 18 months ... read more
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