New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP) Aug 2, 2010
BP said Monday it had delayed last-minute tests before its crucial well "kill" operation in the Gulf of Mexico due to a leak in the cap that is sealing the well.
The leak was not expected to significantly delay the planned Tuesday start of the "static kill" operation to plug the ruptured well once and for all with heavy drilling mud and then cement.
"During final preparations to commence with the injectivity test, a small hydraulic leak was discovered in the capping stack hydraulic control system. The injectivity test, previously announced to take place today, will be rescheduled until the leak is repaired," BP said in a statement.
"It is anticipated that the injectivity test and possibly the static kill will take place Tuesday."
BP hopes the static kill will permanently plug what has been confirmed as the worst ever accidental oil spill.
Plugging the leak would only be the first step towards ending an environmental disaster that has brought financial ruin to many in the US Gulf Coast's vital fishing, tourism and oil industries.
earlier related report
Heavy drilling fluids, known in the trade as "mud," are to be pumped down into the well on Tuesday morning to plug the giant gusher that has threatened the Gulf's oil, fishing and tourism industries with financial ruin.
Engineers were performing a dry-run of "injectivity tests" on Monday, but BP senior vice president Kent Wells said they were not anticipating any unforeseen problems that could derail the effort.
If the integrity of the well is intact, it should only be a matter of hours before it becomes evident that the "mud" is successfully holding down the oil.
But US spill chief Thad Allen cautioned that the operation could take several days if the casing of the pipe has a leak through to the outer well bore.
"A decision on whether or not to put cement in after the mud will be completely dependent on the assessment of the integrity of the casing and the well bore," said Allen.
If well integrity has been compromised and the decision is taken to wait for the relief well that could mean a delay of more than a week before cementing can start.
BP says the relief well won't intercept the stricken Macondo well until some time between August 11 and 15, assuming no additional weather or procedural delays.
The Macondo well has spewed noxious crude into the sea since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank in April, devastating fragile habitats and bringing misery to many residents along the US Gulf Coast.
Somewhere between three million to 5.3 million barrels leaked into the Gulf between April 22 and July 15, when a cap placed over the wellhead fully contained the flow of oil for the first time.
While locals are eager to see the well plugged for good, there are fears that a successful kill operation will prompt a mass exodus of officials brought into the region to respond to the crisis.
Crews have already begun collecting some of the millions of feet of protective boom after skimming vessels said they were having difficulty finding spilled crude on the sea surface anymore.
BP, which leased the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and sparking the spill, has sought to reassure residents it will remain engaged and work to restore the area.
"There's still a lot to do," BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles told reporters Sunday. "I know people are worried about that, will we pack up and go, and the answer is clearly 'No, we're not going to do that'."
Many fishermen whose grounds were closed in the wake of the spill due to food safety concerns have found work assisting the clean-up effort but face an uncertain future.
They could soon lose their jobs again as there is less oil to mop up and there are no guarantees they will be able to return to fish soon in Gulf waters that could be contaminated for months or even years to come.
Concerns about chemical dispersants sprayed into the Gulf to help the oil dissipate deepened on Saturday when the US Congress released documents suggesting their use could have been more widespread than feared.
"BP carpet-bombed the ocean with these chemicals, and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it," said Democratic Representative Edward Markey, chairman of the House energy and environment subcommittee.
BP and the US response team have said more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersants have been used to break up the oil, but Markey said studies show the amount could be far higher.
"The validity of those numbers are now in question," he said.
However, a study ordered by the US government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed Monday that dispersants mixed with crude are no more toxic to marine life than oil alone and that the type of dispersant used in the Gulf was no worse than the alternatives, as BP had maintained.
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Bated breath in Gulf ahead of oil well 'kill' operation
New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP) Aug 1, 2010
After months of uncertainty and frustration, crews were ramping up efforts to permanently seal the ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well, which officials said could begin as early as Monday. The operation is one of two bids to definitively "kill" the damaged well, which has spewed noxious crude into the sea since April, devastating fragile habitats and bringing financial ruin to many residents al ... read more
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