BP Begins Pumping Mud to Kill Blown-out Oil Well

HOUSTON, Texas, August 3, 2010 (ENS) – BP started pumping drilling mud down into the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead this afternoon in what the company hopes will be a final attempt to kill the blown-out well located 40 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

Called a “static kill” operation, the aim of the procedure is to complement the upcoming relief well operation that will pump mud and cement in from beneath the wellhead that has spewed some 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico since the oil rig exploded April 20.

Development Driller III has been drilling the relief well that is expected to finally kill the blown-out well. (Photo courtesy BP)

The well has been capped since July 15, and no new oil has entered the gulf since then.

Since May, BP has been drilling two relief wells down to 18,000 feet below the sea floor and the first one has now reached the required depth to intercept the original well that blew out.

In sequence, BP must lay the casing line, make sure the relief well is reinforced, fill the inside of the well from the top with mud in the static kill procedure, and then drill into the annulus, which is the very outside the pipe in the well bore, and fill that with mud from the bottom up.

The first relief well, which started May 2, has set its final casing, BP officials said today.

Depending upon weather conditions, BP gave “mid-August” as the most likely date by which the first relief well will intercept the annulus, and kill and cement operations commenced. The second relief well, started two weeks after the first, is a backup required by the federal government in case the first relief well fails.

BP emphasized that “All operations are being carried out with the guidance and approval” of the National Incident Commander retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

Allen told reporters today, “The static kill will increase the probability that the relief well will work. But the whole thing will not be done until the relief well is completed.”

“It is a diagnostic test that will tell us a lot about the integrity of the casing. And the wellbore will tell us about the tolerance for volume and pressure,” Allen said. “But in the long run, drilling into the annulus and into the casing pipe from below, filling that with mud and then filling that with cement is the only solution to the end of this.”

“And there should be no ambiguity about that,” he emphasized. “I’m the National Incident Commander, and that’s the way this will end. It will be end with the relief wells being drilled, and the annulus and the casing being filled with mud and cement being poured.”

Over the past few days of pressure testing, there have been several leaks of oil from the equipment at the wellhead but Allen says they do not indicate a structural problem.

Still, he warns, the more quickly the well can be killed the better, even in the absence of “definitive information regarding any structural integrity issues.”

“We’ve got literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of apparatus sitting on that wellhead down there,” the admiral said today. “It’s been there for quite a long time. It’s been subjected to a lot of different pressures on it. And I think we all need to understand that the quicker we can get this done the quicker we would reduce risk of any type of internal failure that we’re not aware of right now that could be working and we just don’t know because we don’t know the condition of the inside of the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer.”

The blowout preventer is the complex stack of valves that failed to prevent the blowout on April 20.

With one eye always on the weather, Admiral Allen said, “I think the cause for action to get this thing solved in a hurricane season is cause for action enough to move fast.”

In his 11th trip to the Gulf Coast since the oil spill began, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar traveled to the BP Command Center in Houston to meet with BP officials, scientists and engineers and members of the federal science team, led by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, to receive an update on the progress of the static kill operation.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.