Final Kill of BP Oil Well Within Reach

WASHINGTON, DC, August 4, 2010 (ENS) – The “static kill” procedure begun yesterday to prepare for sealing BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico has been successful, according to the company and National Incident Commander retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

For the static kill, engineers pumped drilling mud from vessels on the surface down the well’s riser pipe and through the capping stack, a complex set of valves atop the wellhead that has kept oil from spilling into the gulf since it was put in place July 15.

Briefing reporters today in Washington, Admiral Allen said, “We now have equalized the pressure – the hydrostatic pressure of the seawater with the pressure inside the capping stack, and basically have reached a static condition in the well that allows us to have high confidence that there will be no oil leaking into the environment. And we have significantly improved our chances to finally kill the well with the relief wells when that does occur.”

President Barack Obama and Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolf, left, inspect a tar ball on Fourchon Beach in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, May 28, 2010. (Photo by Chuck Kennedy courtesy The White House)

President Barack Obama, whose approval ratings have taken a beating over his administration’s handling of the spill, called it “very welcome news.”

“We learned overnight that efforts to stop the well through what’s called a ‘static kill’ appear to be working – and that a report out today by our scientists show that the vast majority of the spilled oil has been dispersed or removed from the water. So 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,” President Obama told labor leaders in a speech at the Washington Convention Center.

“Our recovery efforts, though, will continue,” he said. “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 however long it takes until they’re back on their feet.”

Now engineers will decide whether or not to put cement down the well, a decision that Admiral Allen said depends on what conditions they believe exist inside the damaged drill pipe a mile below the surface.

The next step will be to finish off the relief well that will finally kill the troublesome leaking well.

Allen said, “We are about 100 feet away from where we would intersect the well and about four and a half feet horizontally away from it. “We would proceed forward in anywhere between 10- and 20-foot increments, drilling and then backing out and putting what we call a ranging tool in that will allow us to understand to exact detail through a measurement of the magnetic field of the casing how close we were coming. We will continue to do that.”

An underwater view of the capping stack on the wellhead taken by a camera on an remotely operated sub. (Photo courtesy BP)

“This job will not be complete until we finish the relief well and have pumped the mud in and cemented it from the bottom, or the bottom kill, if you will,” the admiral said.

Most of the oil from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed, according to a scientific report released today by the federal government.

An Oil Budget Calculator developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and the Department of the Interior enabled 25 government and independent scientists to provide measurements and best estimates of what happened to the spilled oil.

The report was produced by scientific experts from several federal agencies, with peer review of the calculations by both other federal and non-federal scientists.

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told reporters today, “We can account for all but about 26 percent. And of that, much of that is in the process of being degraded and cleaned up on the shore.”

“This analysis uses the recently released calculation of 4.9 million barrels, plus or minus 10 percent, and includes both direct measurements as well as the best estimates where direct measurements were not possible,” Lubchenco said.

The figure of 4.9 million barrels is the government’s Flow Rate Technical Group estimate from Monday. Of that, 800,000 barrels were collected by BP in ships for trasport to refineries on shore, leaving an estimated 4.1 barrels of oil that entered gulf waters.

Containment boom and sorbent boom block a patch of oil from reaching an island populated by pelicans and other birds in Barartaria Bay, Grand Isle, Louisiana. June 10, 2010. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The oil began spill into the gulf when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 crewmembers and damaging a wellhead nearly a mile beneath the surface of the gulf, about 40 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast.

The new report estimates that a third of the total amount of oil released in the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill was captured or mitigated by the Unified Command recovery operations, including burning, skimming, chemical dispersion and direct recovery from the wellhead.

An additional 25 percent of the total oil naturally evaporated or dissolved, and 16 percent was dispersed naturally into microscopic droplets.

The residual amount, about 26 percent, is either on or just below the surface as residue and weathered tarballs, has washed ashore or been collected from the shore, or is buried in sand and sediments, the report finds.

Dispersed and residual oil remain in the ecosystem until they degrade through natural processes.

Dr. Lubchenco said today, “At least 50 percent of the oil that was released is now completely gone from the system. And most of the remainder is degrading rapidly or is being removed from the beaches.”

About 37,000 tons of material have been removed from the beaches, Lubchenco said, and those cleanup efforts continue.

The federal report does not make conclusions about the long-term impacts of oil. Fully understanding the damages and impacts of the spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem will take time and continued monitoring and research.

Lubchenco said, “A large number of research vessels continue to be active in the gulf, and they’re underway to understand the concentrations of subsurface oil and the rate at which it is being biodegraded.”

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