BP Will Try to Kill the Broken Oil Well on Wednesday

ROBERT, Louisiana, May 24, 2010 (ENS) – BP is planning to pump mud and cement down the broken Deepwater Horizon oil well on Wednesday in an operation called a “top kill” to try and stop the flow of oil that has been gushing from the damaged well for more than a month.

If the effort is successful, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles told reporters today that the well could be shut down by Wednesday evening.

Most of the equipment is on site and preparations continue for this operation, said Suttles.

“This is a complex operation requiring sophisticated diagnostic work and precise execution. As a result, it involves significant uncertainties and it is not possible to assure its success,” BP said in a statement today.

The oil spill began April 20 when the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, leased by BP to drill a test well about 50 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, exploded and caught fire. The rig sank April 22 and is now on the seafloor 5,000 feet beneath the surface. The damaged wellhead has been spilling oil ever since at a rate varioiusly estimated from 5,000 to 100,000 barrels a day.

To resolve the uncertainty over how much oil has been flowing from the broken well head and to compute total outflow of oil, the federal government has formed a Flow Rate Technical Group, the Joint Incident Command announced today. Members of the flow rate technical group will be drawn from the U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Minerals Management Service, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Geological Survey and university scientists.

A mixture of oil and gas gushes from the broken wellhead. (Image courtesy BP)

Chaired by MMS National Outer Continental Shelf Oil Spill Program Coordinator David Moore, the Flow Rate Technical Group expects to have an initial flow assessment completed by early next week.

This will be achieved by obtaining a wide variety of data available on the reservoir, wellbore, blowout preventer, subsea flowing pressures, leak points, discharge plums and surface discharge observations, and others, as well as video review. That data will be used to identify and run state-of-the-art computer models to calculate flow rates and compare results.

Within the Flow Rate Technical Group are two teams. A modeling team will collect and analyze data, and run state-of-the-art models; and a peer review team will conduct an independent review of all reports and findings of the modeling team under a contract with an independent organization.

BP will continue to promptly provide all information necessary to make as accurate an assessment as possible of the rate of flow.

The issue of dispersants used to break up millions of barrels of oil that have been released into the gulf is proving to be a difficult one.

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP to select a less toxic dispersant from the EPA approved list and use that. But today Suttles told reporters that BP was unable to obey that order.

U.S. Air Force plane sprays oil dispersant over the Gulf of Mexico where streamers of oil can be seen. (Photo by Daniel Beltra courtesy Greenpeace)

“Many products are less toxic but not available,” said Suttles. “We’ve struggled to find an alternative.”

But today U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, who serves as the federal on-scene coordinator, said they consider BP’s scientific analysis of alternative dispersants insufficient.

“We are concerned that BP seemed, in their response, more interested in defending their initial decisions than analyzing possible better options,” Jackson and Landry said in a joint statement.

So, EPA and the Coast Guard are taking steps that could reduce the volume of dispersants applied in the Gulf.

EPA and other government scientists will independently verify the data presented by BP. “As a result of being dissatisfied with the response, and to ensure that we know as much as we can know about the current environmental impact,” said Jackson, “EPA will be performing independent scientific verification of the data BP presented. We will conduct our own tests to determine the least toxic, most effective dispersant available in the volumes necessary for a crisis of this magnitude. Our toxicity tests will address the claims and conclusions put forth by BP in their response to us late last week.”

In addition, NOAA’s Mussel Watch program has mobilized three teams of scientists to test shellfish, sediment and water at 60 locations along the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida Keys to Brazos River, Texas.

The mission of this Mussel Watch effort is to collect additional baseline data on contamination in strategic areas of the Gulf shoreline so that if the oil hits a particular area, new samples can be taken that would reveal the full impact of the spill.

These preliminary samples will be tested for 60 oil-related compounds, that will include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, known as PAHs. NOAA will use this data as part of the natural resources damage assessment that determines the type and amount of restoration that is required for the Gulf.

EPA scientists also have been tasked with conducting parallel, independent tests to determine if BP’s argument that Corexit remains the best alternative is accurate and supported by the science.

The area of fisheries closure is marked by the red line; the star indicates the location of the broken wellhead. (Map courtesy NOAA)

On Friday, NOAA closed about 20 percent of the gulf to fishing as a result of the spill.

Today, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke determined there has been a fishery disaster in the gulf of Mexico due to the economic impact on commercial and recreational fisheries from the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The declaration was made in response to requests from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour based on the loss of access to many commercial fisheries and the existing and anticipated environmental damage from this unprecedented event.

“We are taking this action today because of the potentially significant economic hardship this spill may cause fishermen and the businesses and communities that depend on those fisheries,” Locke said. “The disaster determination will help ensure that the Federal government is in a position to mobilize the full range of assistance that fishermen and fishing communities may need.”

The affected area includes the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Governor Bobby Jindal met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Coast Guard Admiral Mary Landry, BP’ Suttles, congressional leaders and local officials to emphasize the substantial oil impact on Louisiana’s coast.

“To date, just under 70 miles of our coast has been hit by oil. This is more than the sea shoreline of Maryland and Delaware combined,” Jindal said. “To be clear – we have only two options: we can stop the oil 15 to 20 miles off of our coast at sand booms or we can fight the battle of removing oil in our thousands of miles of fragmented wetlands that serve as a critical nursery for wildlife.”

Governor Jindal called the response effort “disjointed” and said that has meant too little too late to stop the oil from hitting the coast.

Governor Jindal said, “Over the past weeks, I have visited a different parish and city each day and met with local officials. We have often met to discuss resources we would need to protect the coast, and unfortunately, now our visits also include an on-the-ground assessment of the damage caused by this oil spill.”

“For anyone who has seen this damage and the impact of the oil first-hand,” said Governor Jindal, “you cannot escape the fact that this spill fundamentally threatens our way of life in Louisiana.”

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