As storm dies down, crews hurry back to work on gulf relief well


NEW ORLEANS– Crews hurried to get back to work on plugging BP’s leaky oil well Saturday after Tropical Storm Bonnie dissipated, and engineers hoped for a window of clear weather long enough to stop the gusher for good.

Worries about the storm delayed efforts to solidly seal the well by at least a week, said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man on the spill. Completion now looks possible by mid-August, unless a storm forces another evacuation, he said.

“We’re going to be playing a cat-and-mouse game for the remainder of the hurricane season,” he said.

The temporary cap on the broken wellhead contained most of the oil during the evacuation. The rig drilling the relief tunnel that is expected to permanently seal the broken well steamed back toward the site, 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, Saturday morning. It will probably be Monday before BP can resume drilling.

By Wednesday, workers should finish installing steel casing to fortify the relief shaft, Allen said, and by Friday, crews plan to start blasting in heavy mud and concrete through the mechanical cap, the first phase of a two-step process to seal the well for good. BP will then finish drilling the relief tunnel — which could take up to a week — to pump in more mud and concrete from nearly two miles under the seafloor.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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