BP Is Told to Finish Relief Well


HOUSTON—BP PLC must continue work on a relief well to permanently seal the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, the top federal official overseeing oil-spill recovery said Friday.

But the particulars on how to finish the effort still need to be ironed out, and federal officials concluded engineers should have more time to decide how best to proceed. “Everybody is in agreement we need to proceed with the relief well; the question is how to do that,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen.

Adm. Allen said he held meetings Friday with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and incoming BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley to discuss the best course of action. They agreed the task of addressing the blown-out well was very close to completion.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and causing the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Federal officials estimate about 4.9 million barrels of oil flowed from the well before it was successfully plugged.

BP ran a pressure test on the troubled well a mile deep in the Gulf Thursday to determine whether to proceed with a “bottom kill” plan, whereby drilling mud and cement will be pumped through a relief well into the ruptured well from below.

The tests confirmed the well was effectively sealed after cement was pumped through the wellhead last week, Mr. Allen said, though the strength of the seal was unclear. Scientists were trying to determine how best to resume relief-well drilling without damaging the cement seal, he added.

“We need to understand the implications of pumping mud and cement…to kill from the bottom, and the implications of potential damage,” Mr. Allen said.

BP and the government were considering several options to reduce the risks of the bottom-kill operation and to help preserve important pieces of evidence, Mr. Allen said. Several investigations are under way into the explosion and sinking of the rig, owned and operated by Transocean Ltd.

Mr. Allen was unable to specify when preparations for the bottom-kill would resume. BP had expected to intersect the ruptured well sometime early next week with the nearly 18,000-foot-deep relief well.

Also Friday, Transocean Ltd. said a Swiss commercial-registry office has denied its effort to proceed with the first of four portions of its planned $1 billion of dividend payments, citing legal exposure in the sinking of its Deepwater Horizon rig.

The Commercial Register of the canton of Zug, where Transocean is based, rejected the rig-operator’s registration because of numerous lawsuits involving the rig. The state of Alabama filed a federal civil suit against Transocean and BP Friday, alleging safety violations on the rig.

Transocean said it disagreed with the Swiss office’s view and believed it had completed all prerequisites for the dividend effort.The company was heavily criticized by some U.S. officials for announcing just weeks after the explosion that it would go forward with the dividend payout to shareholders. A spokesman said the company plans to appeal.

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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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