The runaway well at the origin of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history is no longer considered a menace by U.S. authorities, now that BP PLC has placed a new blowout preventer at its top and is moving forward with a procedure to bring about its final demise, the head of the federal response effort said Saturday.
“This well does not constitute a threat to the Gulf of Mexico at this point,” said retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen in a teleconference. An attempt to inject mud and cement from the bottom, which responders had insisted was necessary before the well was officially declared dead, is to be carried out next week, Adm. Allen said.
His comments mark a departure from what until now has been a cautious assessment of the last steps of the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which unleashed more than 4 million barrels of oil into the U.S. Gulf.
The flow from the 5,000-foot deep well, which began gushing crude after a blowout that killed 11 and destroyed a $600 million drilling rig on April 20, has been contained since mid-July, when BP installed a sealing cap.
The seal was further strengthened in early August by an operation known as the “top kill,” during which BP pumped mud and cement from the top, creating a cement plug thousands of feet long. But officials always insisted that to make sure the well is really dead, cement and mud needs to be injected into the gap between the well casing and the rock formation that surrounds it from a relief well thousands of feet deep.
The operation, known as the “bottom kill,” has been delayed several weeks by weather and other problems, but the path seems clear now that most of the technical hurdles appear to have been solved.
Responders’ optimism was stoked by the swift replacement of the damaged blowout preventer that failed to contain the April 20 explosion. Beginning Thursday, BP removed the sealing cap and the old blowout preventer, replacing it with a new one that will serve to protect the cement plug in case injecting liquids from the bottom creates pressure inside the well.