HOUSTON — As Tropical Depression Bonnie dissipated to a mere area of low pressure over the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, a drilling rig and about a dozen other ships working to repair the crippled Macondo oil well reversed course and began heading back to the well site.
Workmen scrambled on Friday to pack up their gear and to move out of the storm’s projected path, after BP and the Coast Guard had decided to suspend operations.
“We are going to continue to play a cat and mouse game,” retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, leader of the federal spill response, said at a briefing on Saturday. “Its just one of the things we have to manage.”
Admiral Allen said it would take 24 to 36 hours to get the drilling ship back at the well site, and then at least a week more before drilling can commence on the relief well, which has been scheduled to be completed by mid-August. While the relief well is considered to be the likely final plugging of the runaway well, the well has been capped for over a week.
Once the drilling rig returns and sets a section of steel casing into the wellbore of the relief well, BP has been given permission to start pumping heavy mud into the leaky oil reservoir with the hope of killing the well before the relief well is complete. That process could be completed sometime in early August, depending on weather.
Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told reporters that the weakening storm had produced modest waves of three to five feet over the area around the well.