Officials in gulf and BP resuming work on relief well


A rig that is drilling a relief well to plug BP’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico may be in position to resume operations early this week after crews worked Sunday to reconnect equipment following the threat of Tropical Storm Bonnie, said a top official overseeing the spill response.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen said that work in the gulf had been set back by about seven to nine days because of the storm and that the “static kill” procedure will now begin the first week of August.

The static kill involves pumping heavy drilling mud and concrete into the well from the top. The relief well will bore into the blown-out Macondo well about 2.5 miles beneath the seabed, Allen said.

“Generally, the next week will be preps, making sure everything is ready to go,” Allen said during a news media briefing.

On Saturday, Allen had said he thought work on the static kill could begin as soon as Tuesday, but he revised that estimate Sunday after meeting with BP officials.

Kent Wells, BP’s senior vice president of exploration and production, said in an update on the company’s Web site that the static kill might plug the leak on its own. As the company continues to drill the relief well, it will become clearer whether the static kill is enough, Wells said.

“Those two work in tandem,” he said in a taped statement.

Allen said tests of the well cap over the weekend showed it was holding up.

Ships running underwater robots that provide live feeds of the wellhead also remained in the area, showing visual proof that the cap was working.

As cleanup crews move back into the water this week, many will find themselves working in different locations, Allen said.

Aerial surveillance over the weekend showed oil was shifting from the south to the north, moving into Mississippi. “That migration of oil is problematic,” Allen said. “We are doing intensive surveillance by air to find the oil.”

Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft said later Sunday that the the oil dispersement had less to do with the storm than with time passing. He said he thinks the concentrations of oil have lessened.

Allen said the Coast Guard is also assessing the condition and location of oil-restraining booms that were left “unattended” as the storm passed by. Problems were spotted with booms near sensitive marshlands, and officials with the Coast Guard said they will meet with state officials in Louisiana and Alabama to discuss new strategies for using booms there.

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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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