Relief oil well drilling in Gulf of Mexico enters a new phase


BP engineers are expected to begin using “ranging” devices today to home in on the damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, as they near the end of the more routine aspects of relief well drilling, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Monday.

The introduction of the ranging equipment is a sign that BP is edging closer to its attempt at permanently sealing the blown-out Macondo well. The well has been leaking oil since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank April 20, killing 11 people.

The relief well is the ultimate solution for stopping the flow of oil from the well, officials have said.

BP is drilling two relief wells, a primary and a backup, in the Gulf of Mexico, with plans for the primary well to intersect with the Macondo well at about 18,000 feet beneath the water’s surface. The relief well will pump the damaged one with mud and cement to shut it. If it fails, the backup well would take over.

The relief wells were started at about a half-mile from the accident and are trying to meet the original well at a diagonal. The first well had been drilled to 15,936 feet as of Monday evening. The second was at 10,000 feet.

So far, drilling has been routine, proceeding in much the same way that drilling did on the original well.

But as BP prepares to try to meet well with well at thousands of feet below the sea floor, the operation changes a bit. Engineers will try to locate their target by sending out an electric current from the relief well that will make contact with the well casing in the damaged well, creating an electromagnetic field between the wells that signals information about direction and distance.

The closer the wells get to each other, the stronger the signal will become.

The process is slightly ahead of schedule, Allen said Monday, but he doesn’t expect the relief well to be completed until mid-August.

“They are slightly ahead of schedule,” Allen said. “But I’m not coming off the second week in August schedule because you know how things can go.”

Allen also responded Monday to two setbacks in efforts to contain oil leaking from the well site. Noting that two temporary shutdowns last week resulted in a reduction in the amount of oil collected in the Gulf of Mexico, Allen said he believes such lapses in operation will be preventable at the end of this month when several redundant systems are introduced.

“Every once in a while there’s a maintenance issue. They have to clean filters. They have to clean vents and things like that,” Allen said. “Because of that we are pressing them to create redundant systems so when there’s a problem like that we can keep producing.”

Oil collection activities aboard the Discoverer Enterprise were suspended for about 11 hours overnight Friday because of an equipment malfunction. Collection aboard the same vessel was shut down for about five hours June 15 after a lightning strike caused a small fire on the ship’s derrick.

About 14,570 barrels of oil were collected by the Discoverer Enterprise for refining Sunday, BP said. Another 8,720 barrels were captured by a ship called the Q4000 and burned on site.

The well is spewing an estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil each day.

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

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