Relief well close to Gulf oil spill source


(CNN) — One of two relief wells being drilled in an attempt to kill BP’s runaway oil well below the Gulf of Mexico is within 20 feet horizontally of it, a company executive said Monday.

The relief well has reached a depth of 16,770 feet, but engineers plan to drill another 900 feet vertically before cutting in sideways, said Kent Wells, BP senior vice president of exploration and production.

“In the last 200 feet, we will angle the well in directly towards it,” he said, adding that the drilling, which began May 2, is expected to reach the belching Macondo well in early August.

“While we feel very good about the progress we’ve made thus far, we’ve said from day one, roughly 90 days,” he told reporters in a conference call. “We continue to think that.”

BP has 44,000 barrels of mud ready to inject into the Macondo in an attempt to end what President Barack Obama has called the nation’s worst environmental disaster.

Wells noted that John Wright — whom he called a world expert — is in charge of the drilling effort and has been successful in all 40 of his previous efforts to intercept leaking wells.

Asked how many of the 40 wells had been killed, Wells said he did not know. “I don’t have the numbers,” he said.

But, he added, the chances of killing the well are higher when the interception point is at the bottom of the well.

“We can’t guarantee anything, but I think the technology is there,” he said. “We’ve got the best experienced people around, and we’re set up to be successful here.”

Meanwhile, efforts continue to increase the containment of leaking oil. The next step is to bring in a third rig called the Helix Producer at the well, which would increase the containment by another 20,000 to 25,000 barrels per day, Wells said.

“Basically, we’ve got about three days of additional work to do,” he said. But the work requires a calm sea surface. And — though Hurricane Alex is expected to steer clear of the mile-deep hemorrhage — it is still expected to create waves as high as 12 feet in the area of the leak, he said. “That will restrict our ability to do these operations” for as much as a week, he said.

Still, any choppy seas would not affect the current containment efforts, he added.

“The sea states that we’ll see will not impact our ability to continue on with the subsea containment we have now, nor impact drilling of the subsea relief well,” he said.

As of midnight Sunday, 438,000 barrels of oil and gas had been collected from the Macondo well, he said. That’s a rate of about 1,000 barrels per hour, he said.

Researchers have estimated that between 35,000 barrels (about 1.5 million gallons) and 60,000 barrels (about 2.5 million gallons) of oil are gushing into the ocean every day.

The damage emanating from 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana was visible Sunday in Mississippi, where officials reported oily tar balls washing up on their mainland shores for the first time.

“It has hit our shores,” said Pascagoula, Mississippi, Mayor Robbie Maxwell. “The good news is that for the last five or six weeks, we’ve been preparing to attack it when it hit our shores, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

Mississippi officials said that, while tar balls and “mousse patties” had washed ashore in at least four locations, the areas affected were small and no beaches were closed.

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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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