Science, engineering teams assessing BP well


(CNN) — The anticipated bottom kill on the once-gushing Gulf of Mexico oil well may not have to be done, BP said Friday. But the company said that is a low probability.

Scientists and BP engineers were looking at pressure tests conducted Thursday and were to announce their decision Friday.

The relief well that would be used for the bottom kill is likely to be completed in any case, BP told CNN Friday. But cement and other materials forced into the well during the “static kill” procedure could have gotten into a core area of the well, making the bottom kill unnecessary, it said.

The pressure tests and further investigation — through continuation of drilling the relief well — should tell scientists and engineers for sure, BP said.

As they await answers about the condition of the well, businesses in the Gulf Coast are hoping high-profile visitors will help boost local economies.

President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, plan to travel to the region this weekend to support businesses that have been devastated by the oil disaster. One of their daughters, Sasha, will join them for the trip. The other daughter, Malia, is at a camp and will not make the trip, a senior administration official said.

The family will leave Saturday morning for Panama City Beach, Florida.

“Even as the president talks about what our next steps are in our response, obviously part of this will be highlighting the tremendous economic toll that has taken place,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters earlier this week.

Visitors spent more than $34 billion in 2008 in congressional districts along the Gulf Coast, sustaining 400,000 jobs.

The effects of the oil spill on the region’s travel industry could last up to three years and cost up to $22.7 billion, according to an analysis conducted last month by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association.

In preparing the research, Oxford Economics looked at current spending, government models predicting oil flow and the effect of 25 past crises on tourism to develop a model to gauge the Gulf disaster’s impact.

Case studies of past disasters — including the SARS respiratory disease outbreak, Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami — show that tourism often is affected beyond the disaster area and long after the resolution of the crisis.

To mitigate the effects of the disaster, changing perceptions is key.

“The president will meet with those folks and have a chance to update, I think, the region on where we are,” Gibbs said. “And I think it will be important for the president to talk about what are the next steps in bringing the region back.”

Meanwhile, work is expected to resume Friday on the drilling of a relief well that is intended to give engineers a better look at the core of the well. Pressure tests will help them make a recommendation to former Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government point man on the disaster, on whether a bottom kill is necessary to permanently seal the ruptured deepwater oil well.

The well erupted after an April 20 explosion aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that left 11 dead. A temporary cap contained the spill on July 15, and nearly 3,000 barrels of heavy drilling mud and cement drove the oil back under the ocean floor last week in the static kill process.

The well gushed an estimated 53,000 barrels (nearly 2.3 million gallons) of oil per day before it was capped.

Since then, fresh, green grass has started growing again in some of the hardest-hit marshes of southern Louisiana, but oil continues to wash ashore in some places.

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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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