‘Static kill’ of breached Gulf oil well could begin within 48 hours


New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) — BP could begin an operation within 48 hours that may permanently seal its breached Gulf of Mexico oil well, if it can get a crucial casing in place soon, the government’s point man on the spill said Wednesday.

The tactic, called a “static kill,” involves pumping mud into the well to force oil back into the reservoir below.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who’s leading the federal response to the spill, told reporters time is of the essence because of severe weather looming in the Caribbean.

Officials from BP have said the “static kill” option could succeed where similar attempts have failed because pressure in the well is lower than expected.

Geologist Arthur Berman said on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday that the relative simplicity of a static kill makes it an attractive option for BP.

“I think the reason that they’re considering it is because they’ve yet to intercept the well bore,” Berman said. “They’re very close, a few feet away with the relief well, as everyone knows. But to actually intersect the 7-inch pipe does involve a bit of technology and accuracy, whereas if they do the static kill through the existing well bore at the top, there’s less uncertainty about their ability to actually get the mud into the pipe.”

BP said Wednesday the cap that was placed on the sunken well July 12 is still keeping the oil inside. No oil is leaking into the water as pressure slowly rises, it said, but critical tests on the capped well continued as scientists worked on the ultimate solution to end the oil disaster.Pressure testing on the well was extended for another 24 hours Tuesday, Allen said.

The tests on the new, tightly fitting containment cap began last Thursday and are designed to determine its effectiveness. Federal officials said Tuesday that one reported leak is coming from another old well a couple of miles away and is inconsequential.

Though the new cap has stopped the incessant flow of oil into the Gulf, government officials and BP have said that the cap on the well is only a temporary fix for the oil disaster, which was sparked when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank April 20.

BP officials are still working on the permanent fix: relief wells that are scheduled to be in place by the end of July.

“We’ve just got a little ways left to go, probably within 50, 60 feet of the bottom of the hole,” BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said Tuesday. “Once we reach the bottom, we’ll do what we call ‘circulate bottoms up’ to make sure the hole’s clean, and then we’ll start pulling out of the hole to run casing, and that will take place over Wednesday and Thursday, followed by cementing. And of course, that all assumes that we have no issues, no weather, whatever that could possibly disrupt that. But that’s sort of the plan.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was visiting Washington on Tuesday, said he “completely understands” the anger that “exists … across America” regarding the ruptured oil well.

“It is BP’s role to cap the leak” and compensate people affected by it, he said during a visit with President Obama. Cameron said he is in regular touch with the leadership of BP, a British-based company.

Two House subcommittees held a joint hearing Tuesday to investigate the role of the Interior Department in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Legislators are trying to figure out who’s responsible for the crisis and how better government regulation of energy producers might help avert such disasters in the future.

A report in London, England, pointed the finger at Tony Hayward, BP’s beleaguered chief executive.

Hayward is preparing to step down from his position within the next 10 weeks, the Times of London reported Tuesday, citing sources close to the company.

Hayward and his management choices have drawn a barrage of criticism since the accident. Its share price hammered, BP is fighting to ensure that it has the resources to pay the billions it now faces in fines, cleanup expenses and compensation claims from local workers and businesses.

There is a “growing expectation” that Hayward will announce his departure in late August or September, the Times reported. “You would be hard-pushed to find anyone within the company who does not think he is irreparably damaged — both by his own performance and by the event itself,” the newspaper quoted one company insider as saying.

BP strongly denied the Times’ report.

“There is no truth in this article,” Daren Beaudo, a BP spokesman based in Houston, Texas, told CNN. “Mr. Hayward is not leaving.”

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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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