Photo of the oil from the 2010 BP oil spill.
BP has stopped the oil flow but must build a relief well. CC by NASA Goddard Photo and Video/Flickr

A relief well being drilled to add a second seal to the broken BP well that caused the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico must be completed. BP had raised the idea that the static kill that stanched the oil leak in July may be an adequate permanent solution and the relief well could be used to pump oil. Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard Admiral President Obama appointed to lead the oil spill response, had also said the “bottom kill” from the relief well could be unnecessary. However he confirmed Friday that the bottom kill would proceed accordingly after pressure tests were conducted on the well.

Thad Allen: well not plugged until relief well is finished

Saying only that it will be put to use one way or another, BP refused to commit to pumping cement down the relief well for the bottom kill in recent days. The New York Times reports that tests were conducted by BP and government scientists to confirm the success of pumping heavy mud and cement — known as a static kill — into the Macondo well. The static kill fully sealed the well as evidenced by the tests. Thad Allen said that according to BP estimates, about 1,000 barrels of oil remains trapped in the well. Until the gusher is permanently plugged, the government said work on the relief well will continue.

No guarantees with static kill

BP engineers could confirm that cement plugged the well’s metal casing pipe during the static kill. However, it couldn’t be determined for certain whether the cement had reached the space separating the pipe from the well bore. The Los Angeles Times reports that the leak appears to be completely sealed by mud and cement poured through the top of the well, according to the tests. Because it’s uncertain that the static kill has closed all the possible paths for the leak, Allen said the relief well must be the final step.

Relief well close to objective

The first relief well commenced drilling in early May. The Associated Press reports that in a few months the drill has traveled about three miles from the surface and two miles under the ocean floor to come within just 30 to 50 feet of the Macondo well. The target is less than half the diameter of a dartboard, pursued by a drill about as wide as a grapefruit. When it is finally finished is not yet clear.

More on this topic

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Los Angeles Times:

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