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Aug 13, 2010 6:38 AM by Sharlee Barriere

Decision Expected on Plug for BP's Broken Oil Well

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Officials could know by early Friday if BP's
broken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has been sealed for good.
An analysis of tests on the well done Thursday was scheduled to
be completed within 24 hours, letting the federal government and BP
PLC know if work last month that was meant to be temporary had the
unexpected effect of permanently plugging the gusher.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's
point man on the oil spill, scheduled a news conference in
Schriever, La. for 12:45 p.m. CDT to give an update on the
operation.
On Thursday, Allen said it's possible that the long-discussed
final fix, known as a "bottom kill," won't be necessary. After a
temporary cap was placed on top of the well last month, heavy
drilling mud and cement were pumped in from above in what's called
a "static kill."
Some of the cement may have gone down into the reservoir, come
back up and plugged the space between the inner piping and the
outer casing - which is what engineers were hoping to do with the
bottom kill, Allen said.
"A bottom kill finishes this well. The question is whether it's
already been done with the static kill," he said.
However, he cautioned it's more likely that drilling will
continue on two relief wells, which have long been said to be the
only way to ensure the blown-out well doesn't leak again. That work
has been delayed because of bad weather and wouldn't resume for
about another four days, if testing shows it's needed.
Calling off the drilling may be justified by the testing, but it
would be a hard sell to a public that's heard for weeks that the
bottom kill is the only way to ensure the well is no longer a
danger to the region.
"That's been the mantra all along, that they wanted to do the
bottom kill," said Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane
Energy Institute.
But work on the bottom kill would be largely pointless if the
well is already sealed, he said.
"It doesn't make much sense to drill a hole into cement to pump
more cement into it. But it's a public relations nightmare to
explain that," Smith said.
On Thursday, officials tested pressure levels in the space
between the inner piping and outer casing. Rising pressure means
the bottom kill still needs to be done, Allen said. Steady pressure
may mean cement already has plugged that space.
However, Allen said tests won't show how much cement is in the
space, making the original plan for a bottom kill a better way to
ensure the well is permanently plugged.
"What we hope we'll find is an immediate rise in pressure," he
said. "It would be more problematic and quizzical if there were no
immediate change in pressure."
A decision not to proceed with the relief well would bring an
unexpected conclusion to the phase of the disaster that began on
April 20 with an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
The federal government estimates that 206 million gallons of oil
spilled into the Gulf, the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

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