Aug 10, 2010 8:56 PM by Alison Haynes

Storms delay drilling for final BP well plug

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Approaching storms forced crews to suspend
drilling the final stretch of a relief well aimed at shooting a
permanent underground plug into BP's busted oil well in the Gulf of
Mexico, the government's point man for the disaster said Tuesday.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said the suspension could
mean a delay of two or three days in completing the relief well,
one of the last steps toward ending any threat from the well that
spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil over three months
before a temporary cap sealed it in mid-July.
Crews will pop in a temporary plug to keep what they've drilled
so far safe, but they won't send workers back to land. They have
about 30 to 50 feet left to drill. No oil has spilled since the
temporary cap was mounted on top of the broken well and closed in
The new well is meant to allow BP PLC to pump mud and cement
into the broken one from deep underground for a so-called bottom
kill, a permanent seal that would complement a mud and cement plug
injected into the top of the well last week.
Allen has insisted for days that BP go ahead with the bottom
kill, even though the top plug appeared to be holding. On Tuesday,
though, he said testing still needs to be done on the well before a
final decision is made.
"I'm not sure we know that ... I don't want to prejudge whether
we are going to do it or not going to do it. It will be
He later assigned a "very low probability" to the bottom kill
not being done, but then said: "We will let everybody know" if
that changes.
BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said it's "really a
possibility" that cement that engineers pumped in through the top
went down into the reservoir, came back up and plugged the annulus,
which is between the inner piping and the outer casing.
Allen also said officials were removing some boom that had been
put out to catch oil in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. He said
the boom will be put it in storage and be available for future use
if necessary.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said there was a
high chance that thunderstorms off southern Florida could
strengthen in the next two days into a tropical disturbance headed
over the Gulf.
Wells said the current storm track has it "broadly coming over
top our site."
The man in charge of the drill on the final approach to the
busted well is John Wright, who will guide the drill head about the
width of a grapefruit more than two miles beneath the seafloor and
try to hit a target less than half the size of a dartboard.
"There has always been some drama at the last moment that makes
you think you might miss. It comes down to a judgment call,"
Wright said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Wright has a perfect record of 40 wells capped without a miss
across the world in four decades of work. But he is still anxious
each time he nears the end.
Wright said he is feeling more pressure as the relief well nears
its target, but said the plugging of the blown-out well from the
top last week has lessened the need to finish quickly.
"Perhaps it is a bit like golf," Wright said. "The more you
practice the luckier you get."
With no more oil spewing, federal authorities announced that a
stretch of the Gulf off Florida's Panhandle was reopened for
commercial and recreational fishing, a big business for the region.
Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic
Atmospheric Administration, said Tuesday that more than 5,000
square miles from east of Pensacola to Cape San Blas and extending
south into the open Gulf was safe for fishing. No oil has been
observed in those waters since July 3, though testing will
The spill started with an April 20 explosion that sank the
BP-leased drilling rig Deepwater Horizon and killed 11 workers.
More than 300 lawsuits filed in the aftermath against BP and
other companies will be handled by a federal judge in New Orleans,
a judicial panel said Tuesday.
An order issued Tuesday by the U.S. Judicial Panel on
Multidistrict Litigation said 77 cases plus more than 200 potential
"tag-along" actions will be transferred to U.S. District Judge
Carl Barbier.
The judicial panel's order says the federal court based in New
Orleans is the best place for the litigation because southeast
Louisiana is the "geographic and psychological 'center of
gravity"' for the cases.


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