Storms delay completion of relief well to seal damaged BP oil well in gulf

With the Gulf oil well capped and little oil showing up along the shore, BP has started removing some of the oil-blocking boom from Mississippi. But some worry that it may be too soon.
By Harry R. Weber and Jeffrey Collins
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

NEW ORLEANS -- 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, the national incident commander for the oil spill, 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 protect what they've drilled so far, 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 the broken well and closed in mid-July.

The new well is meant to allow BP to pump mud and cement into the broken one from deep underground for a "bottom kill," a permanent seal to 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.

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.

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.

Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Tuesday that more than 5,000 square miles along the Florida Panhandle, from Pensacola east 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 continue.

More than 300 lawsuits filed against BP and other companies in the aftermath of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig 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 in New Orleans.

-- Associated Press

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