By Tom Breen
Saturday, August 14, 2010; A02
NEW ORLEANS -- BP's broken oil well is not dead yet.
The government's point man on the crisis said Friday that the drilling of the relief well -- long regarded as the only way to ensure that the hole at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico never leaks oil again -- must go forward.
"The relief well will be finished," said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen. "We will kill the well."
Last week, BP plugged the ruptured oil well from the top with mud and concrete. Work on the relief well, which is designed to conduct a "bottom kill" of more mud and concrete, was suspended this week because of bad weather. Allen did not say when it would resume, but when the order comes, it could take four days to get things running again.
The well spilled an estimated 206 million gallons (nearly 5 million barrels) of crude into the sea before BP put a cap on it July 15. But that was always regarded as a temporary fix until the relief well and bottom kill could be finished.
Bob Bea, a petroleum engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said that given the results of recent pressure tests, proceeding with the relief well makes sense.
"Everything we know at this time says we need to continue the work with the relief wells," he said. "We don't know the details of how they plugged the well from the top. We don't know the volume of material they put in the well bore, and without that we can't tell how close to the bottom of the well they got."
Drilling of the relief well began in early May, and the tunnel is now just 30 to 50 feet from the blown-out well. To intercept the well, the drillers must hit a target about the size of a dinner plate. Once they punch through, heavy drilling mud and concrete will be injected into the bedrock.
Allen said scientists from BP and the government are working to ensure that the bottom kill does not damage the cap and make the disaster worse. New equipment to ease the pressure inside the well might have to be installed, which would "significantly affect the timeline" for the final fix, Allen said, though he did not specify how much.
The crisis began on April 20, after an explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers.
-- Associated Press