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Gulf cleanup priority shifts to corralling the boom

BP, the government and an army of volunteers are fighting to contain and clean the millions of gallons of oil spewing from the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 7, 2010

The successful "static kill" of the Macondo well, combined with the almost total disappearance of skimmable oil at the water's surface, has dramatically changed the nature of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis. Fishermen originally enlisted to skim oil are now rushing to retrieve millions of feet of hard boom and absorbent boom that were deployed when the gusher was unabated.

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The plastic boom could turn into an environmental hazard in the event of a tropical storm. Already, some hard boom has been carried into marshland.

"This same boom now becomes a risk and a hazard because it can create damage in the marshes, it can wash up on the roads, it can wrap around the docks," BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles told reporters Friday.

The bulletins from Houston, where BP has been supervising the killing of the well, were all positive. The midweek mud shot was followed by cement Thursday, and by Friday the cement (the oil industry says it is not "concrete" because no sand, rocks or other aggregate are in the mix) had hardened in 5,000 feet of Macondo's well bore. Pressure tests looked good.

The next major event in the grueling termination of the well should happen by this coming Friday or thereabouts, when a drill sent down a relief well should intercept Macondo near its base. The plan is to fire additional cement in the outer ring, or annulus, of the well, which should ensure that Macondo won't spring back to life.

That would probably be the final step in the well-killing process. The "static kill" sent mud and cement down the central casing, and thus there appears to be no need, after the annulus is intercepted and plugged, to make a final stab into the central 7-inch pipe at the base of the well, said retired Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, on Friday.

BP plans to remove the dysfunctional blowout preventer atop the well and take it to the surface for forensic investigation. It would have to be replaced by another blowout preventer prior to a formal "plug and abandonment" procedure on the well, BP senior vice president Kent Wells said.

Asked whether BP had plans to drill the Macondo reservoir again, Suttles said, "We haven't even thought about what we'd do with this reservoir and this field someday. . . . Clearly there's lots of oil and gas here, and we'll have to think about what to do with that at some point."

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