'Bottom kill' performed, officials prepare to declare gulf well plugged
Saturday, September 18, 2010; 7:08 PM
Engineers were conducting tests Saturday on the cement injected into the bottom of BP's blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico, and an official declaration that the well has been permanently plugged was expected sometime Sunday, officials said.
The pronouncement will be an anticlimactic end to a catastophe that began five months ago - after all, the gusher was capped in July.
This, though, is an important milestone for the still-weary residents of the Gulf Coast: an assurance that not so much as a trickle of oil will ever again seep from the well. The disaster began April 20, when an explosion killed 11 workers, sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Though it had already been sealed from the top, engineers Friday used a relief well to pump cement into the bottom of the well, an operation known as the "bottom kill." Officials said Saturday that the cement had set. Once a pressure and weight test was finished, officials expected to confirm that the well is permanently plugged. That was expected to occur late Saturday, but an announcement may not come until Sunday.
Even aboard the Development Driller III - the ship that drilled the relief well and allowed crews to pump in the cement for the plug - celebrations were muted.
"It's kind of bittersweet because we lost 11 men out here," said Rich Robson, the offshore installation manager on the vessel. "There isn't going to be any real celebration. To a lot of people, the water out here is a cemetery."
Tim Speirs, BP's well site leader aboard the ship, said there would be no sirens, no lights flashing once the declaration came. Most of the crew would be asleep.
Until the test was finished, men in red work suits and mud-splattered hard hats were operating heavy hydraulic machines being used to lift the drill pipe back to the deck of the DDIII vessel. Two men sitting in black leather chairs used joysticks to maneuver the massive machines on the deck that were lifting the equipment from thousands of feet below.
The gulf well spewed 206 million gallons of oil until the gusher was first stopped in mid-July with a temporary cap. Mud and cement were later pushed down through the top of the well, allowing the cap to be removed. But officials will not declare it dead until it is killed from the bottom.