tagged w/ Louisiana Congressperson Charlie Melancon
Photo: Crews worked Saturday on the failed top kill effort to stanch the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. BP will try another strategy.
May 29, 2010
BP Prepares to Take New Tack on Leak After ‘Top Kill’ Fails
By LESLIE KAUFMAN and CLIFFORD KRAUSS
NEW ORLEANS — In another serious setback in the effort to stem the flow of oil gushing from a well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers said Saturday that the “top kill” technique had failed and, after consultation with government officials, they had decided to move on to another strategy.
Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said at a news conference that the engineers would try once again to solve the problem with a containment cap and that it could take four to seven days for the device to be in place.
“After three full days of attempting top kill, we now believe it is time to move on to the next of our options,” Mr. Suttles said.
The abandonment of the top kill technique, the most ambitious effort yet to plug the well, was the latest in a series of failures. First, BP failed in efforts to repair a blowout preventer with submarine robots. Then its initial efforts to cap the well with a containment dome failed when it became clogged with a frothy mix of frigid water and gas. Efforts to use a hose to gather escaping oil have managed to catch only a fraction of the spill.
BP has started work on two relief wells, but officials have said that they will not be completed until August — further contributing to what is already the worst oil spill in United States history.
The latest failure will undoubtedly put more pressure — both politically and from the public — on the Obama administration to take some sort of action, perhaps taking control of the repair effort completely from BP.
President Obama, who is spending the Memorial Day weekend in Chicago, issued a statement Saturday evening on the decision to abandon the top kill.
“While we initially received optimistic reports about the procedure, it is now clear that it has not worked,” Mr. Obama said.
He said that Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard had “directed BP to launch a new procedure whereby the riser pipe will be cut and a containment structure fitted over the leak.”
“This approach is not without risk and has never been attempted before at this depth,” Mr. Obama said. “That is why it was not activated until other methods had been exhausted.”
The president continued, “We will continue to pursue any and all responsible means of stopping this leak until the completion of the two relief wells currently being drilled.”
For BP, the besieged British company, the failure could mean billions of dollars of additional liabilities, as the spill potentially worsens in the weeks and months ahead.
“I am disappointed that this operation did not work,” Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP, said in a statement. “We remain committed to doing everything we can to make this situation right.”
A technician who has been working on the project to stem the oil leak said Saturday that neither the top kill nor the “junk shot” came close to succeeding because the pressure of oil and gas escaping from the well was simply too powerful to overcome. He added that engineers never had a complete enough understanding of the inner workings of drill pipe casing or blowout preventer mechanisms to make the efforts work.
“Simply too much of what we pumped in was escaping,” said the technician, who spoke on condition of remaining unnamed because he is not authorized to speak publicly for the company.
“The engineers are disappointed, and management is upset,” said the technician. “Nothing is good, nothing is good.”
The spill began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 people. Since then, it has dumped an estimated 18 million to 40 million gallons into the gulf.
After the announcement Saturday, the disappointment was palpable along the Louisiana shoreline, where the oil has increasingly washed up in sticky, rusty globs.
Michel Claudet, the president of Terrebonne Parish, 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, said that when he heard the news, he felt “sorrow, despair and like this ordeal will never finish. If you go around the parish, it is all our folks talk about.”
Mr. Claudet said that he was trying to remain hopeful, but that it was increasingly difficult. “As every item fails,” he said, “I am less and less optimistic.”
In New Orleans, Margaret Shockey, 67, a retired teacher, said, “One thing’s for sure, this is the last city that deserved this.”
Last week, BP described the top kill — which was an effort to pump heavy mud into the well to counter the flow of oil — as its best hope for stopping the spill. During the course of the operation, BP officials had often expressed optimism that it would work.
But on Saturday, Mr. Suttles said the operation had pumped 30,000 barrels of mud into the well and yet failed to stop it from flowing.
Admiral Landry called the failure “very disappointing.”
The new strategy is to smoothly cut the riser from which the oil is leaking and then place a cap over it. Pipes attached to the cap would take the oil to a storage boat on the surface.
Though a first effort at a containment dome failed, Mr. Suttles said BP had learned from that experience and now believed that this cap, which is custom fitted to the riser, would be more successful.
He said it would capture most but not all of the oil leaking from the well, which is believed to be gushing 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.
He would not give odds for the operation’s success, but said he had “a lot of confidence” that it would work.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Suttles said preparations for such an alternative plan were already under way, just in case. “That equipment is on stage and ready to go,” he said. Equipment is being deployed on land and on the seabed, he said.
If the new cap is not successful, the company has said it will look into attaching another blowout preventer to the one that already exists at the wellhead and has not functioned.
But officials emphasized that the real solution to the spill was the relief well. They said one of the relief wells was currently proceeding ahead of schedule, but was still at least a month away.
“It’s like a bad movie that just won’t end,” said Billy Altman, 45, a mechanic in New Orleans. “You know, you think they finally killed the bad guy, and then he comes back to life. It’s crazy.”
Clifford Krauss reported from Houston, and Leslie Kaufman from New Orleans. Robbie Brown contributed from New Orleans, and Sarah Wheaton from New York.Photo: Crews worked Saturday on the failed top kill effort to stanch the leaking oil... more
BP's "top kill" attempt to stop the flow of oil from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico failed, the company's chief operating officer said Saturday.
The oil giant has tried for days to stop the the largest oil spill in U.S. history by pumping heavy, mudlike drilling fluid into a ruptured oil well, a method known as "top kill."
The next option is to place a custom-built cap known as the "lower marine riser package" over the leak, the company's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles said. BP crews were working Saturday to ready the materials for that option should it become necessary, he said.
"We've been prepping that all along in case we need to move to that option," he said. "People want to know which technique is going to work, and I don't know."
And if "lower marine riser package" were to fail, he said, BP engineers would try placing a second blowout preventer on top of the first, which failed to cut of the oil flow after the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. The failed blowout preventer is a 48-foot-tall, 450-ton apparatus that sits atop the well 5,000 feet underwater.
Meanwhile, teams in Louisiana were working Saturday on a clean-up project aimed at protecting coastal marshes while BP continues its efforts to stop oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser has said that machines would suck oil out of marshes Saturday after crews determined where to deploy them.
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"We will begin to clean up some of those areas that fell by the wayside for the last couple weeks," he said.
Oil giant BP's focus has been trying to put a stop to what officials say is the largest oil spill in U.S. history, with as many as 19,000 barrels of crude gushing into the ocean daily.
By Sunday morning the company could know whether the "top kill" procedure -- pumping heavy drilling mud into the breached oil well at high pressure -- is working, said Robert Dudley, BP's managing director.
"It's like an arm-wrestling match of two equally strong forces," he said.
Government scientists on Thursday said as many as 19,000 barrels (798,000 gallons) of oil were spewing into the ocean every day, making this disaster perhaps twice the size of the Exxon Valdez incident.
Previously, BP officials and government scientists had said 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of crude were flowing out daily.
"This is clearly an environmental catastrophe," BP CEO Tony Hayward said Friday. "There's no two ways about it."
Under intense political pressure to take control of the situation, President Obama toured the region on Friday.
"We want to stop the leak, we want to contain and clean up the oil and we want to help the people in this region return to their lives and livelihoods as soon as possible," the president told reporters.
About 25 percent of the Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone has been put off limits, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and fishermen are worried the gushing oil will take a more serious toll than Hurricane Katrina did in 2005.
"Katrina was nothing but rain, water and wind. This is poison. It's gas," oysterman Arthur Etienne said.
Obama said Friday that federal officials were prepared to authorize moving forward with "a portion of" an idea proposed by local officials, who want the Army Corps of Engineers to build a "sand boom" offshore to keep the water from getting into the fragile marshlands.
That did not satisfy Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has advocated immediate construction of the booms. Noting in a written statement that 107 miles of the state's coast have been oiled, he said, "We continue to ask federal officials to approve our entire sand-boom plan from the northern Chandeleurs to the Isle Dernieres chain."
Obama said he has directed federal officials to triple the manpower in places where oil has hit shore or appears within a day of doing so.BP's "top kill" attempt to stop the flow of oil from a ruptured well in... more