Tropical depression halts drilling at Gulf well

By JEFFREY COLLINS and HARRY R. WEBER Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS–Crews that are drilling the final feet of a relief well intended to permanently plug the damaged BP oil well deep below the Gulf of Mexico will have to wait two to three days as a tropical depression bears down on the site.

BP and Coast Guard officials had already decided to stop drilling earlier Tuesday, before forecasters at the National Hurricane Center named the storm a depression. A tropical storm warning was issued for much of the Gulf of Mexico coast affected by the oil spill.

The center of the storm was located off Florida, more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River on Wednesday. The depression had been expected to strengthen and become Tropical Storm Danielle, but weakened slightly Wednesday morning.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man on the spill, said the last steps will have to wait for ending any threat from the well that spewed more than 200 million gallons (757 million liters) of oil over three months before a temporary cap sealed it in mid-July.

Crews will pop in a temporary plug to safeguard what they’ve drilled so far, but they won’t send workers back to land. They have about 30 feet to 50 feet (9 meters to 15 meters) left to drill.

The relief well is meant to allow BP PLC to pump mud and cement into the broken one from deep underground for a so-called bottom kill, a permanent seal that would complement a 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.

“I’m not sure we know that … I don’t want to prejudge whether we are going to do it or not going to do it. It will be conditions-based.”

He later assigned a “very low probability” to the bottom kill not being done, but then said: “We will let everybody know” if that changes.

BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said it’s “really a possibility” that cement 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.

Allen also said officials were removing some boom that had been put out to catch oil in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. He said the boom will be put it in storage and available for future use if necessary.

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.

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