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Archive for Tuesday, July 6, 2010

BP crosses fingers on relief well

July 6, 2010

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— As engineers bore deeper into the seafloor toward the source of the oil still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, BP PLC is growing more confident that the relief well it expects to complete in August will succeed where all previous efforts to contain the gusher have failed.

But what if it doesn’t work?

At the very least, oil would continue to spill while workers try something else. That proposition would surely bring more misery for the people who live, work and play along the shores from Louisiana to Florida.

And consider this: Chief Executive Tony Hayward said in June that the reservoir of oil is believed to hold about 2.1 billion gallons of oil. If the problem was never fixed, it could mean another two years of oil spilling based on the current flow rate until the reservoir is drained.

BP says the first relief well is on target to be completed by early August. A second relief well, which could be completed a few weeks later, is viewed as a backup if the first one doesn’t work.

But efforts to contain other major oil spills haven’t always gone according to plan. The 1979 Ixtoc oil spill, the Gulf’s worst oil spill before it was eclipsed by BP’s disaster, wasn’t contained until three months after the first of two relief wells was completed. By then, 140 million gallons of oil had spilled in the 10 months it took Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, to stop the leak.

That’s why BP is developing “backups for the backups.” But the British company is sparse on details, and even the ideas it is floating can’t guarantee the blown-out well that has already pumped up to 160 million gallons of oil into the sea over 2 1/2 months won’t keep flowing into the fall — or perhaps even beyond.

“The relief well itself is not a slam dunk,” said Gene Beck, a petroleum engineering professor at Texas A&M University.

Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said other options include trying to reconfigure the existing containment cap to collect more of the spewing oil or tying it into another production platform on the surface. However, Wells has been mum on a game plan and he said no decisions have been made on the alternate platform idea.

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