Theodore, Ala. BP and the federal government are offering a ray of hope in a summer of setbacks for crews trying to stop the gulf oil spill: The first of two relief wells could be done by the end of this month, weeks ahead of schedule.
But officials are quick to say that meeting such an optimistic timetable would require ideal conditions every step of the way, something that has rarely happened since the gusher began more than 2 1/2 months ago a mile below the water’s surface.
It would not be the first time that BP’s efforts to stop the leak have fallen short. So is BP setting itself up for failure again?
“BP’s credibility is basically shot,” said Jefferson Parish Council Chairman John Young. “I hope they plug it as soon as they can, but I’m not holding my breath. They’re unreliable and they haven’t been transparent or open.”
Several times in the past week, BP Managing Director Robert Dudley has said drilling for a relief well is making fast progress and could be done before August.
But he’s quickly made a caveat: Everything would have to go flawlessly, something he considers unlikely especially during hurricane season.
“In a perfect world with no interruptions, it’s possible to be ready to stop the well between July 20 and July 27,” Dudley told The Wall Street Journal. He made similar remarks to the Houston Chronicle in a story published July 2.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration’s point man on the crisis, has confirmed that the operation is ahead of schedule, but he won’t budge from the expected August completion date.
“There are certain things that can move that date up, but my official position is the middle of August,” Allen said Thursday.
BP originally thought the work would be done even earlier. In a permit filed in April with the U.S. Minerals and Management Service, the company predicted the relief well would be finished by July 15.
The relief well is currently the best hope for stopping the leak. Allen said Thursday it is expected to intercept and penetrate the pipe from the Deepwater Horizon rig about 18,000 feet below sea level in seven to 10 days.
The drilling crew is attempting to hit a target the size of a dinner plate at a depth where water pressure is great enough to crush a submarine.
But crews will not know how long it will take to stop the oil until they get there. Because the gushing well essentially is composed of pipes within pipes, oil could be coming up through multiple layers, Allen said.
The plan is to inject heavy mud and cement into each layer of the pipe, if needed, to overcome the pressure of the huge oil reservoir below.
Meanwhile Thursday, the Obama administration asked BP to describe its plans to speed up the connection of a new containment vessel and cap at the well site to collect more of the spewing crude. A short window of good weather is expected over the weekend to get it done.