BP announced Tuesday that work has begun to drill a relief well to intercept and isolate the oil well that is spilling oil in the US Gulf of Mexico. The GSF Development Driller II semisub is drilling this second relief well. Another semisub, Development Driller III, spudded the first relief well at 3 p.m. Central Daylight Time on Sunday.
The British supermajor plans for the new well in 5,000 feet of water -- to intercept the existing, leaking well at approximately 13,000 feet below the seabed and permanently seal it. The new drill site is located approximately one-half mile on the seabed from the leaking well in Mississippi Canyon block 252. According to BP, drilling should take approximately three months.
"This is another key step in our work to permanently stop the loss of oil from the well," said BP Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward in a written statement. "At the same time we are continuing with our efforts to stop the leak and control the oil at the seabed, to tackle the oil offshore, and to protect the shoreline through a massive effort together with government agencies and local communities."
Innovative Technique, Coffer Dam Progress
BP reported that it has also carried out a second approved trial injection of dispersants directly into the oil flow at a point close to the main leak on the seabed. The technique is intended to efficiently mix the oil and dispersant by breaking up and dispersing accumulations of oil, allowing it to degrade naturally and reduce surface impact. Companies spanning the oil industry suggested that BP employ this innovative technique after it approached them last week for additional ideas and expertise to control the well and tackle the spill.
According to BP, rapid progress also is being made in constructing a coffer dam, or containment canopy, to contain the release of crude oil from the well. A 14 x 24 x 40-foot steel canopy has already been fabricated. Other-sized canopies are under construction and being sourced. Once lowered over the leak site and connected by pipe, the canopy is designed to channel the flow of oil from the subsea to the surface where it could be processed and stored safely onboard a specialized vessel. Weather permitting, first installation of a canopy on site is expected to start in a little over a week, allowing the process of testing and commissioning to begin. Only once this is complete will the effectiveness of the system be demonstrated.
The company added that it continues to use up to eight remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) at the seabed to work on the blow-out preventer and subsea equipment. Although it is difficult to accurately estimate the rate at which oil is flowing from the well, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reckons that approximately 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of oil per day are escaping from the well.
Improving Weather Outlook, Stocked Staging Posts
On the surface, weather hampered surface operations over the weekend but is forecast to improve in coming days. BP currently has 230,000 gallons of dispersant available to deploy once the sea state is calm enough and a further 208,000 gallons on order. Offshore booms and specialist oil spill response vessels, skimmers and barges will return to operation in calmer seas, treating and collecting as much oil as possible before it reaches the coast.
The onshore activity is focused on six locations in the potentially affected states: Venice and Port Sulphur, Louisiana; Pascagoula and Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida. Staging posts are in place stocked with people and material to help protect the shoreline in each area. Work is continuing to install marine protection booms along the coast. Hundreds of thousands of feet of boom have been deployed and, to date, 2,000 volunteers have been trained to assist in the response effort.
Cautioning that it is difficult to accurately estimate the cost to the MC252 owners of the efforts to contain the spill and secure the well, BP stated that the current estimate exceeds $6 million per day. The company added the figure is rising as activity increases. Also, BP pointed out that it is too early to quantify other potential costs and liabilities associated with the incident.
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