BP has scheduled its so-called top kill procedure for Wednesday during the daytime and should know by Wednesday night if the strategy is successful in halting the leak at its runaway Macondo exploration well in the Gulf of Mexico, BP executive Doug Suttles said Monday.
"We should know by Wednesday evening," said Suttles, chief operating officer for BP Exploration & Production, during a press conference Monday to provide an update on the company's effort to kill the leak that has been threatening the Gulf Coast since the April 20 blowout at the well. Suttles said engineers would know when top kill works because "the well would stop flowing."
Top kill is the name for the procedure that would inject heavy drilling fluids into the choke and kill lines of the well's malfunctioning blowout preventer to clog the flow of crude that had been estimated around 5,000 b/d, a figure largely discredited. "It shouldn't actually make the leak worse," Suttles said when asked about the risk for attempting the top kill procedure.
He said the biggest risk is the possibility that the drilling mud would be forced from the wellhead into the water instead of forcing the flow of oil and natural gas back down into the wellbore. If that occurs, Suttles said the company could then deploy what it calls the "junk shot," using tire shards, golf balls and other odd-sized debris to force it back. "That is one of the options we would have available," Suttles said. "If we saw the right conditions and felt like that would be the right next step." He said BP decided to use top kill prior to the junk shot for fear that the junk shot might clog the lines and eliminate the top kill option altogether. "If that happened, we couldn't follow with top kill," Suttles said.
If the top kill fails to halt the Macondo flow, Suttles said the company would look next at what he called a "lower marine riser package," cutting the riser and placing a new containment device over the leak. He again stressed the unprecedented nature of all options at these water depths and said the company has to carefully consider the timeline for its maneuvers to ensure that failed attempts with some options do not block attempts with other options.
Suttles also said the company's riser insertion tube continues to divert oil from the leak at a rate of about 2,000 b/d. BP successfully inserted that tube a week ago and has been measuring the flow of oil siphoned to a vessel on the surface.
Suttles also defended the initial estimate of a 5,000 b/d flow from the well, citing the large amount of natural gas and stressing the number as an estimate with "wide uncertainty." "I am very confident that the rate coming out of this well is nowhere near the estimates seen on TV," Suttles said in reference to independent research that has speculated the flow could be as high as 120,000 b/d. Suttles also dismissed a suggestion that explosives might ultimately be used to collapse the well, calling it "not an option that we believe we would ever use" because "we couldn't control the damage."
Salazar's comments on BP draw reaction
Suttles, earlier in the day on CNN, fired back at the Obama administration for threatening to push the company out of the way and take control of the effort to cap the Macondo leak. He said the US government "very well could" assume total control of the leak-stopping effort "if they chose to do that."
But Suttles quickly questioned the wisdom of such a move, noting that BP controls the huge fleet of specialized surface vessels, remote-controlled submarines and other technologies that are needed to staunch the oil and gas.
"The technology that's out there is very specialized," Suttles said. "We're the biggest of the international companies. We have the biggest deepwater capability. We do more of this than anyone else. We got the best contractors in the world. We pulled in the best scientists from the government and from across our industry. So, I don't think anyone else could do better than we are."
Suttles' comments came a day after US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters that the Obama administration would "push [BP] out of the way," if the company is "not doing what they're supposed to be doing" with respect to the leaking well. Salazar made that remark in Houston after meeting privately with BP officials on the oil leak.
Salazar did not make it clear if he was talking about the US government taking control of BP's efforts to plug up the leaking well, or assuming control of the efforts to clean up the oil that is now washing ashore in Louisiana and other Gulf Coast States.
US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen on Monday also backed away from Salazar's statements.
"To push BP out of the way would raise the question of replacing them with what," Allen said in a White House news conference. "I've been involved with the technical decisions and (BP) is pressing ahead," trying every possible technical solution to address the leak. Allen said he sees no reason for the federal government to take over the spill relief efforts from BP, saying he is "satisfied with the coordination that's going on." But he and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denied suggestions that the federal government has not pressed BP hard enough on its spill response. Allen said BP has been following a "logical sequence" of techniques "based on risk" aimed at stopping the oil leak.
EPA not happy about dispersant choice
US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said Monday she is "not satisfied" with BP's decision to stick with its current dispersant rather than switch to a less toxic alternative, even as tests have shown no negative environmental impact from dispersant use.
Jackson said the EPA will do its own independent tests of Corexit, the dispersant BP has been using both on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and undersea. She has also ordered BP to continue searching for alternatives, even as the EPA starts conducting its own independent tests.
"Rather than take their word for it, I would rather have my own scientists do their own testing," Jackson said during a conference call with reporters. Jackson said the use of dispersants has been very effective, especially subsea. She said subsea use has dramatically cut the need to use dispersants on the surface and that total use of dispersants going forward could be cut by anywhere from 50% to 75%.
BP Group Chairman and Chief Executive Tony Hayward said Monday he felt "devastated" by environmental damage from the leaking Macondo well that he had just seen on the Louisiana Coast. "Absolutely gutted," Hayward told reporters in comments made at Fourchon Beach, where oil from the well had washed onshore.
Hayward's remarks were broadcast on television. "We are going to put the Gulf Coast right and back to normal as fast as we can," Hayward said. "We will clean every last drop of oil off the shore. We will remediate the environmental damage. And we will put the Gulf Coast right and back to normality as fast as we can." Hayward denied BP was limiting the resources it was using toward plugging the Macondo well and cleaning up the oil so far released.
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