BP 'Plugs Junk' into BOP in Latest Top Kill Stage

(Dow Jones Newswires), May 28, 2010

BP said Friday it had carried out a new procedure to plug its stricken well on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico in the latest phase of its complex operation to stanch what has been confirmed as the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The so-called "junk shot" procedure involves injecting material such as pieces of rope, shredded rubber tires and golf balls into the crippled blowout preventer, the huge stack of valves sitting on the ocean floor, to clog it up and stanch the flow. BP officials have likened it to "plugging up a toilet."

The junk shot is the latest stage of BP's top kill, the company's most ambitious effort yet to cap a well nearly a mile deep that has been spewing oil into the Gulf ever since the Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire and sank last month.

It came as President Barack Obama prepared to visit Louisiana for the second time since the crisis began, and with the White House under mounting pressure over its response to the spill. Federal officials said Thursday that the leak was gushing at a rate of between 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day -- much more than previous estimates. That would make the spill already much larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989.

Much is hanging on the top kill, which has never been attempted in waters of such depths. Although BP said it is ready to deploy other options if the top kill fails, there's a risk oil will continue to flow until a second well can be drilled to intercept the leak -- a process that could take another two months at least.

As part of the top kill, BP engineers have been pumping drilling fluid under pressure into the blowout preventer. The fluid is supposed to be heavy enough to counteract the pressure of the oil surging out of the well. If successful, cement would then be injected into the well to seal it.

BP Managing Director Bob Dudley Thursday compared the process to an "arm-wrestling match with two fairly equal-rated forces."

But BP officials said late Thursday that much of the injected kill mud was flowing out into the ocean instead of going down the well.

They said shooting debris, called bridging agent, into the blowout preventer would plug the gaps in the device and ensure more of the mud is diverted into the well.

BP said it suspended the pumping operation for much of Thursday to monitor the results of the first phase of the top kill, but resumed the procedure late Thursday night.

In a statement Friday morning, BP said the top kill could extend for another 24 to 48 hours. It said the cost of the response to the Gulf oil spill now stood at $930 million, including claims paid and federal costs.

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