US Govt: Deepwater Horizon Salvage Work Could Start in September

HOUSTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Aug. 11, 2010

Preliminary work to salvage the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico could start in early September, the top federal official overseeing oil-spill recovery said Wednesday.

"I think sometime in early September in conjunction with the supervision of the Navy we will take an ROV [remotely operated vehicle] down there and start doing a comprehensive review," said Thad Allen, the top federal oil spill response official in a conference call. "Once we finish our response activities and we are able to put the equipment in place there will be a survey done at the rig."

The blowout preventer, the piece of equipment that failed to stop a natural gas surge that led to the explosion and sinking of the rig owned by Transocean and leased by BP in late April, won't be removed until the government has confirmed the well is permanently killed, Allen said. Once the equipment is brought to the surface it will be preserved by the Marine Board of Investigation which is probing the causes of the accident.

The blowout preventer is expected to be a key piece of evidence in the investigation to find out the cause of the accident that killed 11 workers and unleashed the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Allen said crews are still waiting for weather conditions to improve in order to continue finishing a relief well being drilled to intersect the broken Macondo well.

The threat of a tropical depression in the northern part of the Gulf prompted officials to delay the procedure for a few days. Tropical Storm warnings have been issued along the Gulf Coast from Florida across to Louisiana, including New Orleans, though the National Hurricane Center said this afternoon that the system was "disorganized" and could dissipate later Wednesday.

BP is expected to intersect the ruptured well sometime early next week with the nearly 18,000-foot-deep relief well. Engineers will then proceed with "bottom kill"--which to pump drilling mud and cement through the relief well to plug and finally seal the ruptured well.

No oil has leaked into the Gulf from the mile-deep Macondo well since it was capped on July 15. Even though the broken well was sealed with cement pumped down through the wellhead last week, the "bottom kill" is still viewed as the ultimate fix.

The weather is expected to improve Friday and pressure tests required to start the "bottom kill" could begin over the weekend, Allen said.

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