BP to Replace BOP on Ruptured Gulf Well

HOUSTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Aug. 19, 2010

BP will attempt to replace a damaged blow-out preventer before it permanently kills its ruptured deepwater Gulf of Mexico well, the leader of the federal oil spill response effort said Thursday.

The attempt to fish the device out of 5,000 feet of water, and replace it with a stronger equivalent, is likely to push back BP's attempt to inject cement from the bottom of the well to the week of Sept. 6, after Labor Day, Ret. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said. The operation, known as "bottom kill," originally was expected to take place mid-August, and according to U.S. authorities, it would mark the official end of the Deepwater Horizon spill saga. Clean-up operations and environmental studies are likely to continue for months, however.

The delay, Allen said in a conference call with reporters, is the result of a "couple of weather delays," and the unprecedented nature of the relief effort. "Each time we take another step, we learn more about the condition of the well," he said. The decision to replace the blow-out preventer, taken Wednesday night, according to Allen, comes amid concerns that flooding the well's annulus--as the area between the well and the surrounding rock formation is known--with liquid could compromise the cement plug that BP placed on top of the well in early August. The well stopped leaking oil in mid-July, when BP placed a sealing cap on top of it; the cap would also be removed to allow the new blow-out preventer to be installed.

The replacement of the blow-out preventer is subject to several conditions, however. First, BP must determine that no oil or gas will leak out if it removes the cap. To that end, it depressurized the cap to allow seawater to flood in, simulating natural conditions. The test will last 48 hours, Allen said.

After that procedure concludes, BP must conduct a "fishing experiment" to remove the drill pipe that goes into the well, which if left in place could hamper the installation of a new blow-out preventer, which is already on the way to the well site aboard a Transocean Ltd. (RIG) drillship.

BP must also submit a plan to fish the blow-out preventer out of the water, as well as a timeline for its replacement. The procedure should preserve the "forensic and evidentiary value" of the blow-out preventer, which will be needed for investigators to establish the cause of the explosion on April 20 that killed 11 people and unleashed the worst offshore accidental oil spill in history.

If all the efforts are successful, the completion of a relief well through which drilling fluid and cement would be injected into the damaged well could then take place, Allen said. The relief well is currently 50 feet above the point where it is expected to intersect the damaged well's annulus, Allen said.

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