August 28, 2010

BP Blowout Preventer Salvage To Begin

Efforts are underway this weekend to salvage the blowout preventer at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico that failed to shut off the gushing oil as designed when an April 20 explosion sank the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, killing 11 workers.

US spill chief Thad Allen said Friday that efforts to remove pipes near the massive valve had failed so far. He said the go ahead was given to remove and replace the blowout preventer over the coming days.

Salvaging the blowout preventer could offer a key piece of evidence in the inquiry into the largest maritime oil spill in history. Allen said investigators from the Justice Department will be present to examine and preserve the blowout preventer as evidence.

Although BP has promised to pay billions of dollars in damages due to the spill, it remains unclear whether the oil firm, its drilling partner Transocean, oil service company Halliburton, or the blowout preventer manufacturer, Cameron, will face the greatest liability.

The removal process will be risky, said Allen, because the device still has pipes attached to it and was connected to the equipment that is capping the well on the sea floor, nearly a mile down.

He said crews will first apply a "gentle tug" of up to 80,000 pounds of pressure to see if the blowout preventer comes free. If that doesn't work, they will then try to cut some of the pipes attached to it to lift out the device.

Allen said crews would begin to install a new blowout preventer on Wednesday, weather permitting, and that plans to permanently seal the damaged well are on course for early September.

The "bottom kill" operation, which involves intercepting the well with a relief well and pumping heavy drilling oil and cement into the well to permanently seal it, was originally scheduled for mid-August, but has been postponed to start around September 7.

The ruptured well was capped on July 15 and then in August BP engineers performed a "static kill" which filled the well with heavy drilling fluid and cement. However, there is an area between the well and the outer well bore called the annulus which still needs to be sealed from the reservoir miles below the surface.


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