Oil spill containment efforts continue, 'top kill' still slated

By Phaedra Friend Troy

BP continues to prepare to deploy its next oil spill containment measure in an effort to stop the flow of oil from the deepwater Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. 

For comprehensive coverage of the Deepwater Horizon incident, oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and efforts under way to resolve them, visit PennEnergy's Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico special section.

The “top kill” effort involves injecting the blowout preventer (BOP) with heavy drilling fluids to slow the flow of oil. Then, the well would be cemented to permanently seal the well and stop the flow of oil.

According to media reports, the blowout that caught Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on fire and was the catalyst for this month-long oil spill occurred during the original cementing process.

While there was some expectation that this measure would be deployed over the weekend, BP reported today that the “top kill” containment effort would be deployed in a matter of days.

In a report about its efforts, BP stressed that “this is a complex operation requiring sophisticated diagnostic work and precise execution. As a result, it involves significant uncertainties and it is not possible to assure its success or to put a definite timescale on its deployment.”

Various Oil Spill Containment Measures

While there has been some success in mitigating the oil from the damaged Macondo well from spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, petroleum continues to flow from the well at an alarming rate.

While ROVs have been unable to activate the BOP on the Macondo wellhead, the team’s first containment success was when deepwater ROVs were able to cap a small leak on the broken drilling riser.

Another measure was an oil spill containment dome fabricated and deployed above one of the main oil leaks 5,000 feet below the water’s surface. This solution failed because of the deepwater formation of gas hydrates, or crystals, that stymied the flow of oil.

Recently, the oil spill containment team developed and successfully deployed a riser insertion tube tool, which was placed inside the damaged riser at another oil leak point to collect the oil and send it to the Discoverer Enterprise drillship.

Currently, there are two rigs drilling two relief wells in an effort to ease the pressure on the current Macondo well and slow or stop the flow of oil. Drilling on the first well began May 2 with the second soon following. Drilling operations are expected to take some three months.

Nonetheless, in its regular updates, BP continually emphasizes that each technology that has been deployed in this effort is new and untested, and therefore success – or sometimes continued success – is uncertain.

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