Oil spill news: Pressure test at the Macondo well may prove relief well unnecessary

By Phaedra Friend Troy

With the passage of Tropical Depression Five, the oil spill team is in the process of relocating to the Macondo well site and determining whether or not the relief well is necessary

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.

Once staff, equipment and support vessels have remobilized, the storm packer will be removed from the first relief well and the drill string will be dropped into the well. Then, BP and government officials will begin pressure testing the well to determine the state of the annulus.

“If the annulus is cut off with cement, and we choose not to do the bottom kill from the relief well it will be because we’ve effectively already done the bottom kill,” National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen said in a press briefing Aug. 12.

The pressure test is expected to run for four hours; and after evaluating the results, the science team will recommend to Admiral Allen how to proceed.

“Let me restate this for everybody: a bottom kill finishes this well,” said Admiral Allen. “The question is: has it already been accomplished through the static kill? Or what do we need to do to ensure that the annulus has no communication with the reservoir? That’s what we’re trying to do here -- to make sure there is no chance hydrocarbons come up through the reservoir either through the well casing or the annulus itself.”

From this point, if the relief well drilling continues, the first relief well is expected to intersect the annulus of the once-runaway Macondo well within 96 hours.

The Macondo well has been completely sealed since July 15, when the new sealing cap assembly was deployed and the three ram capping stack installed.

A static kill was performed on the well via the Q4000 earlier this month, cementing the wellbore from above.

The relief wells were intended to perform a bottom kill on the Macondo well. The first is within feet of the wellbore, and the second has been stopped in an effort to stay out of the way of the first.

On April 20, a blowout on the Macondo oil and gas well caused an explosion aboard and the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which in turn caused thousands of barrels of oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico.

For months and using various techniques, BP, government officials and expert teams have been working tirelessly to stop the oil spill and permanently seal the well.

In response to the oil spill, the federal government has stopped all deepwater drilling offshore the US with a drilling moratorium.

Major producers Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips have joined forces and invested a combined $1 billion to develop and maintain a readily deployable deepwater oil spill containment device in the US Gulf of Mexico should it ever be needed in the future.

US-backed scientists recently revealed that nearly 75 percent of the oil spilled at the Macondo well has been captured, cleaned, skimmed, burned or naturally dispersed.

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