The BP oil leak could be permanently plugged within a fortnight, US experts said today.
Three months into the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a relief tunnel should finally reach the broken well by the weekend.
After several days of concern about the well’s stability and the leaky cap keeping the oil mostly bottled up, the US government’s representative Adm. Thad Allen said that engineers concluded the risk of a bigger blow-out was minimal and were getting closer to pumping mud into the column to permanently seal it.
“We continue to be pleased with the progress,” Adm. Allen said in Washington, giving the go-ahead to keep the well cap shut for at least 24 more hours and possibly longer.
BP vice president Kent Wells said engineers hope to drill sideways into the blown-out well and intercept it at the end of July. The relief well is necessary to plug the well permanently.
After that, they will begin the kill procedure, pumping mud and cement into the hole a mile underwater to seal it, which BP said could take anywhere from five days to a couple of weeks.
“Everything’s looking good,” Mr Wells said. “The relief well is exactly where we want it. It’s pointed in the right direction, and so we’re feeling good about that.”
Engineers are also considering shooting drilling mud down through the cap to increase the chances that the attempt to kill the well succeeds.
BP wants to leave the cap on in the meantime. At one point, Adm. Allen wanted instead to relieve the pressure by opening up the cap and siphoning oil up to ships on the surface, but he has relented in the past few days. Opening the cap would have required allowing millions of gallons of oil to gush into the sea again for a few days while the plumbing was hooked up.
Seepage detected from the seafloor briefly raised fears that the well was in danger, but Adm. Allen said that another well is to blame.
There are two wells within two miles of BP’s blow-out, one that has been abandoned and another that is not in production.
The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and starting one of America’s worst environmental crises.