Planners estimate 5 days to evacuate spill-response vessels

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, June 26 -- Spill response officials have estimated that they need 120 hr to move vessels and rigs away from the runaway Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico before the anticipated arrival of any gale-force winds.

A gale-force wind is 40 knots, National Incident Commander and retired US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told reporters during a news briefing conference call on June 25. 

Officials estimate they would want a threshold of 114 hr in advance of severe weather to move Transocean Ltd.’s Discoverer Enterprise drillship and 56 hr to move the Helix Q4000 multiservice vessel if a tropical storm was forecast for the gulf, Allen said.

The Enterprise and Q4000 both are receiving oil and natural gas from the Macondo well spill. The well is in 5,000 ft of water on Mississippi Canyon Block 252.

Officials want a threshold of 104 hr to disconnect and move the Development Driller III drilling rig, which is drilling the first relief well, Allen said.

Allen said he and the National Hurricane Center forecasters were closely watching a tropical wave in the west-central Caribbean. Allen said forecasters indicated the tropical wave could turn into a tropical depression.

On June 25, the US Air Force planned to send out hunter aircraft to assess the weather system, which could potentially become the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.

BP is installing floating risers that would enable faster disconnection of vessels in case a hurricane enters the gulf. Currently, the Enterprise drillship is connected via a traditional riser pipe to the failed Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer. Numerous other supply and oil storage vessels also are in the spill response area.

The period of time that the spill would have to be left unattended would depend upon the path and severity of the tropical storm or hurricane, Allen said.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a very negative effect,” Allen said if a storm were to disrupt the collection of oil and gas now being diverted from spilling into the gulf.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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