Relief well ahead of schedule; August completion expected

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, June 18 -- Drilling is ahead of schedule on the first of two relief wells being drilled to kill the flow from the runaway Macondo well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 in the Gulf of Mexico, a BP PLC spokesman said June 18.

The relief well being drilled by the Development Driller III has reached 15,936 ft of its 18,000-ft target, Kent Wells, senior vice-president of exploration and production, told reporters during a June 18 technical briefing from BP’s west Houston offices.
Wells believes the relief well already is within 200 ft of the Macondo well, but the pace will slow as the relief well finds and closes in on the Macondo well, he said. An Apr. 20 blowout resulted in an explosion and fire on Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible, killing 11 crew members.

“Things have gone well down to this phase,” Wells said, adding that the scheduled completion of at least one of the two relief wells remains sometime in August. “We’re just looking at getting this well killed as soon as possible,” he said of the blowout well.

A second relief well, being drilled by the Development Driller II, has reached about 10,000 ft.

On June 17, BP collect 25,290 bbl of oil on MC Block 252 using both the Discoverer Enterprise drillship and the Q4000 multiservice vessel. Of that total, the Enterprise collected 16,020 bbl, and 9,270 bbl went to the Q4000 where it was flared. In addition, the two vessels together flared a total of 50.3 MMcf of gas.

Wells said plans are proceeding to eventually remove the lower marine riser package cap now on the failed Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer. The LMRP cap likely will be replaced with a sealing valve cap of which three options are available.

A final decision on whether to replace the LMRP cap is expected to be made in July at about the same time as BP installs floating riser systems that enable surface vessels to be disconnected and moved if a hurricane hits the gulf, Kent said.

Tracking a widening spill
Federal officials estimate oil has reached at least 120 miles of coastline, and the oil on the water is widely dispersed in thousands of small oil slicks rather than contained in one massive slick.

National Incident Commander and retired Adm. Thad Allen said, “We’re dealing with a pretty expansive area of patches of oil right now. It’s not a monolithic spill. It’s literally a collection of hundreds of thousands of patches of oil. Some are miles long, and some are several hundred yards long.”

A national inventory of skimming equipment and skimming vessels is under way, Allen said. Skimming equipment is towed behind vessels of opportunity—boats provided by individuals. These vessels range small boats to shrimp boats.

“Right now, in addition to the boom…the availability of skimmers is critical,” Allen said. “We are in touch with the Department of Defense, using skimming capability they have at naval installations.”

The 2,000 vessels of opportunity outnumber US Coast Guard vessels, Allen said, adding response crews are working to organize the vessels of opportunity into groups with a leader of each group.

“We are doing a number of things including putting tracking devices on some of these boats so we can have a better idea of where they’re at,” Allen said of vessels of opportunity.

Patches of oil are being tracked from the coast to 50 miles offshore, he said. The oil stretches from south-central Louisiana toward Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paula@ogjonline.com.

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