TS Alex unlikely to slow relief well drilling in gulf

(story was updated in afternoon, adding National Incident Commander comments)

Paula Dittrick
Senior Staff Writer
HOUSTON,  June 28 -- The first of two relief wells being drilled to stop the oil spill from the deepwater Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico is within about 20 ft horizontally of the Macondo well, BP PLC Senior Vice-Pres. Kent Wells said on June 28.

Tropical Storm Alex was not expected to disrupt the relief well drilling or the ongoing efforts to collect oil and gas, Wells said. Higher seas are likely within days in the vicinity of Mississippi Canyon Block 252 because Alex is expected in the southern gulf off Mexico or far South Texas. 

During a separate news conference later on June 28, National Incident Commander and retired US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen agreed, saying that there were no plans to move any oil collection vessels because of Alex, but preparations to expand collection capacity could be delayed for a few days.

Wells said crews need 3 days of flat seas to get the Helix Producer floating production unit to the point where it collects oil and gas through a floating riser. The Producer was expected to be receiving oil by June 30, but now it probably will be sometime in July before the Producer is collecting oil.

The Producer, coupled with a tanker, is intended to provide additional oil containment capacity of 20,000-25,000 b/d. Together with the lower marine riser package cap and the Helix Q4000 systems, the addition of this new system would increase total oil containment capacity to 40,000-50,000 b/d.

The floating riser system is designed to allow more rapid disconnection and reconnection of the system, reducing the time that collection may be affected in case of tropical weather or other problems. Waves have been 3-4 ft in the spill area, but weather is expected to increase waves near the oil spill site to 10-12 ft this week, BP and federal response officials said.  

In relief well drilling using the Development Driller III rig, the relief well as of June 28 was at 16,770 ft measured depth, Wells said, adding drillers are moving cautiously to ensure everything is lined up correctly. The relief well remains on schedule to be finished in August.

Drillers plan to go down another 900 ft with the relief well before intercepting the Macondo well. Once the relief well intercepts the original well, the relief well will be used to pump heavy mud into the runaway well.

"This is the point in time we have to be very good at what we're doing," Wells said. “I’m really confident in the team’s chances for success.” Drillers completed three ranging runs and plan another 8-12 ranging runs to ensure the relief well is precisely lined up with the Macondo well, Wells said (OGJ Online, June 25, 2010).

A second well, being drilled by the Development Driller II, is under way as a backup to the first relief well, and the second well will be stopped if the first well is successful, Wells said.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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