BP installs three-ram stack on runaway Macondo well

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, July 13 -- BP PLC finished installing a three-ram stack on the runaway Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico on July 12. The three-ram stack was the final element in a sealing cap that crews started installing on July 10. BP planned to start a well integrity test on July 13.

The well integrity test will take at least 6-48 hr, and the three-ram stack gradually will be closed. All collection of oil and gas by the Helix Q4000 and Helix Producer will be temporarily suspended, effectively shutting in the well.

A seismic survey was performed on July 13 before the well integrity test started. The survey was done to look for any oil in shallow zones, response officials said. Also on July 12, BP finished hooking up the Helix Producer containment system to a floating riser.

“It is expected, although cannot be assured, that no oil will be released to the ocean for the duration of the [well integrity] test,” BP said. “This will not however be an indication that flow from the wellbore has been permanently stopped.”

Kent Wells, BP senior vice-president of exploration and production, said pressure readings gathered during the well integrity test will be reviewed with a federal science team to determine the next step or steps.

Options include reinstatement of oil and gas collection systems as well as extending the test duration beyond 48 hr. US Energy Secretary Steven Chu was in Houston on July 13 to oversee the well integrity test.

There is a possibility that the flow from the well could be contained with the sealing cap although Wells emphasized the need to evaluate the results of the well integrity test before BP and federal officials determine their next move. A lower marine riser package cap also was available for future oil and gas collection efforts.

"If the test confirms we can shut in the well, then the well would remain shut in, but it's important to get the test results," Wells said.

“The sealing cap system never before has been deployed at these depths or under these conditions, and its efficiency and ability to contain the oil and gas cannot be assured,” Wells told reporters during a July 13 briefing.

Relief well operations continue and remain the primary means to permanently seal the well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252, Wells said. The well was drilled in 5,000 ft of water by Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible drillship.

A well blowout caused an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon semi, killing 11 people on Apr. 20. The rig sank on Apr. 22, and BP has been working to stop the well from leaking oil and gas into the gulf.

National Incident Commander and retired US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said on July 13, “It is unknown what happened with the wellbore at the time of the explosion.”

He also noted that “substantial” work will remain to be done in cleaning up spilled oil even after the well is permanently sealed.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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