BP's bill for oil spill response in gulf tops $3 billion

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, July 6 -- BP PLC, operator of the runaway Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, said it has spent $3.12 billion on oil spill response efforts since an Apr. 20 blowout. BP continues drilling two relief wells while expanding collection systems to divert more leaking oil and natural gas from spilling into the gulf.

It’s impossible to estimate future total costs yet, BP said. Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible drilled the Macondo well for BP and its partners in 5,000 ft of water on Mississippi Canyon Block 252. An explosion and fire on the semi killed 11 people, and the rig sank on Apr. 22. Cause of the blowout accident remains under investigation.

On July 3, two existing collection systems gathered a total of 25,198 bbl of oil and 57 MMcf of gas of which all the gas was flared and some oil was burned. A lower marine riser package containment cap system connected to the Discoverer Enterprise drillship collected 17,022 bbl of oil while the Helix Q4000 multiservice vessel flared 8,176 bbl.

Preparations continue to install a third collection system involving the first of two floating risers. The first floating riser is in place and will be connected with the Helix Producer floating production unit once weather allows calm seas for a long-enough period to complete this work.

The floating riser is designed to allow more rapid disconnection and reconnection of the system, reducing the time that collection might be disrupted in case of hurricanes or other problems. BP expects that the first floating riser system might be ready to begin first operations towards the end of the week.

Plans also are being developed for additional containment capacity and flexibility. These projects are expected to begin operations around mid or late July, BP said.

The first relief well, which is being drilled by the Development Driller III, reached a measure depth of 17,725 ft on July 4, and drillers completed a sixth ranging run in a series of ranging runs to precisely position the relief well in relation to the blowout well.

A second relief well, being drilled by the Development Driller II, has reached a measured depth of 13,871 ft. Some 44,500 people, more than 6,563 vessels, and some 113 aircraft are engaged in response efforts. Weather associated with Hurricane Alex disrupted skimming operations for 3 days, but those operations have since resumed.

A supertanker converted into a skimmer, named A Whale, operated a trial run north of the Macondo well. TMT Shipping Offshore owns the ship and hopes to sign a cleanup contract for the vessel, which can remove as much as 500,000 b/d of oil and water mix from the sea’s surface.

Tar balls reach Texas
Oil from the spill has now reached all five Gulf Coast states. Scientists said lab tests confirmed that tar balls recovered from Texas along Galveston beaches and Bolivar Peninsula contain crude from the Macondo spill. Previously, spilled oil reached Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Officials said it remains unclear how the material got to Texas. Investigators discovered very small tar balls in the surf, but not on shore, on July 3. The tar balls were collected and sent to a laboratory for study.

Test results showed the oil was lightly weathered, raising doubts that the oil traversed the gulf from the spill source. It’s possible the tar balls came from boats carrying oil collected during the response to Texas for processing, officials said.

Workers from the US Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office, and the city of Galveston patrolled the beaches by both helicopter and on foot. On July 4, teams discovered some dime-sized to nickel-sized tar balls on both Bolivar Peninsula's Crystal Beach and Galveston's East Beach.

USCG hired a contractor to remove the tar balls. A total of 35 gal of sand-seaweed-tar was recovered in Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula and on East Beach in Galveston on July 5-6. Crews estimate 35 gal was recovered, of which about 7 gal was tar balls with the largest being the size of a ping-pong ball.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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