BP's first relief well 'perfectly positioned' from Macondo

This story was updated later in the day on July 20.

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, July 20 -- BP PLC reported a pressure reading of 6,811 psi inside the top of the Macondo well as of July 19, while the first relief well, being drilled by the Development Driller III, has reached a casing point at 17,862 ft total depth.

“We’re 4 ft horizontally from the Macondo well at 2.8°, and we’re looking directly at the Macondo well. So we’re absolutely perfectly positioned,” Kent Wells, senior vice-president of BP exploration and production, told reporters in a July 19 technical briefing.

Crews were opening the hole by drilling it to a slightly bigger diameter on July 20. They planned to run casing and cement on July 21-22. “There’s some testing to do followed by the drill out and ranging runs,” Wells said. He estimates the relief well will intersect the Macondo well around the end of July.

Previously, Wells had said it could take days or weeks to inject heavy drilling fluid into the bottom of the well to kill the flow of oil and gas and then to place a cement plug. The official estimate for finishing the relief well remains sometime in August.

In terms of an ongoing well integrity test at the top of the well, the psi was rising about 1 psi/hr. “It’s absolutely following the trend that we would expect,” Wells said. 

National Incident Commander and retired US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen extended the well integrity test for another 24 hr on July 20, authorizing BP to continue the test into July 21. Allen said scientists and industry experts have not yet reached a consensus on the results so far of the well integrity test.  

‘Static kill’ considered
Engineers and scientists also are studying the possibility of using a “static kill” from the top of the well in addition to using the relief wells to kill the flow of oil and gas from the bottom of the well. The static kill idea is “still very much in the design and planning phase,” Wells said.

A failed “top kill” that BP attempted in late May involved turning around the choke and kill lines on the failed Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer. Wells said the proposed static kill also would involve pumping heavy drilling mud at the top of the well through choke and kill lines.

“Now, the difference here is because the well is not continuing to flow, we don’t need to pump at high rates and pressures,” Wells said. “In fact we could go at very low rates and just marginally above the pressure. We could, at least initially, go quite slow. Eventually as we’ve got more mud into the well, it will start pushing back on the well and actually killing the well.”

Wells called the static kill “a very different procedure than the top kill.” The federal science team and industry experts are evaluating the possibility of using a static kill. Wells said July 19 he anticipated a decision within days.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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