Oil spill response vessels return to Macondo well

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, July 24 – The Macondo wellhead remained under the surveillance of at least one remotely operated vehicle after all but two vessels were evacuated in advance of Tropical Storm Bonnie, and all the vessels were authorized to return on July 24, a spill response official said.

National Incident Commander and retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen estimated 10-15 vessels evacuated because of Bonnie, which was downgraded to a tropical depression after passing Florida. The system was weakening while crossing the Gulf of Mexico on July 24. All the evacuated vessels were expected to be back at Macondo by sometime on July 25.

“We are going to be playing a cat-and-mouse game for the remainder of the hurricane season,” Allen said. Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center monitored another disturbance in the Caribbean, but forecasters gave it only a 10% change of development in 5 days.

A reading taken within the sealing cap at the top of the well as of midnight on July 23 showed a pressure reading of 6,891 psi. “We continue to have integrity at the wellhead, the pressure continues to rise,” Allen said.

Transocean Ltd.’s Development Driller III, a semisubmersible drilling the first relief well, was expected to start moving back sometime on July 24, Allen said. It was evacuated along with Development Driller II, which drilled the second relief well. The semis were the slowest-moving vessels involved in the evacuation.

Upon its return, Development Driller III will have to redeploy riser pipe and reattach to a lower marine riser before crews can again begin to prepare to lay casing. Crews also will have to remove a storm packer before they can lay casing.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com

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