BP says 'top kill' going as planned to halt oil spill

BP PLC said its "top kill" operation to stop the flow of oil and gas from the Macondo well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 in the Gulf of Mexico was going as planned, and the company said it could be 24 hr before the operation’s success can be determined.

(This story was updated after afternoon news conference)

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, May 27
-- BP PLC said its "top kill" operation to stop the flow of oil and gas from the Macondo well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 in the Gulf of Mexico was going as planned, and a company spokesman said late May 27 that it could take at least another 24 hr to determine the operation’s success.

Crews started the top kill pumping operations at 1 p.m. CDT May 26 in a complicated procedure to stem the flow and ultimately kill the well by injecting heavy drilling fluids down into the well through choke and kill lines on the blowout preventer (BOP) on the seabed.

The pumping was stopped at 11 p.m. on May 26 so crews could watch the flow and determine what weight mud to use for the next phase of the pumping procedure, expected to resume late May 27.

"While pumping, we clearly were suppressing the amount of oil and gas coming out," Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP Exploration & Production, said during a news conference in Robert, La., on May 27. "Nothing has gone wrong," he noted. "We believe we pumped some mud down the well...but this operation isn't over yet."

He noted a fleet of pumping and mud supply vessels on the surface along with all the subsea equipment has worked well during the top kill.

The next phase of the pumping operation might include the use of some bridging materials or possibly the junk shot. Bridging materials are various objects that would be injected to help plug the well. They could be rubber balls or other items depending upon what the field crew determines to be needed as the operation proceeds, Suttles said.

The junk shot would involve pumping various types of materials such as rubber cuttings or pieces of knotted rope inside the BOP, he said (OGJ, May 17, 2010, p. 23).

At one point during May 26, as much as 65-70 bbl/min of mud was pumped. BP pulled out a riser insertion tool from the end of the damaged riser before the top kill started. The riser insertion tool collected 22,000 bbl of oil total during May 16-25, Suttles said.

Tony Hayward, BP Group chief executive, and US Energy Secretary Steven Chu worked together for several hours supervising the top kill from a command room at BP's offices in west Houston.

“The operation is proceeding as we planned it,” Hayward said. “It will be another 24 hr before we know whether or not this has been successful, and as I said, so far, we are proceeding to plan.”

Hayward said it’s unlikely that a live video posted on the BP web site gives viewers any real indication of success or failure of the ongoing work. As the top kill proceeds, the mud mixed with oil and gas is shown coming from a bend in the damaged riser.

Before the top kill started, the video for days showed oil and gas coming out of the end of the riser. That area became cloudy during the top kill so the remotely operated vehicle taking the video was moved during the operation, frequently showing four leaks in the top of the bend in the damaged riser, executives said. Suttles said late May 27 that the top kill has not caused any additional leaks.

The Macondo well was being drilled by Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible. An Apr. 20 explosion and fire left 11 crew members missing and presumed dead. The rig later sank, resulting in an oil spill initially estimated at 5,000 b/d.

A federal team of scientists and others said their initial estimates put the flow rate at 12,000-19,000 b/d with the possiblity that it could be as high as 25,000 b/d, depending upon the method used to make the estimate (OGJ Online, May 27, 2010).

BP executives proceeded with the top kill after obtaining and studying diagnostic information about the condition of the failed BOP (OGJ Online, May 25, 2010).

US Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry approved the top kill operation on May 26. Previously, the US Minerals Management Service reviewed and approved the top kill plans. In a news conference, Landry said the federal government spent about $1 million on spill response efforts, which BP will repay. In addition, BP said it has spent $750 million on spill response efforts.

BP appoints independent mediator
The company plans to appoint an independent mediator to review and assist in the claims process to ensure “as fair a process as possible.”

BP had paid more than $36 million to 26,000 claims for loss and damage caused by the spill as of May 26. Most of the claims involved individual income or business revenue loss.

In those cases in which a claimant and BP cannot agree on resolution of a claim, the claimant can seek review from the independent mediator.

“We are absolutely committed to a simple, fair claims process that gets funds to people who have been hurt by this disaster as quickly as possible,” said Hayward. “We have opened claims offices across the region, and will make every effort to reach everyone who has a legitimate claim.”

BP established the claims process in accordance with requirements of the Oil Pollution Act, which allows claimants to make a claim against BP as a designated responsible party. If a claim is not resolved and paid within 90 days, claimants can submit a claim against the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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