Author Anthony Ricigliano: The last time I wrote about sealing the BP well that is responsible for the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, the relief well was sitting within four feet of the blowout wellbore. Much to everyone’s surprise, it’s still sitting there After pumping 500 barrels of cement into the casing and announcing that the status of the well was “static” it appeared that the next phase of connecting the relief well to the blowout wellbore was imminent.
Since that time, there has been talk of pressure readings all over the board, a new pressure test, a lot of vague non-answers. That’s when someone is around to answer questions. Kent Wells, who has managed to provide no technical information at BP’s "Technical Briefings" hasn’t been around for almost a week.
The purpose of the "new ambient" pressure test has yet to be defined but hounding spill watchers and the Daily Kos website finally prompted BP to release some information regarding pressure readings but, true to form BP left out basic information such as “the starting point, whether the well is shut in at the surface or seafloor, the fluid in the riser, etc., so the data is pretty much useless”, similar to the other tidbits which have been released over the last four months.
What is known is that there are three aspects of the well which are of concern:
- The flex joint, right on top of the old stack
- The riser adapter
- The transition spool
In every one of the tests BP has conducted, the top kill, the well integrity test, the injectivity tests, and static kill, the pressures that BP announced exceeded the rated pressures of at least one of those components. This means that one or all of these components could rupture as pressure in the well returns to normal. The focus has now been shifted pressure readings on the blowout protector (BOP) and the talk is now centered on replacing the stack in total before doing anything else.
The changing focus, the delays, and intentional vagueness are alarming and lend to the possibility that BP still doesn’t know how to seal this well permanently. The static kill effort, which may or may not have been successful, remains a mystery as well. It is also becoming apparent that no one has any idea where all the cement and mud went exactly. This has complicated efforts on permanently sealing the well and added another element of uncertainty on how to proceed. It all remains to be seen. Everyone appears to be feeling the strain, including Admiral Allen, who is stuck between a public trying to learn as much as possible and BP who either doesn’t know what to say or doesn’t want to say anything at all.