Washington: In a pitched battle to shut off the MC252 well that has been spewing vast amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for over a month, British Petroleum announced plans to use a new technical manoeuvre called a “top kill” operation. BP CEO Tony Hayward was reported to have said the manoeuvre had a “60 to 70 per cent chance of success.”
The announcement was made even as the Obama administration came under fire from various quarters, including from Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, who expressed frustration at the delays in containing the damage that the spill was doing to his state's coastline.
Stemming the flow
The top-kill operation entails the use of heavy drilling fluids that would be injected into the well to stem the flow of oil and gas and, ultimately, kill the well, according to a statement by BP. The petroleum major noted that preparations for this operation were already under way, with a view to deployment “within a few days.”
It also explained that equipment was also in place to combine this operation with the injection under pressure of bridging material, aimed at sealing off upward flow through the blow-out preventer (BOP).
Speaking alongside Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and others, Mr. Jindal said, “For over two weeks we have been asking the United States Army Corps of Engineers to issue an emergency permit. We have answered every set of questions the same day they have asked those questions.”
However, Mr. Jindal reportedly said, he had not yet obtained a permit to dredge up large amounts of sand to build massive booms along the coastline. He added, “Every day we do not fight this oil on a barrier island, every day we are not dredging sand means one more day this oil has a chance to come into our ecosystem, into our wetlands that are home to some the nation's most important fisheries.”
Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, had strong words on the government's determination to ensure BP took the necessary actions.
BP under pressure
He said, “We will keep our boot on their neck until the job gets done. And… we will make sure that all of their responsibilities are fulfilled to the people of the Gulf Coast and to the U.S. government.”
Janet Napolitano, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary added, “We are going to stay on this and stay on BP until this gets done and it gets done the right way.”
Doug Suttles, COO for Global Exploration, BP said that the government was “clearly” expecting BP to “get this flow stopped and to get this cleanup done as quickly as possible”.
However, he said, “We are putting everything we know how to do at this. We have got the best people, the best scientists, whether it is from our own company or across the industry or from government. So, I think everyone is frustrated.”
Providing technical details on the operation planned in parallel to the top-kill BP said it was developing a “lower marine riser package” (LMRP) cap containment option.
This would first involve removing the damaged riser from the top of the BOP, leaving a cleanly-cut pipe at the top of the BOP's LMRP, BP said.
Then, as per the process proposed by BP, the LMRP cap, an “engineered containment device with a sealing grommet,” would be placed over the LMRP with the intention of capturing most of the oil and gas flowing from the well and transporting it to the drillship on the surface.