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Even relief wells are a dicey proposition to stanch oil spill

WASHINGTON — The saga of BP's runaway Deepwater Horizon well, already entering its third month, has entered a crucial phase that will determine whether the Gulf of Mexico gusher ends in mid August or persists, perhaps for months.

Unlike the previous public drama, this act will unfold miles below the seabed, as technicians begin delicately maneuvering a relief well that they hope will pierce and cap the gusher.

This week, BP began using sensitive electronic equipment to detect differences in the rock's electromagnetic field in an effort to pinpoint the metal pipes inside the wellbore. Based on what they find, they'll make adjustments every few hundred feet in an effort to intercept those pipes and kill the gusher by pumping it full of tons of heavy drilling mud and then concrete.

The stakes riding on those adjustments are enormous, and the chance of failure, at least on the first try, is huge.

"The engineers will tell you that they have a 95 percent chance of success" with a relief well, said Bruce Bullock, the director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "But that depends on how you define success. It's quite unlikely they'll hit it on the first stab."

"They're aiming at a salad plate thousands of feet down," Bullock said: a 7-inch pipe buried in concrete, 12,000 feet below the seafloor.

Every time a relief well misses, its crew must back up the drill bit and try again. Last year, a relief well aimed at capping a blowout in the Timor Sea off Australia missed its target four times before connecting. Each new effort took an average of another week of drilling.

A similar delay at the Deepwater Horizon site would mean as much as 1.62 million barrels more crude dumped into the gulf — more than 68 million gallons — if the latest government estimates of the flow are accurate.

Judge refuses to put drill ban ruling on hold

A federal judge who overturned a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed after the gulf oil spill refused Thursday to put his ruling on hold while the government appeals. The Justice Department had asked U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman to delay his ruling until the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans can review it. Feldman rejected that request Thursday. On Tuesday, he struck down the Interior Department's moratorium that halted approval of new permits for deepwater projects and suspended drilling on 33 exploratory wells. Feldman concluded the government simply assumed that because one deepwater rig went up in flames, others were dangerous, too.

Well, so far nothing else has worked ...

The governors of Louisiana and Texas say Sunday will be a day to pray about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a proclamation declaring a day of prayer for perseverance in coping with the environmental crisis caused by the spill. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry is urging Texans to pray for the healing of individuals, the rebuilding of communities and the restoration of the entire Gulf Coast environment. Experts say the current worst-case estimate of what's spewing into the gulf is about 2.5 million gallons a day, polluting shores from Louisiana to Florida.

$10 million grant arrives from BP

ST. PETERSBURG — The check's no longer in the mail.

The $10 million BP promised to 20 of Florida's marine research groups — including its 11 state universities — has arrived.

Now the groups have about a week to decide how to divvy it up.

USF spokeswoman Vickie Chachere said the Florida Institute of Oceanography, which coordinates the state's oceanic research and is hosted by the University of South Florida, received the check Wednesday night.

The $10 million check is the first of many expected from BP over the coming years as scientists research the oil disaster's effects on the gulf.

Bill Hogarth, dean of USF's College of Marine Science, has said that the institute needs at least $100 million from BP to assess and monitor damage to Florida's coast.

The research groups have until July 2 to submit spending plans to the institute.

Times staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report, which contains information from McClatchy Newspapers and the Associated Press.

761 tons

Amount of crude-contaminated waste that BP says has been buried at two landfills in Alabama and Florida. Some 13,100 cubic yards of oily waste have been buried in Louisiana, where the amount is being tallied by volume instead of weight.

"The past 2 months I've been on tour and haven't followed the news. What's with all the photos of chocolate pelicans?"

Conan O'Brien tweeted recently. Perhaps he felt left out as David Letterman, Jay Leno and other late-night hosts have made BP jokes practically a nightly feature. So far, though, the most memorable comedic take on the disaster has come from a New York improv troupe. The spoof shows BP executives trying to clean up a coffee spill. They try to contain the coffee by wrapping their arms around the perimeter, dumping garbage on top and clipping hair over it. Not surprisingly, none of that works. To find a link to the video, go to

Even relief wells are a dicey proposition to stanch oil spill 06/24/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 24, 2010 10:29pm]
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