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Technician reports that BP may announce failure of ‘top kill’ procedure Saturday afternoon

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Publish date: May 28, 2010

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK - BP engineers have once again failed in their efforts to blow the volcano-like spew of oil from the site of the Deepwater Horizon leak in the Gulf of Mexico, a technician working on the project told Bellona Web and other media mid-afternoon on Saturday, and a company executive has told the New Orleans Times Picayune is expected to announce the failure at 5 p.m. eastern time in the US.

A BP executive says the company has yet to stop the oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico and is considering other ways to plug the leak, the Times Picayune reported.

At 2:30 p.m. US eastern time, live a live feed of the undersea gusher provided by cameras aboard the Skandia Neptune, a Norwegian vessel, showed the spew had turned from muddy brown to black, indicating they top kill procedure – which involves pumping drill mud into the blowout protector – may already have stopped, experts said.

At 3:45, the black, inky pictures from the Skandia Hurcules had not changed.

bodytextimage_spilltodaypic1.png Photo: Still from BP live feed taken at 2:30 p.m. May 29

Yesterday at 12:30 p.m local time, the videos from underwater were showing a brownish spew of drill mud and fluids.

BP began the risky top kill on Wednesday. The procedure involves pumping heavy drilling mud into the crippled well in a bid to stop the oil. It’s never been tried in 5,000 feet of water.

The oil spill began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded last month, killing 11 people. It’s the worst spill in U.S. history, dumping between 18 million and 40 million gallons into the Gulf.

At 5 p.m, BP is expected to announce that it will move on to its next option, known as “lower marine riser package cap,” or LMRP. This procedure involves cutting off the failed, leaking riser at the top of the Lower Marine Riser Package on the blowout preventer to get a clean-cut surface on the pipe.

Then the company will install a cap with a sealing grommet that would be connected to a new riser from the Discoverer Enterprise drillship, with the hopes of capturing most of the oil and gas flowing from the well.

BP made a third attempt Friday night at what is termed the “junk shot,” a procedure that involves pumping odds and ends like plastic cubes, knotted rope, and golf balls into the blowout preventer, the five-story safety device atop the well.  The manoeuvre is complementary to top kill.

The technician, working on the project, who is apparently speaking with various media including the New York Times, The Times Picayune and Bellona Web, said pumping had again been halted and a review of the data so far was under way.

“Right now, I would not be optimistic,” the technician, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the effort said in an email message to Bellona Web. But he added, that if another attempt at the junk shot were to succeed, “that would turn things around.”

BP refuses comment on technician’s assertions

BP said Saturday it would not comment on the technician’s assertions.

Doug Suttles,  BP’s chief operating officer, reiterated at a news conference in Fourchon Beach, Louisiana that it was too soon to tell whether the top kill procedure was working. He said it was a process of stopping and starting and re-evaluating.

“We’re going to keep at this until we see if it will work or not work,” he said. “If we believe it will work we should stay with it as long as it takes,” he said. “If we think it won’t we will go on to the next.”

The top kill remains the company’s best option for stopping the leak that is polluting gulf waters at an estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.

But Suttles did confirm preparations for use of the LMRP plan, saying that if the top kill fails, BP will move ahead with the LMPR, equipment for which was being deployed on land and on the sea bed, he told reporters.

If all of these options are unsuccessful, it may take until August to drill a relief well, the option experts say is most reliably going to stop the current volcanic blast of oil from the sea floor.

“People want to know which technique is going to work, and I don’t know. It hasn’t been done at these depths and that’s why we’ve had multiple options working parallel.”

Mr. Suttles also used the press conference Saturday to defend BP’s clean-up efforts, which have come under fierce criticism from local politicians for being too little too late.

“We have been ramping up the activity every single day,” he said referring to the workers that are being brought in to mop up the rust-colored goo that is washing ashore along the coast here. “We and the Coast Guard are bringing in additional resources,” he said.

BP estimates it has nearly 2,000 workers already along the coast according to David Nicholas, a BP spokesman.  Suttles told reporters BP was somewhat hampered in its efforts to be aggressive by the delicate nature of the ecosystem.

“We don’t want to create more harm in doing the cleanup than the oil creates on its own,” he said.

Nevertheless, he added, BP was not only bringing in more people it was working on ways to get them to more inaccessible areas of the coast. He said they were going to start using tent cities and “flo-tels,” or floating hotels, to house workers closer to hard to reach marsh lands being covered with oil.

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