BP Oil Spill May Not Be Capped Until Christmas, Expert Warns

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by
The Guardian/UK

BP Oil Spill May Not Be Capped Until Christmas, Expert Warns

'Everyone should be prepared for worst-case scenario', says the head of oil consultancy group

by
Terry Macalister and Richard Wachman

Workers clean up the oil washed ashore in Alabama from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. (Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features)

One of the world's leading authorities on oil well management has
warned it could take until Christmas to cap the Gulf of Mexico spill
that is devastating the southern coast of America – and BP's reputation.

Nansen
Saleri, a Gulf drilling expert, said he hoped BP would meet its August
timetable for capping the blown-out well, but made it clear success was
not certain.

"I know it is a frightening assessment but everyone
should be prepared for a worst-case scenario, and that could mean a
Christmas timeframe," said Saleri, chief executive of the consultancy
group Quantum Reservoir Impact. "The probable outcome is much better
but the technological challenges … are enormous."

The futures of
BP and of wildlife around the Gulf of Mexico are largely dependent on
the rapid success of two "relief" wells that are being drilled in an
attempt to halt anywhere between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels of oil a day
that is flowing out of the stricken Macondo subsea hole.

Saleri,
who dealt personally with four blowouts during a career with Saudi
Aramco and Chevron, said the BP fire and spill was the worst he had
seen. He believes it may cause more damage than the Ixtoc I blowout 30
years ago, which is regarded as the most damaging of its kind.

BP
faced renewed pressure to do more to contain the Gulf of Mexico spill
as the US and Britain played down diplomatic tensions over the crisis.

The
British foreign secretary, William Hague, said relations between the US
and UK were "outstanding at every level". He said it was up to BP –
under pressure in the US to suspend its dividend to help pay for damage
– to decide on its payout to shareholders. David Cameron and Barack
Obama talked at the weekend, when Cameron expressed his sadness at the
"human and environmental catastrophe".

Tony Hayward, the BP chief
executive, will be grilled about the disaster in the US on Thursday
when he appears before a special Senate hearing. On Wednesday, Hayward
and the BP chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, will meet the president at
the White House to explain BP's response.

According to reports,
Obama will tell the pair he wants BP to establish a special account to
meet damage claims by individuals and businesses hurt by the spill.

The
prospect of a lengthy timescale to cap the well reinforces the views of
Carlos Morales, the head of exploration at Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex).
The company was the operator of the Ixtoc I well in 1979, when 3.3m
gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf. It took nearly 10 months to bring
the blowout under control.

Morales is now sharing technical
information with BP in an attempt to help it block the Macondo leak. He
has warned it could take "four to five months" for a relief well to cap
the spill.

Hurricanes also pose a problem. The hurricane season
in the Gulf began this month, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration has predicted it will be "active to very active", with
up to 23 named storms and up to 14 hurricanes on the way.

Saleri
said a bad storm could "really complicate" the environmental impact of
spilled oil and delay relief drilling by two weeks every time a
hurricane strikes.

BP is also aware that the relief wells could
be as unstable as the original one. Experts admit no one can rule out
another blowout such as the one that sent the original rig, Horizon
Explorer, to the bottom of the ocean.

The British company has
warned in a regulatory filing that a blowout on one of the relief wells
could release a further 240,000 barrels of oil a day, although Hayward
has since discounted the chances of this. "The relief wells ultimately
will be successful," he said.

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