Deepwater Horizon Crisis May Be Over; Deep Suspicion Remains

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Deepwater Horizon Crisis May Be Over; Deep Suspicion Remains

by
Suzanne Goldenberg

A family strolls along an oil-soaked public beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Photograph: Dan Anderson/EPA

Scientists pored over a series of pressure tests from BP's
well in the Gulf of Mexico today, trying to discover whether engineers
had unknowingly already sealed off the gusher for good.

The tests
could decide whether the official epitaph for the Macondo is written
tomorrow or sometime next week, when crews were scheduled to complete
two relief wells that officials have described as the last step in
permanently securing the BP well.

A decision to stop work on the
relief wells would bring an unexpected conclusion to the Deepwater
Horizon crisis in the Gulf, which has devastated the local economy and
environment, cost BP billions, and shaken confidence in Barack Obama's
leadership.

It might also be a hard sell to a public which has
been told repeatedly that the relief wells are the only sure way of
plugging the well for good.

In Venice, a fishing port which saw some of the worst oil
slicks, the prospect of Obama administration officials and BP
executives declaring an early end to the well was greeted with
suspicion. "There's plenty of oil still out there," said one of the
airboat operators who have been collecting tar balls from the marshes.

News
that the well may have already been blocked came as the state of
Alabama announced that it is suing BP, and its partners on the Deepwater
well, Transocean and Halliburton, for the "catastrophic harm" caused by
the spill.

The attorney general Troy King declined to specify a
figure for damages, telling Reuters: "We are suing them for the amount
it will take to make Alabama whole."

There was also anger at a
report in the Times-Picayune newspaper that BP had ordered claims
adjusters to halve payments in August to those who lost business or
income because of the spill.

The newspaper said it had obtained an
internal BP email ordering the cuts. BP told the paper it was halving
payments because the Obama administration was due to take over claims on
15 August. That takeover is now delayed.

The Obama
administration's lead official for the oil spill, Thad Allen, said today
that crews may have inadvertently sealed off any escape routes for oil
when they pumped in mud and cement in the "static kill" operation
earlier this month.

BP said it was reviewing data collected from
four hours of testing on the well on Thursday before making its
recommendations. Executives have said repeatedly in recent days that
they saw no need to carry on drilling two relief wells.

But Allen
had resisted until today when he told a briefing that the cement that
entered the well from the top in the static kill may have sealed it off
for good. "We may be the victims of our own success here. A bottom kill
finishes this well. The question is whether it's already been done with
the static kill," he said.

Allen warned that there was a small
chance that cement pumped in during the static kill had travelled down
to the reservoir and then back up in the outer casing, sealing the well
from both ends.

Pumping more cement and mud in from the relief
well could raise the pressure to dangerous levels, Allen said. But if BP
and Allen do decide to go ahead, drilling on the relief wells will
resume on Sunday, with the final kill complete in about four days.

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