BP’s ‘Static Kill’ Holding Back Oil Flow

BY Tom LeGro  August 4, 2010 at 9:37 AM EST

Nearly four months after the worst accidental oil leak in history began in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is claiming a victory in its effort to plug its blown-out oil well.

BP said Wednesday that mud forced down the well was holding back the flow of oil and it was in a “static condition.”

An 18,000-foot relief well will be used later this month to execute a “bottom kill,” in which mud and cement will be injected into the bedrock two-and-a-half miles below the sea floor to finish the job, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said.

“There should be no ambiguity about that,” Allen said. “I’m the national incident commander, and this is how this will be handled.”

The pressure in the well dropped in the first 90 minutes of the static kill procedure Tuesday, a sign that everything was going as planned, well site leader Bobby Bolton told the Associated Press. Bolton said Tuesday night that the procedure was going well. “Pressure is down and appears to be stabilizing.”

In a statement released early Wednesday morning BP said that it “will continue to work with the National Incident Commander and other government officials to determine the next course of action, which involves assessing whether to inject cement in the well via the same route.”

Meantime, White House energy adviser Carol Browner said on NBC’s “Today” show that about 75 percent of the oil has either been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf.

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The New York Times says that a government report finds that “about 26 percent of the oil released from BP’s well is still in the water or onshore in a form that could, in principle, cause new problems. But most is light sheen at the ocean surface or in a dispersed form below the surface, and federal scientists believe that it is breaking down rapidly in both places.”

But the Wall Street Journal reports that below the surface, questions remain. “[T]he industry succeeded in using chemical dispersants on a broad scale. But the question remains whether the industry’s tactical success will come at an acceptable cost to the environment.”

Time’s Bryan Walsh is wondering about a climate and energy bill, writing:

“If BP’s Houston-based drilling engineers want some advice on how to create a static situation, however, they might want to look to the world’s greatest deliberative body — the U.S. Senate — which seems to be in a permanent static situation on energy and climate.”

And NPR’s Alan Greenblatt thinks we’ll be hearing a lot more about oil spills from now on:

“Call it the Volvo syndrome. You decide you’re interested in buying a Volvo and suddenly you start noticing that people are driving Volvos all over the place. There may have always been plenty of Volvos out on the road, but if you’ve never had reason to pay attention to them you might not have noticed them…. It’s the same, to some extent, with oil spills.”

Meantime, the Obama administration says it may end its ban on deepwater drilling before its Nov. 30 expiration date. Michael Bromwich, who heads the agency that has replaced the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, will hold public forums starting Wednesday in New Orleans.