Updated 5:23 p.m. ET | BP senior vice president Kent Wells said at a technical briefing Tuesday afternoon that the injectivity test conducted Tuesday ahead of the static kill was a “textbook” operation.
“It went exactly as we would have expected,” he said. “We got exactly the information we were looking for.”
BP engineers are now monitoring pressure in the well as they slowly push heavy mud into the top of the wellhead at the rate of about one barrel per minute. They’ll slowly raise that rate to two or three barrels per minute, while continuing to monitor the well.
The goal is to pump in enough mud so that the the pressure of the mud pushing down offsets the pressure of the oil pushing up, and the oil stays in the well without the valves on the cap needing to be closed.
Reaching that point could take anywhere from many hours to a couple of days, Wells said, depending on how the oil is flowing up through the pipe — whether it is flowing through the drill pipe itself, the casing — the larger pipe that surrounds the drill pipe — or the annulus, the space between the casing and the outside of the well.
If and when the pressure at the top of the well reaches zero, BP and the government will then have to decide whether to follow the heavy mud with cement, or wait until the relief wells are completed to do that final sealing.
Updated 4:10 p.m. ET | BP began the static kill attempt at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, according to a statement by the company:
“Based on the results of the injectivity test, BP started pumping drilling mud today at 21:00 (UK) and 15:00 (CDT) as part of the static kill operations. All operations are being carried out with the guidance and approval of the National Incident Commander
The aim of these procedures is to assist with the strategy to kill and isolate the well, and will complement the upcoming relief well operation.”
3:48 p.m. ET | BP began a key test Tuesday afternoon to make sure that the blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico could withstand an attempt to staunch the flow of oil with heavy drilling mud. If the hours-long test succeeds, engineers could begin the “static kill” later Tuesday.
The test was originally scheduled for Monday night, but was postponed after engineers found a small leak in the sealing cap on top of the well. The leak was repaired overnight, and the injectivity test began at 2:05 p.m. ET. It involves probing the well by sending down an oil-like liquid to make sure there are no obstructions blocking the well bore.
If the path is clear, BP can begin the static kill — pushing heavy drilling mud into the top of the well in an attempt to force the oil back down into the reservoir.
“We should be into the static kill by this afternoon,” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said at a press briefing Tuesday morning. Allen said that engineers will have an idea of how well the static kill is going within a few hours, although the entire process could take as long as several days to complete.
He also emphasized that even if the static kill succeeds, the well will not truly be “killed” until a relief well is finished, and heavy mud and cement is pumped into the bottom as well as the top.
“The static kill will increase the probability that the relief well works, but the whole thing will not be completed until the relief well is done,” he said. “That’s the way this will end.”
The relief well operations have been temporarily suspended so as not to disrupt the static kill, but could be finished by mid-August.