A “leak” or “spill” does not covey the damage and impact of the 1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons of oil that the government and BP currently estimate are released each day from the BP-Horizon Macondo well into the waters of Gulf of Mexico and began on the night of April 20th with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. However, since June 4th when the first successful cap, “top hat,” was installed, BP has been capturing a portion of the oil, anywhere from 840,000 to 1.2 million gallons of oil a day. The cap was leaking and it was impossible to estimate the true flow rate, so the actual amount of oil being spewed into the Gulf waters has only been estimated.
Given a good weather window, BP with the approval of the Administration’s on-site commander Admiral Allen have decided to remove the old cap, install a new better fitting cap and attach to well to another ship, the Helix Producer which can capture up to an additional million gallons of oil a day at the same time. Both of these actions were planned to take place, but not simultaneously. It was originally planned to attach the Helix Producer then replace the cap.
On Saturday, July 10th 2010 robotic submarines removed the leaking cap from the gushing gulf oil well. This was the first step in installing the new cap which is designed to fit more snugly and help BP catch all the oil. However, until the cap is secure, millions more gallons of crude oil will flow freely into the Gulf for at least two days until the new tighter-fitting cap called ‘Top Hat Number 10” is functioning and will enable more oil to be caught. We are all hopeful that this procedure hit no delays and that the new cap will be in place today. Meanwhile, the Helix Producer is being attaché to the system. With Top Hat Number 10 and Helix Producer in place, the system will be capable of capturing 2.5 million to 3.4 million gallons of oil a day and we may finally know what the true flow rate of the Macondo well has been.
None the less, the new cap is only a temporary solution. Hope for permanently plugging the leak which has spilled between 87 million and 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico as of July 10th still lies with the two relief wells being drilled. The first of the relief wells is still estimated to be completed by mid-August. The relief well is actually an intercept well that will drill into the leaking Macondo well and pump in mud and cement to permanently seal it. That is the plan but it is much more complicated than that.
To intersect the leaking well, BP has been drilling a new well parallel to Macondo well. At the last five feet, the intension is to shift directions slightly and drill directly into the Macondo well. BP is bouncing electromagnetic waves through rock to measure the distance between the relief well and the interception target as they near their goal. In the June 28th technical briefing by BP, it was pointed out that BP started drilling the relief well at the surface some 2,800 feet away from the well horizontally. Now, they are within 20 feet of the existing well and have been paralleling the well. On June 28th the relief well was at a depth of 16,770 feet with another 900 feet to go vertically before they try to cut into the Macondo well sideways. Before they do that BP is going to have to ensue that they are exactly where they think they are and lined up within the last 100 feet before they cut. They will have drilled over a mile to hit a less than 10 inch pipe. Once they have managed to intercept the well, they then will have to kill it. None of these steps is easy or certain.