Having failed to master an out-of-control gusher with a "top kill" attempt whose chances of success BP had estimated at 60-70%, the supermajor announced it would next attempt to sever of the damaged "riser" in order to "try to cap it with a containment valve," AP reported Saturday evening.[1]  --  But this intervention, attempted robotically a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, involves a risk:  "Experts have said that a bend in the damaged riser likely was restricting the flow of oil somewhat, so slicing it off and installing a new containment valve is risky.  'If they can't get that valve on, things will get much worse,'" said an engineering prof at the U. of Alabama.  --  McClatchy Newspapers reported that the plan was to "weld on a 'lower marine riser package,' a cap containment system known in the industry as a Top Hat.  It could take four to seven days to accomplish."[2]  --  The Los Angeles Times suggested that the top kill attempt had been abandoned for fear it could do irreparable damage to the pipe:  "Iraj Ershaghi, a petroleum engineering professor at USC, warned that continuing to inject mud into the well at extreme pressure could have broken pipes, or casings, deep in the well, causing it to collapse.  Such a scenario could leave a ragged crater that could be difficult, if not impossible, to plug by any means, he said."[3]

1.

BP's TOP KILL EFFORT FAILS TO PLUG GULF OIL LEAK

By Ben Nuckols

Associated Press
May 29, 2010 -- 2020 PDT

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gIXWYBTpLtSayJtg41LKXpxSxVPAD9G0SRFO0


ROBERT, La. -- The most ambitious bid yet to stop the worst oil spill in U.S. history ended in failure Saturday after BP was unable to overwhelm the gusher of crude with heavy fluids and junk.  President Obama called the setback "as enraging as it is heartbreaking."

The oil giant immediately began readying its next attempted fix, using robot submarines to cut the pipe that's gushing the oil and cap it with funnel-like device, but the only guaranteed solution remains more than two months away.

The company determined the "top kill" had failed after it spent three days pumping heavy drilling mud into the crippled well 5,000 feet underwater.  It's the latest in a series of failures to stop the crude that's fouling marshland and beaches, as estimates of how much oil is leaking grow more dire.

The spill is the worst in U.S. history -- exceeding even the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster -- and has dumped between 18 million and 40 million gallons into the Gulf, according to government estimates.

"This scares everybody, the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven't succeeded so far," BP PLC Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said Saturday.  "Many of the things we're trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 feet."

Frustration has grown as drifting oil closes beaches and washes up in sensitive marshland.  The damage is underscored by images of pelicans and their eggs coated in oil.  Below the surface, oyster beds and shrimp nurseries face certain death.  Fishermen complain there's no end in sight to the catastrophe that's keeping their boats idle.

News that the top kill fell short drew a sharply worded response from President Barack Obama, a day after he visited the Gulf Coast to see the damage firsthand.

"It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking, and we will not relent until this leak is contained, until the waters and shores are cleaned up, and until the people unjustly victimized by this manmade disaster are made whole," Obama said Saturday.

In the days after the spill, BP was unable to use robot submarines to close valves on the massive blowout preventer atop the damaged well, then two weeks later ice-like crystals clogged a 100-ton box the company tried placing over the leak.  Earlier this week, engineers removed a mile-long siphon tube after it sucked up a disappointing 900,000 gallons of oil from the gusher.

In the latest try, BP engineers pumped more than 1.2 million gallons of heavy drilling mud into the well and also shot in assorted junk, including metal pieces and rubber balls.

The hope was that the mud force-fed into the well would overwhelm the upward flow of oil and natural gas.  But Suttles said most of the mud escaped out of the damaged pipe that's leaking the oil, called a riser.

Suttles said BP is already preparing for the next attempt to stop the leak that began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April, killing 11 people.

The company plans to use robot submarines to cut off the damaged riser, and then try to cap it with a containment valve.  The effort is expected to take between four and seven days.

"We're confident the job will work but obviously we can't guarantee success," Suttles said of the new plan, declining to handicap the likelihood it will work.

He said that cutting off the damaged riser isn't expected to cause the flow rate of leaking oil to increase significantly.

The permanent solution to the leak, a relief well currently being drilled, won't be ready until August, BP says.

Experts have said that a bend in the damaged riser likely was restricting the flow of oil somewhat, so slicing it off and installing a new containment valve is risky.

"If they can't get that valve on, things will get much worse," said Philip W. Johnson, an engineering professor at the University of Alabama.

Johnson said he thinks BP can succeed with the valve, but added:  "It's a scary proposition."

Word that the top-kill had failed hit hard in fishing communities along Louisiana's coast.

"Everybody's starting to realize this summer's lost.  And our whole lifestyle might be lost," said Michael Ballay, the 59-year-old manager of the Cypress Cove Marina in Venice, La., near where oil first made landfall in large quantities almost two weeks ago.

Johnny Nunez, owner of Fishing Magician Charters in Shell Beach, La., said the spill is hurting his business during what's normally the best time of year -- and there's no end in sight.

"If fishing's bad for five years, I'll be 60 years old.  I'll be done for," he said after watching BP's televised announcement.

The top official in coastal Plaquemines Parish said news of the top kill failure brought tears to his eyes.

"They are going to destroy south Louisiana.  We are dying a slow death here," said Billy Nungesser, the parish president.  "We don't have time to wait while they try solutions.  Hurricane season starts on Tuesday."

--Online: http://www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/site/2931/

--Associated Press Writers Matthew Brown, Janet McConnaughey and Mary Foster in New Orleans and AP Radio correspondent Shelly Adler contributed to this report.


2.

News

BP oil spill

TOP KILL FAILS TO PLUG OIL GUSHER; NOW ROBOTS GET THEIR CHANCE

By Carol Rosenberg

** BP called off its effort to use mud to clog up the gusher in the gulf. Now robots will take a crack at plugging the well. **

Miami Herald

May 29, 2010

http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/05/29/1655239/top-kill-fails-to-plug-oil-gusher.html

BP on Saturday abandoned its three-day "top kill" attempt, declaring it a failure, and said it would next try another engineering strategy to stop the runaway oil and gas leak feeding the worst spill in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico.

Robots will saw off portions of Deepwater Horizon's damaged well, the risers, at a depth of 5,000 feet, said BP executive Doug Suttles.

Then, the plan is to weld on a "lower marine riser package," a cap containment system known in the industry as a Top Hat.  It could take four to seven days to accomplish.

People should be able to clearly watch while it happens on live video feeds, unlike the puzzling, failed top kill effort that showed only a murky discharge.

"This scares everybody -- the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing," Suttles conceded in a media briefing Saturday evening.  Earlier, he had been more measured in tone, saying "it's time to move on to the next option."

Oil industry scientists consulted with government experts -- including Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar and Energy Department Secretary Steven Chu -- before concluding they had to scrap the top kill effort that Suttles had given a 60 to 70 percent chance of success.

Saturday, he refused to even offer odds on the new plan.  Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, his on-scene partner in the containment and clean-up effort, reflected the frustration of the moment on the 40th day of the disaster:

Despite "tremendous brain power and hard working people," she said, "There is no silver bullet to stop this leak."

Saturday night, President Barack Obama said the approach was "not without risk," "will be difficult and will take several days."

He vowed to continue pursuing "any and all responsible means of stopping this leak."

"Every day that this leak continues is an assault on the people of the Gulf Coast region, their livelihoods, and the natural bounty that belongs to all of us," the president said.  "It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking."

TENT CITIES ON SHORE


Landry, the Coast Guard admiral, warned that the start of hurricane season could further complicate both the cleanup that has captured oil far from the shore and underwater work, should the rig and other seaborne effort need to be evacuated in advance of a storm.

At the same time, Suttles said that BP was going to move 2,200 cleanup workers "closer to the front lines," by erecting tent cities in strategic sites along the shore.

BP executives had said since last week that they were readying backup plans for plugging the leak but were going to let play out the idea of infusing it with mud and then capping it with cement until they felt the effort could not succeed.

Now, Suttles warned, the new technique would not seal off the leak entirely and even if successful could continue to ooze -- comments that may have prompted Landry to warn that the industry will continue to use dispersants.

The toxic chemicals disperse the oil before it reaches the surface but are the focus of health concerns.

Suttles said he didn't anticipate that removing the risers would unleash an increasing amount of oil, which the government estimated last week was spewing at a rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.

RELIEF WELLS


But he said that only the completion of one of two relief wells -- he estimated in early August -- would stop the leak.

Progress on that front has been slow.  Suttles reported that the machinery had to dig through some 6,000 feet of rock to reach the oil deposits.

Florida has so far been unscathed and Gov. Charlie Crist's office credited favorable currents and winds with continuing to keep the oil from the Sunshine State's shores at least until after Memorial Day.

"Currently, there have been no confirmed oil impacts to Florida's more than 1,260 miles of coastline and 825 miles of sandy beaches," said an 11:00 a.m. update from the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

Winds and currents should "continue to keep the plume away from the Florida coast for at least the next 72 hours," the update said.

In Kenner, La., meantime, the Coast Guard issued an alert Saturday to the public "to be on the lookout for debris from the Deepwater Horizon rig that might be floating in the Gulf or washing up on shore."

IMPORTANT DEBRIS


The alert called the debris "vital" to investigators seeking a cause of the April 20 accident.

Their instructions:  Leave it in place, take note of its location and call the Transocean contact center at 1-800-598-3195.

One focus of Florida's response is to keep up the mantra that the state's coasts are unmarred by the oil disaster.

So the state's oil spill response bulletin offered a reminder that the fisheries, wildlife and seafood off the Florida's coast in state waters are safe.

Gov. Charlie Crist has declared May 29-31 and June 5-6 to be "free fishing weekends."

Both residents and nonresidents in Florida can fish for saltwater species around the state without a license during that period.  The idea is to help draw visitors to the state.

3.

GLOOM GROWS AS BP'S 'TOP KILL' EFFORT FAILS

By Margot Roosevelt and Louis Sahagun

'This scares everybody — the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing,' an official says. Some hope lies with a new maneuver to cap the leak.

Los Angeles Times

May 30, 2010

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-oil-spill-20100530,0,841698.story


LOS ANGELES and KENNER, Louisiana --
BP acknowledged the failure Saturday of its latest "top kill" operation to tamp down oil gushing from its blown-out well, and launched a new interim effort to contain the flow.

"After three full days, we have been unable to overcome the flow from the well, so we now believe it is time to move on to another option," said BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles at a news conference with federal officials in Robert, La.

"After three full days, we have been unable to overcome the flow from the well, so we now believe it is time to move on to another option," said BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles at a news conference with federal officials in Robert, La.

In a surprisingly somber statement from the company that has sought to reassure the public over the last 40 days, Suttles acknowledged:  "This scares everybody -- the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing or the fact that we haven't succeeded so far."

President Obama's reaction was measured.  "It is also important to note that while we were hopeful that the top kill would succeed," he said, "we were also mindful that there was a significant chance it would not.  And we will continue to pursue any and all responsible means of stopping this leak until the completion of the two relief wells currently being drilled."

"As I said yesterday, every day that this leak continues is an assault on the people of the Gulf Coast region, their livelihoods and the natural bounty that belongs to all of us," said Obama, who visited the region Friday.  "It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking, and we will not relent until this leak is contained, until the waters and shores are cleaned up and until the people unjustly victimized by this man-made disaster are made whole."

The top-kill operation had injected a high-pressure stream of heavy drilling fluid into a failed blowout preventer in hopes of overcoming the upward force of the oil so it could plug the well with cement.

In the new strategy, BP engineers would first sever the crumpled riser pipe, then attach a cap over the lower-marine riser package that sits atop the blowout preventer.  A new pipe would direct the oil to a surface ship.  It will take at least four days to install, Suttles said, and could capture "a great majority" of the oil spewing from the well.

Oil is now flowing from the crippled well and would continue until the maneuver is finished, Suttles said.  Last week, a government panel estimated the flow of oil at 504,000 to 798,000 gallons a day.

Suttles cautioned that the new maneuver would be "a very complex operation."  As with earlier efforts, it has never been tried at 5,000 feet below sea level using robotic submarines.

In the end, only a relief well, expected to be finished by early August, would finally be able to kill the well, Suttles said.

One of two such wells being slant-drilled is at 12,900 feet below the ocean surface, but it must reach 18,000 feet.  "The farther we go, the slower it gets," he said, adding, "we are ahead of our plan right now."

The collapse of BP's top-kill maneuver came as public frustration mounted over what the government now calculates to be the biggest oil spill in the nation's history.  Earlier failures included a huge box known as a "top hat" that became clogged with crystalline gas hydrates, and a tube that had siphoned a small portion of oil from the fractured riser pipe on the ocean floor.

As much as 29 million gallons of oil have been spilled into the gulf since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, compared with 11 million gallons leaked into Alaska's Prince William Sound by the Exxon Valdez tanker in 1989.

BP, the owner of the well, says it will pay "all legitimate claims" from the accident, which Obama on Friday called "a man-made catastrophe that is still evolving."

At the news conference, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry told reporters, "Obviously we're very disappointed in today's announcement . . . but we want to assure you, we've had a very, very aggressive response."  She echoed Obama's remarks during his visit to Louisiana, saying, "There's no silver bullet to stop this leak."

Some engineers were critical of BP's decision to persist with the top kill, and applauded the company's decision to move on.

Iraj Ershaghi, a petroleum engineering professor at USC, warned that continuing to inject mud into the well at extreme pressure could have broken pipes, or casings, deep in the well, causing it to collapse.  Such a scenario could leave a ragged crater that could be difficult, if not impossible, to plug by any means, he said.

Ershaghi said the new strategy was a well-tested method of controlling wells and was BP's best chance of success now.

Concern mounted Saturday over possible health effects of dispersants BP continues to spray.

Two contract cleanup workers were airlifted to West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, La., on Friday night after suffering dizziness, headaches, and chest pains on boats operating about a mile south of the coast.

One of the men told a hospital administrator that he had been helping to burn off oil when he became ill.  He said he had been sprayed with dispersant the day before.  He declined to speak to a reporter, saying he feared losing his job, the administrator said.

The two men were expected to be released Monday.  A hospital spokeswoman said no toxicology tests had been conducted.

A news release from the Unified Command, a joint information center of BP and the federal government, said that at the time of the men's complaints, no controlled burning of oil was underway.  It also said that aerial dispersants were used in the area of the burn fleet "but as per safety restrictions, no dispersants are deployed within two miles of any vessel or platform."

Federal authorities are expected to set up a temporary health clinic in south Louisiana by Tuesday to screen and treat workers and residents affected by the oil leak, according to Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.).

Melancon noted that crews and volunteers were being exposed to "hazardous fumes and dangerous dispersants" and that "we've got cleaning locations for the birds but nothing for the people."

Daniel Sain, of Hopedale, La., said he was laying boom last week when he came across a rust-colored area of water with a pungent smell.  Afterward, he experienced headaches, nausea, and sinus irritation, he said.

"I don't smoke cigarettes or anything, but I'm coughing like a smoker," he said, adding that no medical personnel were available when he docked.

Even residents not working on the spill reported unaccustomed ailments.  Lisa Louque, a restaurant worker, said she felt dizzy and disoriented and couldn't breathe several days after walking on a nearby beach.  She said she stayed at Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Cut Off, La., for a day and a half.

"I didn't touch the oil," she said.  "I didn't know I really shouldn't have been out there."

In Kenner, La., a panel of the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service heard a sixth day of testimony about the causes of the spill.  David Sims, BP operations manager for the relief well effort, testified by telephone.  He said that the Deepwater Horizon crew had experienced problems in the months before the accident, including a "kick" from rising gas and problems with the circulation of drilling mud, but that he was not informed of any serious problems on the day of the explosion.

His testimony added to growing anecdotal evidence of chaos, equipment failures and confusion about procedures and authority after explosions rocked the rig.

The panel delayed questioning Sims about the blown-out well, which he designed, until sometime in July.  "We want to ask him those kinds of questions in person," said panelist Jason Mathews, a petroleum engineer for the Minerals Management Service.

Saturday night, a storm rolled into south Louisiana just as two biologists from the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife hauled a dead dolphin into their boat. Mandy Tumlin and Clint Edds, dressed in white contamination jumpsuits, had located the 6-foot dolphin in the waters of Barataria Pass.  "It's the freshest one we've seen," Tumlin said.

The dolphin's glistening hide showed no sign of oil, but it will be taken to an aquatic research center in New Orleans for testing.  Tests are underway on 25 dead marine mammals, including dolphins, collected since the spill began.

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Times staff writers Jill Leovy in Los Angeles and Nicole Santa Cruz in Belle Chasse, La., and photographer Carolyn Cole in Barataria Pass, La., contributed to this report.