Retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who oversees operations to deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, says the first step to permanently seal, or kill, the damaged BP well could come as early as next week. But, the clean up and recovery effort from leaked oil could take many months.
Speaking to reporters in New Orleans, Admiral Allen said preparations for plugging the well from the top with mud and cement, the so-called static kill, could start this weekend. He said crews would likely carry out the procedure sometime next week and then start the so-called bottom kill in which they pump mud and cement into the sub-seabed shaft.
Allen says extensive tests have shown that the cap placed over the well head is holding and that it would be safe to proceed with both operations.
"Our science team has come to the conclusion that we do have well integrity, that the well is safe to do a static kill and that this would actually enhance and make more effective the ultimate bottom kill because we would be filling the well with mud and cement from the top down," said Thad Allen,
In the static kill, crews pump mud and cement through pipes from surface ships into the cap over the well head and through the blowout preventer that it sits on. The mud and cement would then block the flow of oil from the subsea shaft and turn the blowout preventer and cap into a permanent top seal. If that operation goes well, then crews will start pumping mud and cement down through the shaft of the relief well so as to seal off the source of oil from below.
That process could take weeks and Allen says officials will have to keep a close eye on weather developments since this is the beginning of the peak season for hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Last week operations at the spill site were temporarily suspended when Tropical Storm Bonnie passed over the area.
Allen also told reporters he had met with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and local officials to discuss plans going forward to deal with the oil that has already come ashore and befouled many marshes and beaches. He said federal, state and local officials will work closely together to develop a recovery plan for the region.
Allen said the recovery will become the main focus of federal efforts after the well is completely killed. He said one of the first steps will be to recover and decontaminate the more than three million meters of boom that has been used to block oil from coming ashore along various parts of the Gulf coast. In the meantime, however, he said the U.S. Coast Guard will remain vigilant near the site of the spill and nearby beaches, just to make sure no other leaks occur. Some local officials in coastal areas of Louisiana have expressed concern that the federal government will reduce its clean-up operations in the Gulf once the well is sealed.
The oil disaster began on April 20 with an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore drilling rig owned by Transocean, an oil services company, and operated by BP, one of the world's major private oil companies. BP has agreed to set aside $20 billion in a special fund to pay for damages caused by the oil spill and has recently sold some of its assets around the world to raise cash.