U.S. officials say final work to seal a blown-out oil well in the Gulf of Mexico may be completed in September, several weeks later than first expected. Officials say they are moving cautiously to ensure no new problems arise.
Offshore drilling crews have been idle as BP oil engineers and U.S. officials in recent days studied plans to insert the final seal in BP's damaged well.
Discussions have focussed on how to pump cement into the bottom of the damaged well, without causing any possible damage.
The top U.S. official in charge of the incident, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, had hoped to finish the job this month. Now he says it should be completed in early September. "As we get to the end, we are very close to putting this well away. No one wants to make a mistake at this point. And I have no problem, as national incident commander, with an over-abundance of caution," he said.
Crews pumped cement into the top of the well earlier this month, ensuring that no more oil or natural gas would spew into the Gulf of Mexico. Now they are trying to determine whether any oil remains near the bottom of the well pipe, where teams hope to pump more cement.
Engineers say the biggest fear is that a provisional cap on the top of the well, known as a capping stack, could fail if cement is pumped into the bottom of the well.
BP senior vice president Kent Wells said the solution is to install a different piece of equipment known as a blow-out preventer, or BOP, before crews begin pumping cement. "It could put a lot of pressure on the top of the well, that we would be very comfortable handling with a BOP, and less comfortable handling with the capping stack we have on there," he said.
Wells says crews are currently testing the well to ensure the cement plug will hold if the capping stack is removed. He said teams could be ready by Friday to install the new BOP on the well in preparation for the final cement plug.
Scientists estimate nearly 5 million barrels of oil leaked from the damaged well in the weeks after it ruptured on April 20th. The rupture killed 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon drill rig.