BP Persists on `Top Kill,' Prepares Backup Plan to Stop Spill

BP Plc planned to continue working through the weekend to plug a leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico that has produced the largest spill in U.S. history.

Since Wednesday, BP has been starting and stopping high- horsepower pumps that ram mixtures of mud-like drilling fluid and rubber scrap into the oil and gas that’s been gushing from the well for more than five weeks.

“We’ll continue this operation as long as necessary until we’re either successful with it or are convinced it won’t succeed,” Doug Suttles, the BP executive in charge of the spill response, said at an afternoon press conference in Robert, Louisiana.

Yesterday, engineers suspended work on a “relief” well intended as a long-term back-up solution so that equipment it’s using can be available should the so-called “top kill” fail.

President Barack Obama, in Louisiana, said Energy Secretary Steven Chu will work with BP to seek alternatives if the top- kill plan fails.

“There are going to be a lot of judgment calls involved here,” Obama told reporters yesterday in Grand Isle, Louisiana. “There are not going to be silver bullets for the problems we face.”

Obama met with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who said he’s frustrated at the reluctance of federal officials to allow dredging and filling of manmade islands to protect marshes.

BP’s costs from the spill rose to $930 million, the London- based company, the largest producer of oil and gas from the Gulf of Mexico, said yesterday in a statement. BP leased the rig destroyed in the explosion, the Deepwater Horizon, from Geneva- based Transocean Ltd., the world’s largest deep-water driller.

‘Catastrophe’

BP has a 65 percent stake in the field, known as Macondo. Its partners in the project are Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Japan’s Mitsui & Co. About 26,000 damage claims have been filed and 11,650 have already been paid, BP said yesterday.

Chief Executive Tony Hayward called it an “environmental catastrophe,” a day after a government panel estimated the well has gushed 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil a day, making it the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Hearings are scheduled to continue today in Louisiana into the death of 11 workers killed in the April 20 drilling rig explosion that triggered it.

Citing risk to workers and the environment raised by the spill, Obama on May 28 extended for six months a moratorium on deep-water drilling permits.

Relief Well Stopped

BP suspended drilling on the second of two relief wells intended to permanently seal the damaged well from the bottom, so that its blowout preventer will be available should the top kill fail, Suttles said.

In that event, BP will saw off a section of crimped pipe from the top of the blowout preventer of the leaking well, install the second blowout preventer atop the first, and close its valves to halt the leak.

That will take several days, and in the interim, engineers plan to cover the sawn-off pipe with a temporary cap designed to direct some of the oil to a ship on the surface, Suttles said.

Halting work on the second relief well is not a sign that BP has concluded the top kill will fail, Suttles said.

Mud Supplies

The first phase of the top-kill effort used less than 15,000 barrels of drilling mud, Suttles said. BP had 50,000 barrels available and has made sure there are additional supplies of mud and rubber material, he said. The leaking well is 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) below the surface, forcing BP to rely on remote-operated vehicles rather than divers.

“It’s not going well,” Tad Patzek, chairman of the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Austin, said yesterday after reviewing a live video of the leak.

“You have more or less the equivalent of six fire hoses blasting oil and gas upwards and two fire hoses blasting mud down,” Patzek said. “They are losing the competition.”

Oil from the spill may have spread underwater for 22 miles toward Mobile, Alabama, researchers aboard a University of South Florida vessel reported May 27. Initial tests aboard the Weatherbird II show the highest concentrations of “dissolved hydrocarbons” were 400 meters (1,312 feet) below the surface.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Polson in New York at jpolson@bloomberg.net

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