BP Plc can keep its Gulf of Mexico well capped indefinitely, preventing more crude from adding to the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, as a tropical storm approaches.
The authorization from National Incident Commander Thad Allen follows more than six days of observation and comes hours ahead of a decision on whether the storm requires the evacuation of vessels that are working on the Macondo well, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) off Louisiana’s coast.
A tropical depression that has formed east of the Gulf put off by about a week the completion of BP’s relief well, which is aimed at killing Macondo permanently. The relief well may be delayed by another five days if Allen decides to evacuate the drilling vessels from the spill site, BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said during a conference call with reporters today.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued storm warnings for the Bahamas and southern Florida today. Storm-force winds may hit the well area early on July 24, Allen said.
Shoreline pollution is the worst threat from the storm as winds may drive oil northwestward into Louisiana, Mississippi, and northeastern Texas, Jim Rouiller, a senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, said in an interview today.
The amount of oiled shoreline almost doubled at the end of June after storms came through the area, according to government data. About 626 miles (1,007 kilometers) of coasts in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are tarred by oil, the government said yesterday.
Allen, speaking from Theodore, Alabama, said a decision would be made about 8 p.m. local time today on whether the rig drilling the relief well intended to plug Macondo next month will have to begin withdrawing, delaying the procedure until the storm passes.
The Development Driller III was about 5 feet (1.5 meters) from the damaged well and 100 feet from the planned interception point when crews withdrew the bit to install a temporary plug, Wells said yesterday.
The decision to keep the well closed is conditional on BP conducting intensive surveillance of pressure levels and the area around the well, Allen said.
Allen also authorized BP to prepare for a so-called static kill operation of pumping mud into the top of Macondo before it’s permanently plugged, Wells said. The company will need Allen’s approval again before the execution of the process, which was delayed by the storm as well.
Some Ships Stay
Ships operating remote-operated vehicles used for visual and acoustic monitoring may be able to remain on site through the storm because they can operate in seas of 12 feet to 15 feet, he said.
Pressure inside the well has risen to 6,863 pounds per square inch since BP sealed it July 15, indicating oil and gas is not being forced out elsewhere in the well bore, according to the company’s website.
BP rose less than a pence to 400 pence at 4:35 p.m. local time in London. It has fallen 39 percent since the well blew out April 20, destroying the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and killing 11 workers.