June 28, 2010
By MARK SEIBEL
WASHINGTON -- The saga of BP's runaway Deepwater Horizon well, already into its third month, has entered a crucial phase that will determine whether the Gulf of Mexico gusher ends in mid-August or persists, perhaps for months.
Unlike the previous public drama, this act will unfold miles below the seabed, as drill technicians begin delicately maneuvering a relief well that they hope will pierce and cap the gushing oil well.
This week, BP began using sensitive electronic equipment to detect differences in the rock's electromagnetic field in an effort to pinpoint the metal pipes inside the wellbore. Based on what they find, they'll make adjustments every few hundred feet in an effort to intercept those pipes and kill the gusher by pumping it full of tons of heavy drilling mud and then concrete.
The stakes riding on those adjustments are enormous, and the chance of failure, at least on the first try, is huge.
"The engineers will tell you that they have a 95 percent chance of success" in killing a runaway gusher with a relief well, said Bruce Bullock, the director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "But that depends on how you define success. It's quite unlikely they'll hit it on the first stab."
"They're aiming at a salad plate thousands of feet down," Bullock said: a 7-inch pipe buried in concrete, 12,000 feet below the seafloor.
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