BP Begins Tests to 'Kill' Damaged Oil Well

a robotic arm from a submersible working around the BP well head After lengthy preparations, BP (BP) and the government will begin a series of "injection tests" Monday evening to determine whether the damaged Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is strong enough to go ahead with a plan to pump mud and cement down the well shaft in an attempt to seal it once and for all.

The plan to seal the well, called the "static kill," was thought to have been ready for implementation as early as Monday, but preparations for the testing phase of the plan were delayed. The Q4000 vessel, which is being reconfigured to pump mud down into the well instead of siphoning oil out of the well, was having a small leak in one of its valves repaired Monday afternoon.

Now the earliest that the actual static kill could be tried appears to be Wednesday. National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen wouldn't commit to a date because of the number of variables involved in the testing process. He said the injection tests will determine if the heavy mud can effectively flow from the Q4000 down into the well.

Testing Could Take Days

Once the proper rate of speed at which the mud should be injected into the well is determined and the pressure levels in the capping stack are approved, the decision to pump cement in to seal the well with the "static kill" can be made. Allen said the testing process could take anywhere from 33 to 61 hours depending on whether they have to pump mud into the drill shaft, the entire well casing and the annulus in order to get pressure readings.

"We would like to have this thing ended as soon as possible," Allen said, "but we won't know the condition of the well until we start to put mud into it."

As mud is pumped into the well, pressure readings will be taken periodically. Pressure levels must drop to zero in order to continue to the next step in sealing the well. Allen said that if pressure levels don't reach zero, that means the mud is going somewhere "and that would be a concern."

If the integrity of the well were determined to be too unstable to go ahead with the static kill, it would take at least another five to seven days for BP to begin plans to use its relief wells to end the oil leak once and for all.
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