Late Tuesday night, the government abrubtly called for an all stop on the installation of the new cap, and drilling of the relief well.
In a morning press conference today, BP Vice President Kent Wells gave some details on what was behind the stoppage:
Photo Credit: AP/Dave Martin
The testing delay was announced with little explanation late Tuesday night by Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal oil-spill response commander.
Wells, in a morning press conference, said the "24-hour timeout" was ordered due in part to questions about whether the test would be able to determine a key issue: Whether the oil, if leaking, was coming from a shallow or a deep part of the well.
"What we want to do is avoid that oil is being put out in the shallow environment," Wells said. "There's always the potential, remote as it might be, that it could breach up to the surface."
The threat of a crater forming on the sea bed around the well head -- with oil flowing from multiple points -- would be a potentially catastrophic scenario that would make containing the oil extremely difficult.
But according to Darryl Bourgoyne, director of the petroleum research lab at Louisiana State University, leaks deep in the well may not be much of a problem--so long as it was so deep that "the fluid would stay in the subsurface, and cratering wouldn't be a risk."
The government, not a BP executive, should be explaining the stoppage. If they have a concern with the geology of the well site or threats to the surrounding seafloor, they should identify and explain them.
In the Times-Picayune piece from the second link, the government also stopped the drilling of the relief well, which is now only a few meters from the leaking Macondo well. The most likely fear is that if the new cap is closed and the well is leaking below the sea floor, the final few feet of rock separating the incoming relief well and the Macondo well bore could be compromised, potentially causing a blowout on the Development Driller III rig. If that's the case, then why not reconnect the oil capture devices--which BP and the government say are capable of collecting all of the oil coming from the well--and let the relief well drilling continue? The relief well is the final solution, so any delay in that project results in another day on this disaster's timeline.
Another marine geologist and petroleum drilling expert, Roger Anderson, quoted in the Times-Picayune story, suggests that the stoppage is simply the result of abundance of caution:
Roger N. Anderson, a marine geologist at Columbia University, said he believes BP and government scientists are just being very cautious. They may have found something surprising around the well during the countdown Tuesday to testing the cap, but he's not worried.
"So I wouldn't panic, is the answer. They're going to be very, very deliberate about this," Anderson said.
Deliberate for about five minutes, please. If you're worried about the well bore and causing damage to the relief well with a pressure test, then don't do the pressure test. Connect the oil collection equipment to the new cap, pump the oil to the surface, and let the drilling of the relief wells move forward, and plug the damned hole.
Gimme some feedback in the comments.