BP floated a new option Monday to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil leak and end the economic and environmental disaster sooner than expected.
The “static kill” operation would involve pumping heavy drilling fluids known as mud through the blowout preventer valve system that sits on top of the well and then injecting cement to seal it.
Similar to the “top kill” operation that failed in May, BP believes it will now work because the oil and gas in the runaway well is sealed already by its containment cap so the mud won’t need to be forced down so hard.
BP senior vice president Kent Wells said officials could decide to implement the operation within the “next couple days,” long before the first relief well — still seen as the ultimate fix — is completed at the end of the month.
Back in May, the “top kill” saw engineers spend days pumping heavy drilling fluid into the leaking well, but they failed to smother the gushing crude.
Former Coast Guard chief, Admiral Thad Allen, who heads the government’s response to the spill, confirmed there was “some discussion that there might be some way to do a static pumping of mud into the top that would suppress the hydrocarbons.”
But Allen stressed the plan was still in its infancy and said he was waiting further analysis from BP before making a final decision.
He admitted it could have better chances of success than the “top kill” because the well, which has been capped since Thursday, was now in a closed system with back pressure.
Both BP and Allen treaded cautiously after a string of containment failures.
“We’re trading off a lot of different options. We’ve discussed about three or four different things that could happen, the relief well being number one,” said Allen.
“We’re still very much in the design and planning phase,” Wells told reporters. “We’ve got some real experienced teams working on this over the next couple of days.”
Gulf residents, who have seen the crude tarnish their shorelines and cripple the local economy since a rig leased by BP exploded and killed 11 workers in April, have reacted with cautious optimism.
Kenneth Feinberg, who manages BP’s 20-billion-dollar compensation fund, said capping the well would allow compensation claims to move forward more quickly as the extent of the damage becomes clearer.
He urged fishermen, oyster collectors and hotel owners and other businesses to come forward with claims, including emergency payments to cover the first six months of damages.
Residents face a tough choice: whether to accept compensation from the fund or pursue legal action against BP or the other companies involved.
“I’ll be much more generous than any court will be, and at the same time you won’t need to pay lawyers’ costs,” urged Feinberg.
Oil has washed up on the coasts of all five Gulf states — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after the explosion.
Poisonous crude has killed birds, closed fishing grounds, decimated the tourism industry and done untold environmental damage.