US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the federal government may take over the operation to halt the Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico from UK supermajor BP if it decides the company is not performing as required in its response to the disaster. However, other officials admitted separately that only the company and the oil industry have the know-how to plug the well. "I am angry and I am frustrated that BP has been unable to stop this oil from leaking and to stop the pollution from spreading," Salazar told reporters after visiting BP's US headquarters in Houston over the weekend, according to a Reuters report. "We are 33 days into this effort and deadline after deadline has been missed," Salazar added, referring to the failure of containment efforts attempted so far by London-based BP to control the deep-water well, which has been gushing oil into the Gulf since a deadly blowout on 20 April. "If we find they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way appropriately," Salazar said, but he did not specify at what point this would occur or what might be the trigger for it.
Salazar’s comments were indicative of growing frustration in Washington over the pace of efforts to staunch the flow of oil from the well on Mississippi Canyon Block 242, about 40 miles (64 kilometres) off New Orleans. However, US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen and the federal government’s top official overseeing the crisis, said separately that BP remained the best equipped to plug the well, which lies in about 5000 feet of water. Allen told CNN over the weekend that he believed BP had done its best to cope with the blowout and the resulting massive oil spill. "They have the eyes and ears that are down there," Allen told CNN, according to a Upi report. "They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved. Our responsibility is to conduct proper oversight to make sure they do that." President Barack Obama's administration is facing growing public and political pressure to take full charge of the oil spill containment operation as criticism against BP grows. The spill is threatening fishing grounds and 100 of kilometres of sensitive coastline along the entire US Gulf Coast.
The Coast Guard said yesterday that over 65 miles (110 kilometres) of Gulf Coast has experienced "shoreline impact" and less than half of it could be cleaned up relatively quickly, underscoring the growing ecological toll of the disaster. The well blowout on 20 April led to an explosion and fire that destroyed the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, with the loss of 11 lives. The Transocean-owned semi-submersible was wrapping up completion work on the Macondo well for BP when the disaster occurred.
Interior Secretary Salazar said: "This is an existential crisis for one of the world's largest companies," he said, in a reference to the billions of dollars of cleanup and damages costs that BP faces. Salazar also said BP had agreed to pay cleanup costs beyond the $75 million liability limit set by current US law. BP managing director Robert Dudley told the same CNN programme that the uncontrolled blowout was “catastrophic for every employee of BP”. "We have to do everything we can to clean this up as fast as we can and we'll make good on our promise," Dudley said, according to the UPI report.
The comments came as US President Barack Obama signed documents setting up a bipartisan commission to investigate the accident. The commission is tasked with coming up with recommendations on how to prevent and mitigate any future spills as a result of offshore drilling, according to a statement released by the joint command centre set up to manage the response to the disaster. The body will investigate environmental and safety precautions to be written into future laws “to ensure an accident like this never happens again”. The commission will take the findings of other investigations into the accident into account, the statement said. Announcing the formation of the commission on Saturday, Obama said: "First and foremost, what led to this disaster was a breakdown of responsibility on the part of BP and perhaps others, including Transocean and Halliburton." He added: "We will continue to hold the relevant companies accountable not only for being forthcoming and transparent about the facts surrounding the leak, but for shutting it down, repairing the damage it does, and repaying Americans who've suffered a financial loss."
Criticism of BP intensified last week after the company said it was now collecting 5000 barrels of oil per day from a suction hose attached to the ruptured well riser but that a significant amount of oil was still escaping, proving that the size of the leak was larger than official estimates released by BP and Coast Guard officials. The revelation has led to accusations of a cover-up of the extent of the spill and criticism by top Obama Administration officials of BP's openness in providing information about the disaster. "In responding to this oil spill, it is critical that all actions be conducted in a transparent manner, with all data and information related to the spill readily available to the US government and the American people," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson said in a letter seen by Reuters. The officials said in a letter to BP chief executive Tony Hayward that despite claims by BP was making efforts to keep the public and the government informed, "those efforts, to date, have fallen short in both their scope and effectiveness". Reuters said the statement followed earlier allegations by US Senator Barbara Boxer, who heads the Congressional Environment & Public Works Committee, that BP has engaged in a "cover-up" about the extent of the damage.
Meanwhile, BP said it would delay until this week an attempt to cap the well using a “top kill ” injection of fluid into the bore. BP operations boss Doug Suttles said late last week the earliest BP would try pumping heavy drilling mud into the well would be tomorrow. The operation had been planned for this weekend. He did not give a specific reason for the delay but said the time needed for underwater work was “difficult to predict.” That work includes making connections with the choke and kill lines and hooking up the subsea manifolds. BP has brought in a “very large” barge to handle the mud mixture and two “very large” pumping vessels that combined exceed 50,000 horsepower, Suttles said Friday. The Q4000 semi-submersible supply vessel, which is currently operated by Houston-based Helix Energy Solutions, will be used to pump the top kill operation, he said.
BP has replaced a key control module in the crippled blow-out preventer (BOP) above the Macondo well as it prepares for the top kill operation. BP re-inserted a “yellow pod", one of two in the BOP that control the choke and kill valves needed to kill the well, a source told UpstreamOnline. To kill the well, BP must pump heavy-weight mud at a high enough pressure to push the flow of oil back down the well bore. The mud will be pumped through a pair of three-inch choke and kill valves located on the lower portion of the cBOP. The heavy mix will then be followed with cement, which would seal the well for good. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) have for days been preparing pipes and hoses around the well to pump up to 40 barrels per minute of mud into the well. Suttles said last week all of the heavy equipment for the kill attempt “has been mobilised or is on scene”, including manifolds, which were dropped to the sea floor late last week. BP representatives said they were unsure if the top kill would be carried out by Helix’s Well Ops division, which offers subsea well intervention services. Should the attempt fail, BP’s next option would be a “junk shot”, which entails pumping chunks of rubber, shredded tyres, frac balls and other materials, along with heavy mud, directly into the BOP, Suttles said. BP was attempting a top kill before a junk shot because a failed junk shot could cut off other well control options, Suttles said. Further options include trying to “hot stab” a second BOP on top of the malfunctioning one or adding a valve on top of the BOP.
Suttles said on Friday that the first of two relief wells at Macondo was “slightly ahead of schedule” The Transocean semi-submersible rig Development Driller III has resumed drilling the first relief well after stopping to test and drop the BOP on 9 May. The Transocean semi-submersible rig has drilling out of a 22-inch casing and is continuing downhole at 8950 feet below the drilling floor. Another Transocean semi-sub, Development Driller II, is drilling the second relief well. Development Driller II set the top 36-inch casing on its relief well and has stopped drilling while it performs routine tests on its BOP. Both wells are planned for casing strings of 36, 28, 22, 18, 16, 13-5/8, 11-7/8 and 9-5/8 inches, the same string as the original Macondo well, a BP spokesman told UpstreamOnline. Both rigs spud their wells about 3000 feet from the original Macondo bore. They will drill vertically to about 10,000 feet before directionally drilling to intercept Macondo at roughly 18,000 feet. Once either well intercepts the Macondo bore, BP can pump cement and plug the producing zone. Suttles said the company has no plans to ever produce from the Macondo bore because it has been damaged beyond repair.
The Macondo well - a discovery well which was to be temporarily abandoned ahead of later completion as a subsea producer - had been drilled to 18,000 feet by the Deepwater Horizon. An explosion late on 20 April rocked the semi-sub before the rig was engulfed in flames. The rig sank on 22 April, extinguishing the blaze. The initial cause of the accident is still unknown. Eleven of the 126 crew on board the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the explosion are missing, presumed dead. Drilling giant Transocean has confirmed nine of its employees were among the missing. Two worked for services outfit Smith International and Schlumberger's M-I Swaco joint venture. BP has a 65% stake in Mississippi Canyon Block 252. Anadarko has 25% and Japanese player Mitsui the remaining 10%. All are liable for costs on a proportionate basis. BP has lifted the total bill for the clean-up to $625 million so far. The updated cost is $175 million more than an estimate released five days ago and includes the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf Coast States, settlements and federal costs. Analyst forecasts for the clean-up costs and compensation for the spill off the coast of Louisiana have ranged to as much as $12 billion.