Drilling suspension appealed

July 7, 2010 at 10:20 PM
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VENICE, La., July 7 (UPI) -- U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Wednesday efforts to hook up another system to help control the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico were progressing.

Allen, the national incident commander, made a trip to the recovery rigs in the gulf to "get a sense of how we're doing" getting the third rig, the Helix Producer, up and running.

"The Helix Producer partially connected to a canister that sits below what they call the moon pool in the Helix Producer," Allen said, speaking from the Discovery Enterprise. "They've connected their production lines from the top down to the canister. What remains to be done is to hook the flexible hose from the freestanding riser pipe to the bottom of that canister, and then the procedures required to test it and be ready to go to production will take approximately three days."

The work was to have been done by June 30 but rough seas churned by Hurricane Alex and a subsequent storm front moving through the region caused a delay, he said. Swells were still 4-6 feet at the well site scene, he said.

Once connected, the vessel should draw up to 53,000 barrels of oil a day.

Federal officials estimate between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of oil have been flowing into the gulf every day since the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP sank in the gulf April 22, two days after it exploded, killing 11 workers.

Allen said the drilling of two relief wells was ahead of schedule, with the first one within 200-225 feet of the wellbore. However, he said he was sticking to a mid-August completion time table.

"They're at a point right now where they're going in 10- to 15-foot sections at a time to drill and then sense with electrical device the electromagnetic field around the wellbore as they slowly close in on it," Allen said. "This is a very precision, complicated operation. They're doing it very slowly to make sure they get the exact alignment they need before penetrating the wellbore.

"So while it's nice to be slightly ahead of schedule, I'm sticking to the middle of August, because we don't know the condition of the wellbore until we penetrate her."

Allen added he had conferred with BP officials about replacing the current containment cap with one that would be bolted on to the flange below the current riser pipe. He declined to say how likely it was that option would be pursued.

The admiral also said tests of the giant oil skimming vessel "A Whale" were "inconclusive."

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has asked a federal judge in Louisiana to reverse his decision lifting the deep water drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico.

The administration imposed the six-month ban in late May. U.S. District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman suspended it June 22.

The New York Times reported the Interior Department, joined by the Justice Department, said new regulations are necessary to prevent irreparable harm to the environment.

"Because this deep water spill has been impossible to fully contain, Interior had to take immediate action to minimize the risk of another spill, especially while efforts to contain and clean up this one are ongoing," the government reply said. "The stakes are even higher now that it is hurricane season."

Rough water still hampered cleanup efforts and officials were monitoring a weather system near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Allen said.

Cleanup crews finished clearing Lake Pontchartrain of tar balls and oil sheens this week, but lake residents say they won't let their children play in the water or boat in the lake, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported Wednesday.

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