Video: ‘Static kill’ underway

  1. Transcript of: ‘Static kill’ underway

    HOLT: Good evening, everyone. I'm Lester Holt in tonight for Brian , who is on assignment.

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: We begin tonight with a developing story from the Gulf of Mexico , where just a few hours ago the much anticipated operation to kill the damaged oil well got under way. It may seem hard to believe that after 105 days, almost five million barrels of oil leaked into the sea and billions of dollars spent, engineers are tonight counting on an injection of something as simple as mud to do the trick. NBC 's Anne Thompson joins us now from Louisiana with late

    details. Anne: Good evening, Lester . The news fishermen here in the Venice marina wanted to hear came late this afternoon. The static kill is under way, and it could take two and a half days to complete. It's been a 106-day journey from explosion to death to disaster, the three-month assault of oil in the gulf destroying wildlife and livelihoods. BP attempted many different solutions...

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Deep trouble in the gulf as the latest attempt to stop the oil leak fails.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS reporting: ...a frustrating strange string of names....

    For days crews have been pumping heavy fluids into the leaking well in an operation called top kill.

    THOMPSON: ...from the top hat to the junk shot, and outlandish devices like this four-story containment dome that never worked. Tonight, perhaps static kill is the beginning of the end . Here's how the static kill works. From the Q4000 on the surface, crews pump drilling mud a mile down to the gulf floor. The mud travels through a manifold and up the choke line into the blowout preventer and then down the well pipe. Because the mud is heavier than the oil it should force the crude back down into its reservoir.

    HOLT: Good morning.

    THOMPSON: Retired Admiral Thad Allen , the national incident commander, says static kill is the ultimate diagnostic test.

    Admiral THAD ALLEN: We all need to understand that the quicker we get this done, the quicker we would reduce risk of any type of internal failure that we're not aware of right now.

    THOMPSON: While static kill may plug the well from the top, Allen is emphatic it is not the final step to prevent oil from coming out of that drill pipe and the large pipe that surrounds it. That will only happen with the relief well, when a cement plug is put into the bottom of that well, and BP says that procedure should resume on Thursday. Lester :

    Adm. ALLEN: And, Anne , I know they have shied away from exact timetables here, but assuming all goes well with this first part, how long to completely seal it off?

    THOMPSON: To completely kill the well, they hope to have that done by the middle of August. That timetable is still on track, Lester .

    HOLT: Anne Thompson tonight. Thank you.

    THOMPSON:

updated 8/4/2010 12:52:11 AM ET 2010-08-04T04:52:11

BP embarked Tuesday on an operation that could seal the biggest offshore oil leak in U.S. history once and for all, forcing mud down the throat of its blown-out well in a tactic known variously as "bullheading" or a "static kill."

The pressure in the well dropped quickly in the first 90 minutes of the procedure, a sign that everything was going as planned, wellsite leader Bobby Bolton told The Associated Press aboard the Q4000, the vessel being used to pump in the mud. Hours later, Bolton told the AP that the procedure was still going well.

"Pressure is down and appears to be stabilizing," he said.

He said earlier that the work could be complete by Tuesday night or Wednesday, though BP said the effort could continue through Thursday, and engineers won't know for more than a week if it choked the well for good.

The 122 crew members on the Q4000 were excited about being part of what could be the final resolution to a drama that started with the April 20 explosion on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, Capt. Keith Schultz said.

"I'm a mariner and we lost mariners out here," said Schultz, who is on his second 28-day tour of duty since the spill started. "I'm very confident we'll be able to kill this well. It's been one magical time trying to get this thing plugged."

A 75-ton cap placed on the well in July has been keeping the oil bottled up inside over the past three weeks, but that is considered only a temporary measure. BP and the Coast Guard want to plug up the hole more securely with a column of heavy drilling mud and cement.

The static kill involves slowly pumping mud down lines running from a ship to the top of the ruptured well a mile below. BP said that may be enough by itself to seal the well.

But retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the spill, made it clear that to be safe, the gusher will have to be plugged up from two directions. He said the 18,000-foot relief well that BP has been drilling over the past three months will be used later this month to execute a "bottom kill," in which mud and cement will be injected into the bedrock 2½ miles below the sea floor.

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"There should be no ambiguity about that," Allen said. "I'm the national incident commander and this is how this will be handled."

Over the past few months, with each failed attempt to stop the leak, the American public has learned some of the oil industry's lingo, including "top kill," which is similar to the static kill, "top hat," and "junk shot," an attempt to clog up the well with golf balls and rubber scraps.

Before the cap was lowered onto the well, 172 million gallons of crude flowed into the sea, unleashed by the April 20 explosion aboard the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 workers.

BP won't know for certain whether the static kill has succeeded until engineers can use the soon-to-be-completed relief well to check their work.

Allen said the task is becoming more urgent because peak hurricane season is just around the corner. Tropical Storm Colin formed far out in the Atlantic on Tuesday, but early forecasts say it will travel toward the East Coast rather than the Gulf. And while the cap appears to be holding tight, the static kill would give scientists more confidence the well won't leak again, he said.

"The quicker we get this done, the quicker we can reduce the risk of some type of internal failure" of the massive cap, he said.

Gulf residents anxiously awaited the outcome. In Yscloskey, La., Russell Prats, a crab dealer, said he is confident the static kill will work, but concerned that people will still be scared to eat seafood.

"I think they'll be successful this time. I really do," he said. "But just because they kill the well doesn't mean our troubles go away."

Aboard the Q4000, workers in red jumpsuits scurried about, pressing buttons and monitoring gauges. Some relaxed in the galley, watching "Law and Order," while others typed on laptops. They were in constant contact with BP's command center in Houston, where decisions about the procedure were being made.

"We're just waiting to get feedback from the experts who are looking at the data," Bolton said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Interactive: Interactive look at 'static kill'

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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