Video: BP touts ‘static kill’ success

  1. Transcript of: BP touts ‘static kill’ success

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But we're going to begin with that breaking news. BP announcing this morning that the static kill to plug up that broken oil well is working. NBC 's chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson is in Venice , Louisiana , with the very latest. Good morning, Anne .

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good morning, Meredith . BP calls this a significant milestone. After eight hours of pumping heavy drilling mud into the well, it says the well is in a static condition. This is the first in a two-step process to permanently shut in the Macondo well. Though the process is controlled from the Q4000 rig on the surface of the leak site, all the action happens a mile below.

    Mr. KENT WELLS (Senior Vice President): We're extremely focused at this point on making sure we execute the static kill the best we can.

    THOMPSON: Here's how the static kill works. Crews pump heavy drilling mud down to the gulf floor, it travels through a manifold, up the choke line, into the blowout preventer, and then down into the well pipe. The mud weighs more than the oil so it should force the crude back down to its reservoir. National Incident Commander Thad Allen calls it the ultimate diagnostic test.

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

    THOMPSON: The static kill procedure should stabilize the pressure inside the well and improve the chances of the second and ultimate step, the relief well of being successful. Mr. DONALD VAN NIEUWENHUISE (Director, Petroleum Geoscience Programs University of Houston ): You'd have the pressure under control. Then when you intersect it with the relief well, there's less risk involved when the pressure is already under control.

    THOMPSON: Work on finishing the first relief well is stopped until the static kill is completed. Crews hope to start on the final phase of the well Thursday. Now no matter what happens with the static kill, the national incident commander , retired Admiral Thad Allen , says he won't consider this well permanently shut in until the relief well puts a cement plug at the bottom of the problem well, and that's expected to happen in mid-August. Matt:

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/4/2010 8:17:36 AM ET 2010-08-04T12:17:36

In a significant step toward stopping the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP said Wednesday mud that was forced down its blown-out well was holding back the flow of crude in the Gulf of Mexico and it was in a "static condition."

Workers stopped pumping mud in after about eight hours of their "static kill" procedure and were monitoring the well to ensure it remained stable, BP said.

Speaking to msnbc.com, BP spokeswoman Sheila Williams called the initial results "a very big deal."

"It's a milestone," Williams added. "It's a step toward the killing of the well." The next step would be deciding whether to cement the well, she said.

In a statement, BP said the well's pressure was being controlled by the mud pumped in on Tuesday, and that further pumping of mud "may or may not be required."

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

Speaking on NBC's TODAY, White House energy adviser Carol Browner said that the development suggested "we've turned an important corner here for people in the Gulf."

The static kill — also known as bullheading — involved slowly pumping the mud from a ship down lines running to the top of the ruptured well a mile below. BP has said that may be enough by itself to seal the well.

Before Wednesday's breakthrough, officials said the static kill effort would take 33 to 61 hours to complete.

Two-pronged approach
But the mud that was forced down the broken wellhead to permanently plug the gusher is only half the story. To call the mission a success, crews working on a flotilla of vessels on a desolate patch of water need to seal off the well from two directions.

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An 18,000-foot relief well BP has been drilling for 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 to finish the job, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said.

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

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

The task is becoming more urgent because peak hurricane season is just around the corner, Allen said. Tropical Storm Colin formed then dissipated far out in the Atlantic on Tuesday, but early forecasts say it will travel toward the East Coast rather than the Gulf.

The full magnitude of the Gulf of Mexico spill, triggered in April by a deadly explosion at the BP-owned Macondo well, became apparent on Monday as government scientists released revised figures showing almost 5 million barrels of oil leaked before the well was temporarily capped on July 15.

This made it the world's largest accidental maritime release of oil, surpassing the 1979 Ixtoc well blowout in Mexico's Bay of Campeche that gushed almost 3 million barrels.

Despite the breakthrough on the static kill operation, the new leak estimates could spell bad news for BP, which also faces an investigation by U.S. securities regulators into whether its employees profited illegally from the spill.

The revised flow numbers suggest the company had underestimated costs by at least $1 billion.

BP had estimated the well had leaked some 4 million barrels of oil and that it would be fined $1,100 per barrel under the Clean Water Act. The company faces fines of $4,300 per barrel if gross negligence is proven, but said it saw no need to change its provision as a result of the new estimate.

However, a New York Times report said there could be some more upbeat developments on Wednesday from a government report due to be released. It said the report would show three-quarters of the oil released has already evaporated, dispersed, captured or eliminated.

The Associated Press and Reuters 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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