Government Stops Oil Well Integrity Test, Relief Well Drilling Temporarily Stopped, Chaos Reins

Yesterday, I explained what is happening with the efforts to stop the oil gusher.

I have some important updates.

Initially, it turns out that it was the government which ordered the delay in the well integrity test. As Bloomberg points out:

BP Plc delayed testing on its latest effort to stop the largest U.S. oil spill in history after the Obama administration ordered further study of the plan to seal a well that’s been spewing crude into the ocean since April.

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The delay came after Energy Secretary steven Chu and a team of experts said more analysis was needed, National Incident Commander Thad Allen said in a statement last night.

Rather than a one-day delay, as was being reported yesterday, AP notes that this is an “if-when” situation:

“Our basic position was, if you can give us the answers we need … then go ahead,” the [anonymous government] official said. Until then, “they can’t go forward.”

The official stressed that the government was acting out of “an abundance of caution” and still hopes the temporary cap can be placed on the well.

Indeed, even BP hasn’t been sounding all that confident about a well integrity test. From another AP story:

“Everybody hope and pray that we are seeing high pressures here,” said senior BP vice president Kent Wells.

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The integrity test, however, was not without danger and Wells admitted that pressure caused by closing the valves too quickly on the cap could send oil shooting up from a new leak on the sea floor.

“The worst-case scenario is that it could actually broach back to the sea floor,” Wells said.

But perhaps most importantly, work on the relief wells has been halted pending the completion of the well integrity test. As CNN notes :

Work on two relief wells — seen as the ultimate solution to the oil disaster — was suspended.

Wells said work on the first relief well, expected to be completed in August, was delayed while officials prepare for the integrity test out of an abundance of caution. It is possible, though unlikely, that shutting in the well as part of the integrity test could cause the back side of the relief well to be blown out, Wells said.

“It’s a good precaution to take at this time,” he said. However, the delay will set the relief well progress back by one to two days.

Bloomberg quotes the frustration of an oil industry expert:

“There are too many cooks in the kitchen,” said David Pursell, an analyst at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. in Houston and a former petroleum engineer who conducted pressure tests. “Everybody in this process has said the single and best chance of stopping this flow is the relief well, and now they’ve held up the relief well while they’re figuring out protocol.”

MSNBC correctly notes that this raises a lot of questions:

If BP and the government had been forthcoming about the oil spill, we wouldn’t have to guess about what’s going on, and we wouldn’t worry that something bad is happening behind the scenes.

But BP and the government have done everything in their power to cover up the facts. BP has tried to cover up its blunders by lowballing spill estimates, keeping reporters out of areas hardest hit by the oil (and see this, this, this and this) and threatening to arrest them if they try to take pictures (and see this), hiding dead birds and other sealife, and using dispersants to hide the amount of spilled oil (the dispersants are only worsening the damage caused by the spill).

The government is aiding and abetting the cover-up. See this and this.

So we may only know what is going on right now long after the fact, when a whistleblower spills the beans.

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