BP last night launched its latest bid to plug the gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico by force-feeding it heavy drilling mud — a manoeuvre never before tried at 5,000ft under water.
The oil company has given the procedure, known as a top kill, a 60% to 70% chance of working.
It involves pumping enough mud into the gusher to overcome the flow of the well. Engineers will then try to permanently seal the well with cement.
BP officials have indicated it may be a couple of days before they know if the procedure is working.
BP was leasing the rig, Deepwater Horizon, when it exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering a spill that has so far spewed at least 7million gallons into the gulf. Oil has begun coating birds and washing into the delicate wetlands of Louisiana.
Witness statements show senior managers complained that BP was “taking shortcuts” on the day of the explosion by replacing heavy drilling fluid with salt water in the well that blew out.
Truitt Crawford, who works for drilling rig owner Transocean Ltd, told Coastguard investigators the sea water, which would have provided less weight to contain surging pressure from the ocean depths, was being used to prepare for dropping a final blob of cement into the well. “I overheard upper management talking, saying BP was taking shortcuts by displacing the well with salt water instead of mud without sealing the well with cement plugs,” he said in a statement. “This is why it blew out.”
BP declined to comment.
The statements show workers talked just minutes before the blowout about pressure problems in the well. At first, nobody seemed too worried: the chief mate for Transocean left two crew members to deal with the issue on their own.
But what began as a routine pressure problem suddenly turned to panic, with assistant driller Stephen Curtis telling one senior operator the well was “coming in”.
The toolpusher, Jason Anderson, tried to shut down the well. It did not work. Both Curtis and Anderson died in the explosion.
Douglas Brown, the Deepwater Horizon’s chief mechanic, told a hearing in New Orleans yesterday about what he described as a “skirmish” between someone he called the “company man” — a BP official — and three other employees during a meeting on the day of the explosion.
Brown said he did not pay particular attention because what they were discussing did not involve his engine-room duties.
He said: “The driller outlined what would be taking place, but the company man stood up and said, ‘We’ll be having some changes to that’.”
He said the three other workers initially disagreed but “the company man said, “This is how it’s going to be’.”
Frustration with BP and the US government has grown since then as efforts to stop the leak have failed.
President Barack Obama will travel to the Gulf tomorrow to review efforts to halt the oil that scientists say seems to be growing significantly darker, from what they can see from video. It suggests that heavier, more-polluting oil is spewing out.