The Macondo well, which spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, has been secured and no longer constitutes “a threat,” a senior US official said.
“I’m very pleased to announce that with the new blow-out preventer on this well, the cement that was previously put into this well, that this well does not constitute a threat to the Gulf of Mexico at this point,” said US Admiral Thad Allen, the US official overseeing the spill response.
A new valve known as a blow-out preventer was placed over the well on Friday after crews removed the damaged device, which will now be examined by investigators looking into the causes of the disaster.
“We basically have secured this well as we would any well that was under production,” Allen told reporters. “We have essentially eliminated the threat of discharge from the well at this point.”
Allen said efforts would likely resume this week to finish a relief well that will intercept the Macondo allowing a final “kill” operation from below the seabed.
BP has said it hopes the relief well will reach the damaged well by about the middle of this month, depending on weather conditions.
Engineers took 29-and-a-half hours to lift the 15.24m, 270-tonne blowout preventer from 1.6km beneath the sea, and the five-story-high device looked largely intact on Saturday night with black stains on the yellow metal.
FBI agents were among the 137 people aboard the Helix Q4000 vessel, taking photos and video of the device. They will escort it back to a NASA facility in Louisiana for analysis.
In a later statement, Allen said the damaged blow-out preventer is “now under the supervision of the Deepwater Horizon Criminal Investigation Team and FBI Evidence Recovery Team.”
The blowout preventer was placed into a metal contraption specifically designed to hold the massive device.
Investigators know the explosion was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before igniting.
However, they do not know exactly how or why the gas escaped. And they do not know why the blowout preventer did not seal the well pipe at the sea bottom after the eruption, as it was supposed to. While the device did not close — or may have closed partially — investigative hearings have produced no clear picture of why it did not plug the well.
Documents emerged showing that a part of the device had a hydraulic leak, which would have reduced its effectiveness, and that a passive “deadman” trigger had a low, perhaps even dead, battery.
However, some have cautioned that the blowout preventer will not provide clues to what caused the gas bubble. And it is possible a thorough review may not be able to show why it didn’t work.
That could leave investigators to speculate on causes using data, records and testimony.
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