Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead

Jim Brown
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In this case the witch is BP's Macondo well. The static kill process appears to be a success and the well is no longer producing oil.

In the next to last chapter of the Horizon disaster the Macondo well has been plugged with 2,300 barrels of heavy drilling mud that was pumped in through the failed blow out preventer. This operation was successful because the new cap prevented the rush of oil and gas from pushing the mud out the top of the open pipe as in the "top kill" attempt over a month ago.

BP said the well has reached a static condition where the 2,300 barrels of heavy mud had forced the oil back down the well and back into the reservoir. Exactly how much of that is fact remains to be seen but the pressures have been reduced and is no longer seeing oil and gas flow into the well casing.

Late Wednesday the Coast Guard gave BP permission to seal the well with cement to permanently close it from the top of the well. BP must wait a few more hours to monitor pressures to make sure they don't need any more mud to insure the process is successful. If pressures do not rise they will pump in cement and seal the well completely.

However, the last chapter in the Macondo saga is still the completion of the relief well. The relief well will intersect the Macondo casing and pump mud and cement directly into the bottom of the well and complete the plugging process once and for all. The relief well is expected to complete that process over the next two weeks and then the relief well will also be sealed and abandoned.

Once the Macondo well is permanently sealed from the top and bottom the current stack and the failed blow out preventer will be removed and brought back to the surface for an autopsy to determine exactly what went wrong and why the BOP did not successfully close the well. That will be the final stage in the recovery process. You can bet the BOP will be under guard from the time it breaks the surface of the water until it is dissected somewhere under government control.

The revised estimates of oil spilled into the gulf of roughly 4.9 million barrels is bad news for BP. Now that the spill is contained and the well is almost sealed the focus will shift to the cleanup costs and the fines to be assessed for the spill.

If BP is not found negligent the typical fine is $1,100 for every barrel in the water. That would be roughly $5 billion in fines. The odds are very good they will be found negligent if not criminally negligent and the fine escalates to as much as $4,300 per barrel. ($21 billion) There will probably be a discount because of the quantity of oil and nobody really knows exactly how much was spilled but you can bet the fine will be huge.

Finally sealing the well is a milestone in the disaster but the next stage will be even more painful for BP.

Jim Brown

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