Will the relief wells that BP is drilling work? BP recently released a statement saying that they are on track for a “mid-August” completion of their first relief well. The plan is for the relief well to intercept the oil pipe that is feeding the leak on the sea floor, drill a hole into that pipe, and fill it will drilling mud and then cement. However, this may be much easier said than done, and some experts are saying that the chances that BP will be able to intercept the leaking pipe on the first try to be virtually “nil”. In fact, David Rensink, the incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists believes that under a best case scenario BP would be the relief well hitting its target in the first three or four tries.
Furthermore, if BP fails to intercept the pipe on the first try they may have to remove a portion of the relief well and begin drilling once again. This may mean that the drilling operation could continue well past August, and possibly into fall months. However, given the urgency of the situation BP is no doubt putting in all the resources they can to get the relief wells done asap as this is seen as the best solution for stopping the leak.
Recently, it was reported that “ranging devices” were placed inside the relief well shaft and that they detected the runaway oil well. This is good news as it means that the relief well is in the right general location, however, a precise location of the leaking oil pipe will be needed for the operation to be a success.
However, given BP’s reluctance to obtain accurate measurements of the flow of oil and gas from the leaking oil well, I wonder if underestimated pressure from the well head could derail efforts to insert a relief well. For example, the cap which was placed on top of the wellhead was touted by president Obama as being on track to capture 90% of the oil being released within weeks. This is obviously not the case now, and the president may have been given incorrect information based on inaccurate estimates the flow rate of oil.
What will happen when the relief well punctures a hole in the pipe? Presumably a lot of pressure will then push up oil and natural gas through the relief well and BP will attempt to pump “drilling mud” into both pipes. How will the drilling mud work this time when it failed when it was pumped from above? Most likely the engineers are hoping that the extra well head will relieve much of the pressure. However, the pressure of oil and natural gas escaping from the oil well is greater than that in the average oil well, and this may complicate efforts.
Hopefully for the citizens of the gulf and for the marine ecology the oil well will be brought under control by this effort as there seems to be precious few alternatives.