BP abandons "top kill"

“It’s a little bit of a roller coaster ride for everyone …” No kidding. After BP and Admiral Thad Allen did a few high-fives over the apparent initial success of “top kill” in stopping the flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, it became clear that the attempt had failed. BP finally threw in the towel on Plan B, and are moving ahead with Plan C, which hopes to cap the blowout and capture “the great majority” of the oil spewing from the destroyed well:

BP will “move on to the next option” after several attempts to stuff solid material and pump mud into a breached Gulf of Mexico oil well failed to stop the flow, according to a BP spokesman. …

Top BP executives said Saturday that engineers and scientists had decided to try a new technique of stopping the flow after three attempts to pump mud and 16 tries to stuff solid material into the well failed.

That option: placing a custom-built cap to fit over the “lower marine riser package,” BP chief operation officer Doug Suttles said. BP crews were already at work Saturday to ready the materials for that method, he said.
“We have not been able to stop the flow,” a somber Suttles told reporters. “Repeated pumping, we don’t believe, will achieve success, so we will move on to the next option.”

Suttles and other officials said that the “top kill” attempt to stop the flow did so — but only as long as they were pumping. When the pumping stopped, the oil resumed its escape.

Thursday’s announcement came just hours before Barack Obama assured Americans that the federal government was completely in charge of the Gulf disaster response, and that BP didn’t do anything without a by-your-leave from Admiral Allen. It then became obvious that BP had interrupted the “top kill” procedure for almost a day without anyone from the government team noticing it. By Friday, most people had already figured out from the live camera that Allen and BP had declared victory much too early, and that the sudden silence afterward meant that Plan B had already failed. This just confirms what was plain to see on Friday.

Plan C involves sealing the breach with a cap that will allow BP to channel the oil flow in a manner that will keep it secure and retrievable. They took pains to emphasize that it would only capture “a great majority” of the crude oil at best, which means that the spill will continue to unfold until BP can drill relief wells to divert the flow and dramatically decrease pressure at the blowout. Unfortunately, that won’t happen until August at the earliest.

Plan A, readers will remember, also involved installing a cap on the blowout, a maneuver that failed in the first weeks of the crisis. Let’s hope this idea works better — and let’s hope that this time, the administration keeps its high-fives in its pockets.