NPR logo Gulf Of Mexico Relief Well Drilling To Start Soon: BP

Gulf Of Mexico Relief Well Drilling To Start Soon: BP

An off-shore oil drilling rig was scheduled to arrive Tuesday on scene near where another platform sank last week after an explosion and fire which led to the presumed deaths of 11 crewmembers, energy giant BP said.

Meanwhile, yet another platform is on the way, the company said. The plan is for the two rigs to drill what are called relief wells on either side of the existing well and to start producing oil in order to relieve the pressure in the existing well.

According to the Associated Press, drilling on the first relief well will begin Thursday. The problem is that it is like to take weeks or months for the needed relief wells to be drilled.

(All Things Considered on Tuesday has a segment with host Melissa Block discussing with Doug Helton of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's emergency response division efforts to stop the leak and clean up the spilled oil.)

Using remotely operated vehicles, BP has tried to stop the flow of oil put at 42,000 gallons of crude oil a day, at a pipe about 18,000 feet under the surface of the gulf. But it so far has been unsuccessful.

From a BP press release:

BP, as lease operator of MC252, also continues to work below the surface on Transocean's subsea equipment using remotely operated vehicles to monitor the Macondo/MC252 exploration well, and is working to activate the blow-out preventer.

The Transocean drilling rig Development Driller III will arrive on location today to drill the first of two relief wells to permanently secure the well. A second drilling rig, Transocean's Discoverer Enterprise, is en route.

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The big fear is that the oil spewing from the existing well will affect marine life and the coastline of Louisiana and perhaps even Florida. According to some estimates, the gulf provides more than 40 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. containing its most productive shrimp fishery.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reported the following for the network's newscast:

DEBBIE: Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry says the spilled oil is now about 21 miles from Venice, Louisiana.

LANDRY: "So it's the closest it's been to shore throughout this response and we're paying special attention to that, and are engaged with the states in the coastal areas.

The oil is not expected to reach land for at least three days. But Landry says depending on weather patterns, a shoreline impact looms.

The AP reports the following:

The oil is coming from a pipe rising from the seabed nearly a mile underwater. So far crews using robotic subs have been unable to activate a shutoff device at the head of the well. A kink in the pipe is keeping oil from flowing even more heavily.

If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil could spill into the Gulf before the relief well is operating. That's 4.2 million gallons. The worst oil spill in U.S. history was when the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.