John Wright: The Man Who Killed The BP Gulf Spill

John Wright, the man who put the coup de grace on the BP oil spill in the Gulf, talks with host David Greene about the challenges of drilling a relief well thousands of feet under the sea.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

John Wright has compared his job to kicking a field goal in the Super Bowl. Miss and you lose - big. In truth, the stakes of his job are much higher than that. John Wright drills relief wells. And it's thanks in part to his work that the BP well in the Gulf is finally dead. His record is perfect. Forty-one times Wright has been on target.

For the past three months, until last week, he worked, lived and slept on a rig in the Gulf. And Wright told me the job of drilling this relief well presented some challenges he has never faced before.

Mr. JOHN WRIGHT (Driller of Relief Wells): The water depth in this location was over 5,000 feet, so nearly a mile deep just in the ocean.

GREENE: Wow.

Mr. WRIGHT: So thats where we start drilling. And in this case, we drilled down to something like 16,000 feet before we started moving the well close to the target. That target we're looking at is about the size of a dinner plate and it's nearly three and half miles away. So...

GREENE: The size of a dinner plate, 16,000 feet under the bed of the sea.

Mr. WRIGHT: Thats correct.

GREENE: Are you watching on monitors? I mean, are you...

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, it's a little bit like driving blind, where somebody you have some instruments maybe that tell you where the road is and you have to trust that that instrument is telling you the right bit of information.

GREENE: John Wright, I read about these stressful, stressful moments in the final stages that you've talked about recurring whenever you do a job like this. And, you know, you spent a long number of days drilling the relief well, but when it comes to that final moment when you've got to make that intersection, something hairy always seems to happen. What happened in the case of this BP spill?

Mr. WRIGHT: One of the things that changed right at the very end, after the static kill was accomplished back in July, then we no longer had a flowing target to drill to. And after some discussions with the unified command, the decision was made that we did not want to drill a hole into the target casing. So the main goal was just to reach this anular(ph) space. That's between the seven-inch pipe and the eight-and-a-half-inch hole that's drilled in the rock.

GREENE: So we're talking about a very tiny space that you're trying to hit.

Mr. WRIGHT: A very tiny space. And we had some issues with the ranging tools that we're using that are basically our instruments that allow us to fly when we can't see. So it's I guess like trying to land your plane on an aircraft carrier, and you're not sure exactly where the deck is.

GREENE: Not a good thing.

Mr. WRIGHT: So it wasn't until we got very, very close that those readings started to tighten up so we could see where we were at at the end.

GREENE: Wow, so I mean, just luck?

Mr. WRIGHT: No, I'm not going to say it's luck. I always sort of stack the deck in my favor, I guess. So I'll only drill a certain distance that I'm very confident that we're going to hit, and if we don't, we'll stop, and we'll make another ranging run to see where we're at and then make a final correct.

GREENE: What's on your mind when you're getting to these final stages? I mean, are you thinking about, you know, the people in the Gulf, the businesses, you know, how this has, you know, hurt a region of the country, or are you just very focused on the mechanics?

Mr. WRIGHT: Prior to the intersection, I'm focused on the mechanics. I just want to make sure that it's done correctly and it's done correctly the first time.

After it happens, there's a sense of satisfaction, obviously, that you were able to complete the objective that you had given yourself. But in this case, there was not a sense of celebration because of all of the aftermath of what that blowout had caused.

GREENE: But you do have some personal moments with a stogie, a cigar sometimes, when you hit the target, I understand.

Mr. WRIGHT: I do. I do have my stogies.

GREENE: Did you grab one after you hit this well?

Mr. WRIGHT: I absolutely did.

GREENE: Mr. Wright, thank you for talking to us.

Mr. WRIGHT: You're welcome.

GREENE: That's John Wright. He's senior vice president of technology at the control company Boots & Coots, and he's the man in charge of drilling the relief well after the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

(Soundbite of music)

GREENE: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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