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Decision Expected On Plug For Bp's Broken Oil Well

Upstream Oil and Gas ActivitiesBP PlcEnvironmental PollutionWater PollutionThad Allen

Officials could know by early Friday if BP'sbroken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has been sealed for good.

An analysis of tests on the well done Thursday was scheduled tobe completed within 24 hours, letting the federal government and BPPLC know if work last month that was meant to be temporary had theunexpected effect of permanently plugging the gusher.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration'spoint man on the oil spill, scheduled a news conference inSchriever, La. for 12:45 p.m. CDT to give an update on theoperation.

On Thursday, Allen said it's possible that the long-discussedfinal fix, known as a "bottom kill," won't be necessary. After atemporary cap was placed on top of the well last month, heavydrilling mud and cement were pumped in from above in what's calleda "static kill."

Some of the cement may have gone down into the reservoir, comeback up and plugged the space between the inner piping and theouter casing - which is what engineers were hoping to do with thebottom kill, Allen said.

"A bottom kill finishes this well. The question is whether it'salready been done with the static kill," he said.

However, he cautioned it's more likely that drilling willcontinue on two relief wells, which have long been said to be theonly way to ensure the blown-out well doesn't leak again. That workhas been delayed because of bad weather and wouldn't resume forabout another four days, if testing shows it's needed.

Calling off the drilling may be justified by the testing, but itwould be a hard sell to a public that's heard for weeks that thebottom kill is the only way to ensure the well is no longer adanger to the region.

"That's been the mantra all along, that they wanted to do thebottom kill," said Eric Smith, associate director of the TulaneEnergy Institute.

But work on the bottom kill would be largely pointless if thewell is already sealed, he said.

"It doesn't make much sense to drill a hole into cement to pumpmore cement into it. But it's a public relations nightmare toexplain that," Smith said.

On Thursday, officials tested pressure levels in the spacebetween the inner piping and outer casing. Rising pressure meansthe bottom kill still needs to be done, Allen said. Steady pressuremay mean cement already has plugged that space.

However, Allen said tests won't show how much cement is in thespace, making the original plan for a bottom kill a better way toensure the well is permanently plugged.

"What we hope we'll find is an immediate rise in pressure," hesaid. "It would be more problematic and quizzical if there were noimmediate change in pressure."

A decision not to proceed with the relief well would bring anunexpected conclusion to the phase of the disaster that began onApril 20 with an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.The federal government estimates that 206 million gallons of oilspilled into the Gulf, the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

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