BP Aims to Finish Relief Oil Well This Week

In this Aug. 3, 2010 picture, a support vessel and others surround the Helix Q4000, background center, used to perform the static kill operation, at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana.
AP Photo
Updated 10:20 a.m. ET

The government's point man on the Gulf oil spill says BP has resumed drilling a relief well meant to intersect the blown-out well and seal it for good.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Monday that cement forced down from the top of the crippled well last week has hardened enough that workers could begin drilling the final 100 feet of the relief well.

Engineers were drilling 20 or 30 feet at a time, then pausing to make sure they were still on the correct course to hit the broken well. It could be the end of the week before the wells intersect.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

The relief well will be used to pump more cement and mud into the busted well to permanently seal the source of the oil that spilled into the Gulf for nearly three months.

Federal officials have long said the relief well is the final step to ending the oil leak, which spewed an estimated 207 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in late April.

Work on the well, which is 18,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, started less than two weeks after the rig sank.

Crews will need to dig about 100 feet down and about 4 feet to the side to intersect the capped well, and the work will be done carefully and in stages.

Once the wells have met, crews will pump more mud and cement into the crippled well as part of a "bottom kill" meant to permanently seal the well.

Experts warn getting two shafts to intersect at the same point so far below ground is tough, and BP said it may take more than one attempt to make the wells meet.

The oil is already back at its source, thanks to the "static kill," which involved thousands of gallons of mud and cement being poured last week through a cap that had been keeping the crude out of the water since July 15. The cement cap poured on top of the oil hardened enough over the weekend so engineers could begin digging the final 100 feet of the well again, according to a news release from the company.

No one at BP or with the government has been willing to declare victory over the spill before the relief well is finished, but Allen said there is virtually no chance the oil will leak again.

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BP and the federal government didn't appear to be on the same page for part of last week after the oil giant suggested it might use the relief well for something other than the bottom kill.

"I wouldn't put it government versus BP," Wells said Wednesday. "This is just about some really smart people debating about what's the best way to do things."

But Allen told CBS' "Face the Nation" he went directly to BP's incoming CEO to tell him there was only one option.

John Dickerson, guest host of "Face the Nation," asked Allen about BP's plans: "Earlier in the week there was a little bit of confusion and a message from BP that maybe the relief well might not be necessary?"

"There was an inference early on that there might be an option," Allen said. "That is not the case. I've discussed this with [incoming BP CEO] Bob Dudley. The relief well will be finished."

Thad Allen on "Face the Nation"

Meanwhile, officials were watching a cluster of storms over Florida that could develop into a tropical disturbance. The National Hurricane Center says the storms could move over the Gulf this week near the well site and say there is a small chance the system could become a tropical depression or tropical storm.

Allen said Monday he is not currently planning to suspend cleanup work or drilling on a relief well meant to plug the damaged well for good.

Along the Gulf Coast, life is different. In tiny Theriot, Louisiana, the bayou-country, pre-shrimp season tradition known as the "Blessing of the Boats" went on with barbecued chicken, smoked sausage and potato salad instead of the usual shrimp and crab.

Louisiana has set Aug. 16 as the opening for a fall shrimp season along the coast, but some waters will likely remain closed as federal authorities test the safety of the seafood.

"I got a boat that's ready," said Ravin Lacoste, 57. "But we don't know what's going to open up."

And even though the flow of oil has stopped, Allen told CNN's "State of the Union" the response to the spill will continue for a long time.

"It's still an environmental disaster and if folks haven't come back to the Panhandle of Florida, it's still a disaster," he said. "I think what we need to understand is there's a lot of oil that's been taken care of, there's a lot of oil that's still out there. There's a lot of shoreline that needs to be cleaned."