Gulf Oil Spill: Drilling of Relief Well Still Needed

After 116 days, 206 million gallons of leaking oil that harmed wildlife and livelihoods, and 11 attempts to plug BP's broken well head, officials said the well is still not dead and work will continue to drill a relief well.

"Everybody is in agreement we need to proceed with the relief well; the question is how to do that," said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama Administration's point man for the government's spill response.

Allen met with local parish leaders and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal today.

Jindal said he was glad the relief well would proceed, so long as there is no risk of damaging the temporary plug that's so far choked off the flow of crude.

"If it's a nearly redundant safety measure, that makes sense to us," said Jindal.

Trapped Oil?

The well is technically dead but it may have some venom left. A pocket of 42,000 gallons of oil may be trapped between the inner piping of the well and its outer casing.

Mike Utsler, BP's new point man in the Gulf, said the trapped oil could stall efforts to remove the blowout preventer, that 50-foot-tall stack of valves that failed to close at the first sign of the leak.

The Department of the Interior plans to raise the blowout preventer to the surface in hopes of discovering exactly what went wrong and who's to blame.

Watch 'World News with Diane Sawyer' for the latest on the oil spill tonight on ABC.

Yesterday, scientists and BP thought the drilling of the relief well might no longer be necessary because there were indications that the so-called static kill, completed a little over a week ago, had successfully plugged the well.

BP Well Pressure Rose

Last month, engineers placed a temporary cap on the broken well head, essentially stopping the oil that had been leaking since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20 that killed 11 workers. The "static kill" pumped heavy drilling mud and cement from above the well.

Engineers said there are indications that during the static kill, some of the cement may have gone down into the reservoir of oil, come back up and plugged the space between the inner piping and outer casing, essentially what the bottom kill will do. Test results were inconclusive in proving that the static kill permanently dead.

Allen said that test results of the pressure beneath the cement plug currently in place showed that pressure rose during testing.

Steady pressure would have indicated the presence of cement in the space between the inner piping and outer casing, meaning that the well is permanently sealed. Since pressure rose during the testing, the scientists concluded that drilling of the relief well must continue.

Relief Well Halted By Bad Weather

For months, officials have said that the only way to permanently plug the well would be by drilling an 18,000-foot relief well that would perform a "bottom kill," pumping drilling mud and cement into the tubing below the leak. The relief well is meant either to stop the oil that the static kill missed, or to make sure that the well is permanently plugged.

Work on the relief well and a backup well was stopped earlier this week because of bad weather.

Drilling of the first relief well began in early May. Now the drill bit is within 30 to 50 feet of the target. The drill is about as wide as a grapefuit and its target is less than half the diameter of a dartboard.

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