Oil Spill: Fixing a Hole

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As expected, BP announced this morning that human whipping boy Tony Hayward will be stepping down as CEO, to be replaced in October by the American Bob Dudley. Hayward will be nominated as a nonexecutive director of TNK-BP, the company’s Russian oil and gas venture—meaning that Hayward is literally being exiled to Siberia. (Though don’t feel too bad for him—between his pension and the remains of his salary, Hayward will be walking away with north of $18 million.)

But while BP’s leadership change signals the company’s eagerness to turn the page on the Gulf oil spill, there still remains lots of work to be done—first and foremost, they need to finally kill that well. With tropical depression Bonnie out of the way and the weather clear once more on the Gulf, that effort is hitting the homestretch. At a briefing yesterday retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad W. Allen outlined the final steps, which will involve both a static kill and the relief wells—hitting the blown well from the top and the bottom. (You can see BP senior vice president Kent Wells describing the static kill operations here.)

The static kill, set to begin next Monday, will be the first step. BP will our drilling mud and concrete into the capped wellhead through riser lines that were being reconnected on Monday, after most of the ships had been forced to depart the area because of Bonnie, with the bottom kill ready to begin by August 7. Starting this Wednesday, the pipes for both the static kill and the bottom kill will be flushed to remove any loose sediment, and the lines will be fitted with internal casing pipes that will be used to channel the mud and concrete. The relief well is still the final step to ending the spill and sealing off the blown well for good—how long that will take depends on the success of the static kill. The more mud and concrete BP can pump down the top of the well through the static kill, the easier finishing the relief well should be—though Allen doesn’t expect the process to be fully completed before mid-August.

In the meantime the cleanup operations continue—but since it’s been nearly two weeks since oil freely flowed from the well, the tides of crude are beginning to thin out. “There are hundreds of thousands of patches of oil but they’re not as large as they used to be,” Allen said Monday. Given that it took about four to six weeks for the oil to make it to the Gulf coast after the spill began on April 20, Allen says the cleanup will remain active for some time—and that as long as there is oil in the Gulf, BP will remain liable. “We hold BP accountable, that this will continue far after the relief well is completed, that is our total commitment,” Allen said. There may be a new CEO, but BP will be dealing with the repercussions of the oil spill for a long, long time.