BP's 'top kill' tricky but doable; odds seen as even

Paul Boughton
BP's next attempt to stanch the flow of oil from its blown-out Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon well will be a delicate balancing act for engineers pumping dense fluids from the surface, and is deemed as likely to fail as succeed, news agency Reuteurs reports.

Few can offer any firm predictions about it because a 'top kill', as the method is known, has never before been attempted nearly a mile beneath the ocean surface.

After more than a month of oil gushing into the Gulf, BP remains hopeful but realistic about its chances of success. The top kill could start as early as today (Wednesday)

The procedure will make use of tubes already on the blowout preventer (BOP) to get near the well at the bottom of the BOP. A heavy fluid known as drilling mud will be injected in a bid to reverse the well's outward flow and push the oil back down.

To pull this off, BP says it has 30,000 hydraulic horsepower of pumping capacity at its disposal.

"The real issue is can you get enough momentum against the flow of this well to actually push it back?" Dave Roberts, head of worldwide upstream operations at Marathon Oil Corp, told the Reuters Global Energy Summit in Houston. "I think they have the horses on the surface to take care of it."

But if the mud alone doesn't do it, BP can inject bridging material, which can include golf balls or pieces of tires, that would then be pushed up into the BOP by the oil and gas flowing out of the well.

The hope is this material gets stuck and impedes the oil flow enough to let the mud to do its job, and allow the well to be plugged with cement. The trick will be monitoring pressure levels to see whether more bridging material needs to go in to create enough of a seal, but not so much as to cause unwanted blockage.

For more information, www.reuters.com

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