Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oil spill response interrupted by tropical storm threat

Environment News Service: A storm called Tropical Depression Three is forming in the Caribbean near the Bahamas and forecasters predict it will blow across the Gulf of Mexico this weekend, affecting efforts to stem the BP oil spill. The damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead was capped Thursday, shutting off the flow of oil for the first time since the blowout on April 20. BP has been pressure testing the well's integrity with the cap in place.

Even if the storm forces some of the dozens of response ships at the site to leave, "The decision has been made to leave the cap on even if the well is unattended," National Incident Commander retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told reporters today from the oil spill response center at Mobile.

"The projected storm track would take it over the well site itself. Early morning on Saturday, we could have storm force winds at the spill site," Admiral Allen said. If winds blow up to more than 39 miles per hour, the depression would become a tropical storm, but it is not forecast to reach hurricane wind force of more than 74 mph.

Admiral Allen and other officials are watching the storm pattern closely and will decide at 8 tonight whether or not to send the ship drilling a relief well back to shore. The Development Driller III has already withdrawn the drill bit and installed a device that holds the integrity of the well. If the decision is made to send the ship away from the spill site, Allen says the riser pipe also would be removed, a process that takes 8 to 10 hours. the 5,000 foot pipe must be brought up and detached in sections before the drill ship can transit out of the area….

Projected path of Tropical Depression Three (Map courtesy National Hurricane Center

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