Kate Mackenzie Relief wells: The pressure grows

BP share price 1-month to July 8BP’s first relief well is less than 264ft from its target depth, and about 12ft away horizontally from the well, according to the latest administration briefing.

As the two relief wells get closer to their target, BP’s ailing share price has improved somewhat.

But despite the positive reaction from investors, the prospect of the relief wells failing altogether is also being raised as the drilling nears its target.

As the FT’s Ed Crooks writes, in the event of total failure of the wells, “the company may be doomed”.

Relief well explainer graphic - FT.com

Click to view at full size

Killing a rogue well via a relief well can be rather challenging, as previous examples show. Those experienced with relief wells believe there is some cause for optimism, however.

From the FT again:

Relief wells have an excellent record. John Wright, a veteran in killing well blowouts who is working as a consultant for BP, has drilled 40 in his career, and every one has been effective.

Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal reports that the company is hoping to have some good news on the relief wells by the time it announces its second-quarter results on July 27 — or even earlier, on July 20, when UK prime minister David Cameron visits the White House.

It also reportedly has more back-up plans in place, aside from expanding the containment efforts:

These include connecting the rogue well to existing pipelines in two nearby underwater gas and oil fields, according to company and administration officials.

The company, it appears, is becoming more keen to under-promise and over-deliver since the disappointment of its ‘top kill’ attempt. Bob Dudley, who is overseeing BP’s spill efforts, was happy to mention both those dates in an interview as being ideal — he added, however, that such a “perfect case” was “unlikely” due in part to hurricane season.

The administration is continuing to be cautious about mentioning dates.

The Coast Guard’s Admiral Thad Allen, the incident commander, said yesterday, the status of the well at that depth will remain unclear. One question is whether there are hydrocarbons flowing up the outer annulus, or the inner pipe itself.  Another is whether the casing is damaged.

As Allen explained:

The time it will take to do this—the reason it is unknown right now and I’m not willing to come off the mid-August deadline is, if they have to pump mud up through the annulus and then go into the pipe and pump mud there, too, that’s a period of seven, 10 days to accomplish both of those things.

Related links:

Why not drill the relief wells first? FT Energy Source
How difficult are relief wells? Some comparisons with Montara - FT Energy Source