Photo via Xinhuanet
US Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu has just made an announcement on the current state of the operations to permanently plug the blown-out well below the Deepwater Horizon site. Chu has been instrumental in the spill's response, which at first was criticized by some for being slow and lackluster, but has since developed into a more comprehensive effort. His update revealed the fact that cement -- in addition to mud -- had successfully been injected into the blown well, and so far the 'static kill' appeared to be holding. This, Chu explains, is very good news: In Chu's words:
During the static kill, the damaged well was filled with mud, stabilizing the pressure within the well and relieving a lot of the excess pressure on the damaged blowout preventer and ceiling cap. I am pleased to tell you that it was completed successfully.The final stage of the solution, of course, is successfully linking the relief well to the now-plugged one. The relief well has about 100 ft to go until that process is within reach, and the 'bottom kill' can begin.
This success led to a much more difficult decision: should we follow the mud with cement to further ensure that the well stays killed? This procedure had a higher risk of something going wrong. With cement, a mistake in execution could be permanent. We also had to weigh the dangers of having so many ships conducting operations within 1,500 meters of the wellbore and of the strain already being placed on the blowout preventer. Continued operations were also taking a toll on the ships' crews; the longer they worked, the greater the danger. Still, the risk of something going wrong was very small, and the potential for dramatic progress was very high. Successfully cementing the well would be a major step toward completely killing the well. We decided to proceed with the cement.
All signs indicate that the cement is holding.
There are of course myriad questions and uncertainties remaining -- and officials are biting their tongues, waiting until it's good and clear that the well has been stopped -- but mark each of these developments down as truly positive ones, in a long saga that could use all the good news it can muster.