Gulf relief two months away

NEW ORLEANS -- The best hope for stopping the flow of oil from the blown-out well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is anything but a sure bet on the first attempt.

The best-case scenario for sealing the leak, which would be drilling two relief wells diagonally into the gushing well, won’t be ready until August.

“The probability of them hitting it on the very first shot is virtually nil,” said David Rensink, incoming president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, who spent most of his 39 years in the oil industry in offshore exploration. “If they get it on the first three or four shots they’d be very lucky.”

For the relief well to succeed, the bore hole must precisely intersect the damaged well. With each miss, BP will have to take the drill out, plug the whole created and try again.

The trial-and-error process could take weeks, but scientists and BP say it will eventually work. Engineers will then pump cement and mud through pipes to ultimately seal the well.

The hole has been compared to hitting a target the size of a dinner plate with a drill more than two miles into the earth. Several bids to stop what has already become the nation’s worst-ever spill.

BP PLC is readying another patchwork attempt as earl as Wednesday, this one a cut-and-cap process to put a lid on the leaking wellhead so oil can be siphoned to the surface.

President Barack Obama plans to meet for the first time today with the co-chairman of an independent commission investigating the spill. According to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the meeting will take place at the White House. President Obama has watched the relief well drilling and temporary fixes closely.

The drilling process is slowed the deeper it travels into the earth by building pressure and the increasing distance that well casings must travel before they can be set in place.

Still, the three months it could take to finish the relief wells--the first of which started May 2--is quicker than a typical deep well, which can take four months or longer, said Tad Patzek, chair of the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas-Austin. Because of the earlier work on the blown-out well, however, BP already has a good picture of the different layers of sand and rock its drill bits will meet.

If the relief well doesn’t work, scientists are unsure exactly how long or how much the oil would flow. The oil would continue to gush until the well bore hole collapsed or pressure in the reservoir dropped to a point where oil was no longer pushed to the surface, Patzek said.

“I don’t admit the possibility of it not working,” he said.

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