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Storm Could Delay BP Oil Spill Relief Well

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The third tropical depression of the summer is threatening to delay efforts to put an end to the BP oil spill. BP says it still needs about two days to finish installing and cementing a last section of steel casing pipe in one of the relief wells that should end the spill once and for all. Once the casing is in place, a final week’s worth of drilling would be needed to intercept the bad well.

But the company says its delaying that work because it didn’t want to start and then have to stop it if evacuation was necessary. A BP spokesperson said this morning that it was awaiting word from the federal leader of the spill response about whether drill rigs, support ships and other vessels would have to evacuate the area.

The National Weather Service said on Thursday the tropical depression had formed near the Bahamas. Its track was expected to run to the northwest into the Gulf of Mexico, and it could arrive there in the next several days.

Retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen said that if the forecast at the well site was for a severe storm, “we could be looking at 10 to 14 days” when no work could be done on the relief well.

BP is also putting off a decision on whether or not to try a procedure known as a “static kill” on the well. In such an operation, heavy drilling mud would be pumped into the well in an effort to permanently stop the flow of oil and gas. It can only be performed, however, if the relief well’s casing is installed. Otherwise, there is a risk that the relief well could be damaged.

Meanwhile, a report in today’s New York Times says many Transocean employees aboard Deepwater Horizon expressed safety concerns prior to the April 20 explosion that killed 11 men and spawned the disaster. BP was leasing the doomed rig from Transocean, and 79 of the 126 people on the rig the day it exploded were Transocean employees, The Times said.

According to a Transocean survey conducted aboard the rig by Lloyd’s Register Group between March 12 through 16, workers voiced concerns about equipment reliability, which they felt was the result drilling priorities taking precedence over planned maintenance, The Times said. “Run it, break it, fix it,” one worker said. “That’s how they work.”

A second report cited by the Times, also commissioned by Transocean and conducted by Lloyds, listed 26 components and systems on the rig that were in “bad” or “poor” condition. Some, including the blowout preventer rams and failsafe valves, hadn’t been inspected since 2000, The Times said.

While most workers said that safety concerns were addressed as best as possible on the rig, they were worried about the reaction of managers on shore. Only about half of the workers interviewed said they felt they could report actions leading to a potentially “risky” situation without reprisal. The report said such fears were “seen to be driven by decisions made in Houston.” Most of the workers believed that Transocean’s system for tracking health and safety issues on the rig was “counter productive.”

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