KENNER, La. — The blown-out well at the bottom of Gulf of Mexico could be pronounced dead in a matter of days.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man for the oil spill, said Wednesday that the relief well BP has been drilling all summer long should intersect with the ruptured well today. He said mud and cement will then be pumped in, sealing the hole once and for all by Sunday.
“We are within a 96-hour window of killing the well,” Allen said nearly five months after the disaster unfolded with an explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig April 20 that killed 11 workers.
No oil has spewed into the Gulf since a temporary cap was put on the busted BP well in mid-July. Mud and cement were later pushed down through the top of the well, allowing the cap to be removed. The relief well is being drilled 2 1/2 miles through dirt and rock beneath the sea floor so that the ruptured well can also be sealed from the bottom, ensuring it never causes a problem again.
Also Wednesday, Allen announced that he will step down as incident commander for the oil spill on Oct. 1 — the same day BP installs American Bob Dudley in place of gaffe-prone Tony Hayward, BP’s former chief executive officer.
Allen will be succeeded by Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft. Allen said the timing of his departure is unrelated to BP’s leadership change.
“I worked well with Tony Hayward and I work well with Bob Dudley,” Allen said. “I like to think I work well with anybody.”
Appearing with Allen, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco said monitoring continues of oil that remains in the Gulf.
Scientists said earlier this week that they had found thick patches of oil coating the sea floor, raising questions about government conclusions that much of the mess — more than 200 million gallons of crude gushed in the Goulf — has broken down and is gone. Testing is under way to establish whether the oil on the sea floor is from the BP spill.
Allen and Lubchenco sought to reassure the public that seafood from the Gulf is safe to eat. Allen said he has eaten Gulf seafood every day for the past several days.
Plug abandoned wells, government orders
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday that the government will require oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf to plug nearly 3,500 nonproducing wells and dismantle about 650 production platforms that are no longer used.
Salazar said the move would make energy production in the Gulf safer and prevent potentially catastrophic leaks at wells that in some cases have been abandoned for decades.
More than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells are beneath the Gulf of Mexico, and more than 1,000 oil rigs and platforms sit idle. The order requires wells that been inactive for the past five years to be plugged.