Lines running from a ship to the blown-out well a mile below the surface could be the way to stem the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP chiefs have said.
The oil giant had insisted that a pair of costly relief wells were the only way of ensuring the leak was killed.
Mud and perhaps cement would be pumped down the throat of the well in a move called “static kill”. Currently crews are testing whether this procedure will be successful.
The relief wells may not be needed at all, said BP senior vice president Kent Wells.
“We want to end up with cement in the bottom of the hole.”
Kent Wells, BP
He added that the primary relief well could still be finished and could be used simply to ensure the leak is plugged.
“Even if we were to pump the cement from the top, we will still continue on with the relief well and confirm that the well is dead,” Wells said. Either way, “we want to end up with cement in the bottom of the hole”.
Before the effort can begin, engineers must probe the broken blowout preventer with an oil-like liquid to decide whether it can handle the static kill process. They had hoped to begin the hours-long test on Monday but delayed it until Tuesday after a small leak was discovered in the hydraulic control system.
The US government and company executives have long said the relief wells, which can cost about £63M each, may be the only way to make certain the oil is contained to its vast undersea reservoir.
Meanwhile, a government task force estimated that about 651M.l of oil made it into the Gulf between April and mid-July, when a temporary cap bottled up all the oil. The earlier estimate had been as high as 697M.l.
The company began drilling the primary, 6.6km relief well on May 2, 12 days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and killed 11 workers, and a second back-up well on May 16.
The first well is now only about 30m from the target, and Mr Wells said it could reach it as early as August 11.