BP to conduct final 'static kill' test on Gulf well

WASHINGTON — BP is expected today to commence the final tests necessary for a so-called "static kill" operation that could lead to a permanent kill of their runaway Gulf of Mexico oil well.

The well stopped gushing oil into the Gulf 18 days ago, when the company put in place a temporary cap. Now, they're hoping efforts to pump heavy drilling mud into the well will force down any oil inside the riser pipe and back into the reservoir, BP's Kent Wells said Monday during a technical briefing with reporters.

They'll begin testing today to make sure the conditions are ripe for a static kill, Wells said. If the tests go well and confirm that the oil that's in the pipe can be forced back into the reservoir it came out of, they'll commence the static kill procedure. It works by forcing drilling mud from the surface into the well; the heavy mud keeps oil and gas from flowing up.

"We'll just be slowing pumping the mud in initially and it will gradually build up pressure," Wells said. "We'll be carefully monitoring the pressures and the volumes. The team will be looking and making sure we do everything to get this well killed, if at all possible."

That procedure is expected to begin Tuesday and could stretch into Wednesday. If it works, they'll have to decide how best to cement the well permanently: from the top, or through one of the relief wells also currently being drilled.

"We want to end up with cement in the bottom of the hole," Wells said. "Whether that comes from the top or whether it comes from the relief well, those will be decisions made along the way."

The White House is "watching cautiously," said spokesman Bill Burton, and the president continues to receive updates on the company's progress toward permanently sealing the well.