WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Thursday ordered BP to remove the failed blowout preventer from its Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico and preserve it as likely evidence in civil and criminal investigations.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen issued the instruction after a week of what he called "intense negotiation" between BP and government scientists over how to proceed with completing a relief well that BP has been drilling since May 2.
Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the oil spill, has called the relief well the only way to be certain that the BP well is dead. Previously, he'd predicted that the relief well would be completed this week. The new instruction will push back that date until sometime after Sept. 6, Allen said.
"We do not want to have damage to the blowout preventer," he said in explaining the delay. "We are concerned about preserving evidence."
Why the blowout preventer — a giant collection of valves designed to sever a deepwater well's drilling pipe in the event of an emergency — didn't work has been a key question for investigators probing the April 20 explosion that killed 11 oil rig workers and sparked a gusher that caused billions of dollars in economic damages along the Gulf Coast.
BP officials told Congress in May that diagrams they had of the blowout preventer were inaccurate and that they wasted days trying to activate its shearing mechanisms. Other reports have raised questions about how the device had been modified and maintained, including a failure to repair a hydraulic leak that may have undermined its ability to shear through the drill pipe.
The blowout preventer is owned by Transocean, the company from which BP had leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. BP and Transocean have blamed each other for the blowout preventer's failure to seal the well.
It was not clear how or if law enforcement officials would monitor the recovery of the blowout preventer, which BP senior vice president Kent Wells said would be brought to the surface by the Q4000 drilling rig and then ferried to shore. The Department of Justice declined to comment.