Specialists working to kill Apache well in Gulf

Drilling specialists have been pumping heavy fluids into a gas well 50 miles off the Louisiana coast in a bid to halt natural gas moving among underground formations at the site.

The intervention is taking place roughly two weeks after workers detected a kick, or uncontrolled flow of fluid, at the Apache Corp. well on Feb. 4. Although they activated a blowout preventer in response and apparently were able to keep natural gas from escaping the well, later tests detected the hydrocarbon had migrated from the bottom of the 8,300-foot hole to a shallower sand formation 1,100 feet below the sea floor.

Apache spokesman John Roper said the Houston-based company was “continuing our efforts to control the migration of gas in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.”

The company had contracted with the well control specialists at Boots & Coots, a Halliburton company, to try and kill the well, generally by pumping drilling muds into the well. That work is underway, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Read more: Apache plans $2 billion of asset sales after buying spree

“With BSEE oversight, Apache Corp. has been pumping drilling fluids into the well to stop the underground flow,” the agency said in a statement. “Currently, Apache is taking additional steps to remove the existing natural gas int he well and replace (it) with drilling fluid.”

But at the safety bureau’s direction, Apache Corp. is also is readying an alternative plan, in case attempts to kill the well fail. The company is moving a Rowan rig to the site 50 miles east of Venice, La., in case Apache needs to drill a relief well to intersect the existing well bore.

Roper confirmed Apache was “continuing to plan for a relief well, if that becomes necessary,” but he would not specify if the Rowan rig was on location.

The company previously evacuated 15 workers from the Ensco 87 backup rig that was drilling the well in 218 feet of water, after the underground natural gas movement was detected. Other essential personnel and well control specialists remain at the site.

Federal regulators said they will only deem the well kill operation complete “when the diagnostic tests demonstrate that there is no existence of natural gas in the well and appropriate steps are taken to plug the well.”

Apache is the largest producer in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico shelf.