Describing the plan as once having been seen as a "forgone conclusion," the Times notes that BP and government officials are now talking about a longer-term "contingency" plan to pump the leaking oil to an existing platform should the relief well effort fail.
And even though BP remains confident of success, the Times says that some experts are more cautious:
Experts said it was conceivable that the “kill” procedure would not be effective, particularly if only a single relief well was used and the bottom of the well bore was damaged in the initial blowout. Pumping large quantities of erosive mud into the well could even end up damaging the well further, hindering later efforts to seal it.The NYT also spoke to an unidentified technician involved in the relief well effort, who sounds a lot less certain about the potential outcome:
“I won’t say there haven’t been relief wells that haven’t worked....“No human being alive can know the answers,” said the technician.....The suggestion by the technician that BP would do better to breach the well bore with two relief wells and simultaneously pump mud from both, is one which has been echoed across the Internet in comments by other oil experts.
But he said BP would improve its chances for success if it waited for the second relief well to be completed, so that it could pump twice as much mud into “a well that’s this powerful, this productive and this problematic.”
He said that too little was known about the condition of the well bore near the bottom — whether, for instance, it had been enlarged by the high-pressure flow of oil over the past two months.
“The engineering suggests that one relief well is enough,” he said. “But there are just all these unknowns.”
But for now, it seems we are proceeding based on BP management's cheerier view of their single relief well chances.