BP brings in Red Adair's successor to stop oil leak

After failing with a succession of mechanical solutions, company turns to man who learnt from the best

You won't see him covered in soot and tar, attempting hand-to-hand combat with the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. And unlike his late colleague and mentor, Paul "Red" Adair, he doesn't even have a nickname. But Pat Campbell, the man BP has employed to cap the well beneath the ruined Deepwater Horizon oil rig, does at least know how to talk the talk.

"Oh, we'll kill that well," he told reporters this week, adding that the source of what will soon become the oil industry's worst-ever natural disaster merely needs to be shown who's boss. "I'm here, I'm touching you, I'm telling you you're dead," was how he described the process of shutting it down. "You just don't know it yet."

Today, Campbell will mastermind BP's latest attempt to plug the hole that is currently firing a pressurised stream of at least 5,000 barrels of oil per day, into the ocean. It's called a "top kill" and will see a stream of heavy mud pumped into the well, followed by a large dollop of quick-drying cement. At some point during the process, he explained, they may also try a "junk shot". That will see a massive ball of rubbish, including old golf balls, shredded car tyres, and a vast amount of human hair, fired at the well in an attempt to further interrupt the flow.

It's a dirty-sounding job. But unlike his swashbuckling predecessors, Campbell is unable to get within touching distance of the blown-out well he hopes to tame, since it sits roughly 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, where it is accessible only via deepwater robots.

Instead, he will mastermind proceedings from BP's air-conditioned command centre several thousand miles away in Houston, Texas, where he found time on Monday to tell reporters about his life and times, together with how he plans to bridge gaps in the well's "blowout preventer," the piece of safety equipment which failed so devastatingly on 20 April.

In an interview with The New York Times, Campbell said he was proud of his team's "absolutely marvellous" preparations, but "frustrated" that the location of the operation meant he couldn't watch it in person. Instead, he will control proceedings using a network of waterproof video cameras.

If today's effort doesn't work, further top kill attempts will be made, and more junk shots fired in the coming days and weeks. As a last resort, relief wells are currently being drilled, which are supposedly guaranteed to cut off the flow by mid-August.

By that time, the damage done to the Gulf of Mexico, not to mention the future of BP, would be scarcely imaginable. But Campbell, 65, who has spent four decades in the business, has grown used to working under the shadow of an unfolding, apocalyptic crisis.

He cut his teeth working for Red Adair during the 1960s, when his mentor's exploits were chronicled in the John Wayne film Hellfighters, working in a factory in California which made equipment used for fighting blowouts.

When Adair and his partners Asger Hansen, known as Boots, and Ed Matthews, or Coots, went off on a job, Campbell was usually invited to join them. "They'd say, 'Hey, fat boy, why don't you just come along with that stuff and make sure it works?'," he recalled.

In the 1970s, Hansen and Matthews split from Red Adair, and formed their own firm, Boots & Coots, taking Campbell with them as general manager. In the 1990s, when he had become one of the leading experts in the field, he was sent to Kuwait to deal with the oil wells Saddam Hussein's troops destroyed in the aftermath of the first Gulf War.

They originally estimated that 200 wells would need capping. By the time they arrived in the desert, 900 were ablaze. "We really thought, he'll blow up a couple of wells and say, 'I mean business now'," Campbell said. "We were all watching CNN just as everybody else was. We could absolutely not believe it."

Putting out those fires took several months, but although the job made for dramatic pictures, it was not quite as dirty as it might have seemed, he added. "It's black, there's lots of black soot," he said. "It looked terrible. But generally, not being dummies, you go to the upwind side and you work in the clean air."

These days, Campbell says that disaster relief has become a more collegiate affair. He also told The New York Times that helping BP cap Deepwater Horizon involves dealing with meddling managers and politicians. "Today things are done by committees. The executive management gets involved. They may or may not have any technical competence." That can make things complicated, he said, but "it generally works out fine".

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Web developer (C#, MVC4, HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Jquery)

£30000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Senior Automation QA Engineer (Java, Selenium WebDriver, Agile)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior A...

Web developer (C#.NET, ASP.NET, MVC3/4, HTML5, CSS3, JAVASCRIPT

£35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment