04
Jun
10

BP caps one of leaks from rig

NEWS
BP caps one of leaks from rig

Friday, June 4, 2010

Earth

••• In the first breakthrough in its labourious bid to curb the worst U.S. spill in history, BP says a cap placed on a ruptured pipe is working and should capture most of the oil.

The news came on Friday as U.S. President Barack Obama was heading back to the stricken Gulf of Mexico region for his third visit since an explosion tore through the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig more than six weeks ago.

Remote-controlled submarines grappled the cap into place over a sawn-off riser pipe nearly 1.6km below the surface late on Thursday, in the latest of several attempts to contain the oil belching into the Gulf.

Admiral Thad Allen, the official in charge of the U.S. government response to the spill, said the upside-down funnel-like container was already collecting about 1,000 barrels a day of oil.

But he cautioned this was a rough estimate.

‘Production is slowly moving up. It’s around 1,000 barrels a day right now,’ said Allen.

A live video feed showed clouds of oil still gushing from the pipe, making it hard to determine how much progress was being made.

Government scientists have estimated that 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day are pouring from the pipe.

‘I’m pretty confident this is going to work,’ said BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles, speaking on ABC.

‘It probably won’t capture all of the flow. But it should capture the vast majority.’

The containment device has four vent valves on the top to prevent the formation of hydrates, which doomed an earlier attempt at containing the flow.

Workers are ‘slowly closing the vents and increasing the flow of oil,’ Allen said.

BP on Thursday sliced off the fractured well pipe with a pair of giant shears after a diamond-blade saw got stuck. But they left a jagged edge, meaning the cap will be a looser fit than had been hoped.

Obama meanwhile is set to return to the Gulf Coast, amid mounting anger at the disaster with at least 20 million gallons of crude spewing into the sea since the drilling rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers.

The scale of the disaster forced Obama to postpone a trip to Australia and Indonesia for the second time in a clear sign that the catastrophe is forcing changes in the president’s crowded political agenda.

Shocking images of pelicans and seabirds writhing in oil along the Louisiana coast broadcast on U.S. television networks and splashed on the front pages of newspapers underscored the rising environmental costs.

Some 60 birds were on Thursday found to have been coated with oil when the leak hit the Queen Bess Island Rookery.

Of the affected birds, 41 were pelicans, Louisiana’s state bird, US officials said.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward warned in a call with investors that the cost of the spill would be ‘severe,’ but would not estimate the final price tag.

Obama has been increasingly criticised for appearing disengaged from the public outrage and showing no emotion at BP’s repeated failure to stem the leak.

‘I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people, but that is not what I was hired to do – my job is to solve this problem,’ Obama told CNN on Thursday, adding he was ‘furious at this entire situation’.

But he acknowledged the response from BP had not been as much as he would have liked.

‘What I haven’t seen as much as I’d like is the kind of rapid response’ on BP’s part, he said.

Spreading in oily ribbons, the slick is now threatening Alabama, Mississippi and Florida after contaminating more than 125 miles of Louisiana coastline.
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