BP testing effectiveness of new cap on damaged well
Device could stop 3-month-old spill
NEW ORLEANS — Deep-sea robots swarming around BP’s ruptured oil well attached a tighter-fitting cap yesterday that could finally stop crude from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico nearly three months into the crisis.
Live video of the leak site showed yellow equipment and swinging robot arms carefully attaching the 18-foot-high, 150,000-pound metal cap in a project akin to building a giant Lego tower underwater.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration issued a revised moratorium on deep-water offshore drilling yesterday to replace the one that was struck down by the courts as heavy-handed. The original moratorium halted the approval of any new permits for deep-water projects and suspended drilling on 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.
A federal appeals court rejected the original moratorium last week. The new ban, in effect through Nov. 30, applies to any deep-water floating facility with drilling activities.
President Obama got continual updates yesterday on the installation of the new cap, his adviser David Axelrod said. Residents on the Gulf coast voiced skepticism about the progress, recognizing that even if the gusher is contained, the disaster will be far from over.
If the cap works, the blown-out well will still be leaking. But the newer, tighter cap will enable BP to capture all the oil and funnel it up to ships on the surface if necessary.
One of those ships, the Helix Producer, began operating yesterday and should be up to its capacity of collecting roughly 1 million gallons of oil a day within a few days, chief operating officer Doug Suttles said.
A permanent fix will have to wait until one of two relief wells being drilled reaches the broken well, which will then be plugged up with drilling mud and cement. That may not happen until mid-August.
As of yesterday, between 89 million and 176 million gallons of oil had poured into the Gulf, according to government estimates.
BP’s confidence in the cap is growing, Suttles said at a news briefing yesterday. But he struck a cautious note, after a series of failed attempts by the company to contain the leak since the April 20 oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and triggered the spill.
Of particular concern is the potential for icelike crystals, or hydrates, that could build up inside the cap where it connects to the well.
Engineers are spraying a chemical that acts as an antifreeze, concerned that if the crystals start forming they will compound and clog the piping. They do not want the flow of oil to stop instantaneously, said Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of Professional Geosciences Programs at the University of Houston. Shutting the oil off too quickly could cause another explosion, he said.
“Rather than like a train running into a brick wall, it’ll be more like putting the brakes on slowly,’’ he said. “That’s what they’re aiming for. You can keep the brakes on, and everyone arrives alive, or you hit the wall and have big problems.’’