THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

BP tries small tube to stem oil gusher

Says its efforts in Gulf already total $450m

A woman relaxed on the beach in Dauphin Island, Ala., earlier in the week while workers in protective suits searched for tar balls from the huge April 20 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A woman relaxed on the beach in Dauphin Island, Ala., earlier in the week while workers in protective suits searched for tar balls from the huge April 20 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (Mike Kittrell/ The Press-Register via Associated Press)
By Jeff Donn and H. Josef Hebert
Associated Press / May 14, 2010

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WASHINGTON — BP officials said yesterday that they would thread a small tube into a jagged pipe on the seafloor to suck oil to the surface before it can spew into the Gulf and add to a disaster apparently set in motion by a long list of equipment failures.

Engineers will have to make sure the 6-inch-wide tube is inserted deep enough into the 21-inch-wide pipe so gas and seawater do not mix, which can form crystals that could clog the tube. They will also have to thread the tube into the pipe without hitting debris around the riser.

The smaller tube will be surrounded by a stopper to keep oil from leaking into the sea. The tube will then siphon the crude to a tanker at the surface.

Company spokesman Bill Salvin said engineers hoped to start moving the tube into place last night. Another option is a small containment box called a “top hat,’’ which is already on the seafloor and also would siphon oil to a tanker on the surface.

BP might wind up shooting junk of all shapes and sizes to plug the nooks and crannies in a giant piece of machinery that is allowing some of the oil to escape into the Gulf of Mexico.

In the aptly named “junk shot,’’ engineers would shoot pieces of tires, golf balls, knotted rope, and other items into the blowout preventer sitting atop the well.

They will try one carefully selected mix in hopes the right sizes of junk make their way to the appropriate holes. Officials may have to try a few different mixes before it works, if it works at all.

Once the leak is clogged, heavy mud will be poured in. It would then be sealed off with cement. The technique has been used before, including to plug wells in Kuwait during the first Gulf War. But BP scientists warn it has never been tried 5,000 feet under the sea.

BP’s announcement of the pipe threading operation came a day after hearings in Washington and Louisiana uncovered facts that drive home an unsettling point about America’s oil industry: key safety features at thousands of US offshore wells are barely regulated.

It remains unclear what, if anything, Congress or the Obama administration may do to address regulatory deficiencies.

The well’s owner, global oil company BP PLC, said yesterday that its costs for trying to stop the gusher, containing the spill, and helping Gulf states foot the response tab totaled $450 million, up $100 million since its May 10 update to securities regulators. BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said Wednesday the bill rises by at least $10 million a day.