UpdateBP hopes tube can siphon up to half of Gulf oil spill

17 May 2010 22:03  [Source: ICIS news]

Surface vessels aid effort(adds updates throughout)

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--BP hopes to siphon up to half of the estimated 5,000 bbl/day flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday through the successful insertion of its tube into pipe work of an offshore well, the company said on Monday.

BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said the company would increase the rate of extraction – most recently at just over 1,000 bbl/day – on a gradual basis, so as to not allow excess water into the pipe and risk the formation of crystallised gas hydrates to block the flow.

“If we could get half or so of the total flow – really, in excess of 2,000 bbl/day – we would all be extraordinarily pleased,” Suttles said on a conference call with media.

“What’s critical is that we not introduce water into the system, because at that point it would probably stop working, so we’re going to be doing this very, very carefully,” he added.

The gas hydrates led to the failure of BP’s attempt to contain the spill with a 40-foot-tall (12-metre-tall) vault in early May. BP was also injecting methanol into the tube, where it was being used as a de-icer to prevent hydrate formation, it said.

“This is a great week for offshore cleanup,” said US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry. “This will diminish the flow, but not kill. We’re eagerly awaiting BP’s work with the top kill, which is supposed to begin later in the week.”

The “top kill” method would involve shooting heavy drilling fluids into the well to overcome pressure from oil coming up the well, BP said.

Immediately after, BP would send a “junk shot” of materials – including golf balls, tyre pieces, rope knots and cement – into the Gulf, in hopes of sealing holes in the failed blowout preventer (BOP).

That procedure would take place late this week or early in the upcoming weekend, Suttles said.

Suttles noted the top kill method was not initially used by BP for fear that it could have made the situation worse by sending materials into the Gulf.

“We had to get certain diagnostic information on this blowout preventer and riser before we were comfortable taking that action and knowing that it would not make the situation worse,” Suttles said. “We had to gather that information over time.”

In the riser operation, underwater robots over the weekend inserted the four-inch (10-cm) diameter tube into a leaking 21-inch riser pipe, which rested on the seafloor nearly a mile under water, the company said. Oil was flowing through the tube and into a drill ship.

The company’s first attempt to insert the tube failed after the frame holding the equipment shifted, BP said.

However, after the frame was brought back to the surface, technicians inspected the system and successfully re-inserted the tube.

“I’m really pleased we’ve had success now,” Suttles said. “We’ve actually had what we call this rise insertion tube working more than 24 hours now.”

BP also said it continued to successfully use sub-sea chemical dispersants, which helped to break up accumulations of oil. That, in turn, had helped to reduce the amount of oil reaching the surface, officials said.

“The efforts offshore are making a big difference now,” Suttles said. “This is the smallest amount of oil I’ve seen on the surface since it began.”

Landry noted that the use of dispersants under water, as opposed to only at the surface, allowed responders to use less by volume, lowering the ecological risk.

Oil began leaking from the well after the 20 April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which caused it to sink.

While the top kill method would stop the flow over the short-term, the permanent solution remained the drilling of two relief wells, BP said.

Construction of the first well started in early May, and drilling work on the second – which would effectively serve as a backup – began on Sunday, BP said. Both wells were expected to be complete by mid-August.

BP reiterated at its Monday press briefing that it would never attempt to again produce oil from the well.

"The right thing to do is to permanently plug this well, and that's what we will do," Suttles said.

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By: Ben DuBose
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