Latest bid to shut Gulf oil leak has 60-70% chance of success - BP

24 May 2010 21:07  [Source: ICIS news]

Relief efforts continueHOUSTON (ICIS news)--BP’s latest bid to completely shut the oil flow from the sunken rig in the Gulf of Mexico stands a 60-70% chance of success, the company’s chief operating officer said on Monday.

“I think everyone is frustrated by why we haven’t been able to stop the flow,” said Doug Suttles. “We need this to work.”

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Sunday voiced dismay over the inability of BP to contain and stop the oil spill more than a full month since it began.

In the upcoming “top kill” operation, heavy drilling fluids would be injected into the well to completely stem the flow, followed by cement to seal the well.

Most of the equipment for the operation was on site, BP said, with deployment expected on Wednesday. The previous schedule was for Tuesday.

“The timeline assumes things go to plan,” Suttles said on a conference call. “We already lost about a day because at times we encountered problems at 5,000 feet [below the surface]. Down there, a small problem like a leak in the connection for a piece of pipe is a quite complex job to fix.”

Should the top kill operation be unsuccessful, BP would attempt to put a “top hat” containment device over the larger leak, which would seek to capture a majority of the oil and pipe it to a surface vessel.

In addition, BP said it would consider a “junk shot”, involving the injection of golf balls, pieces of rubber tyres and other debris in an attempt to shut the well’s failed blowout preventer (BOP).

The company was continuing to siphon oil and natural gas via an insertion tube into pipe work of the offshore well, but the success of that method was declining in recent days.

At one point, the company was siphoning oil at a rate of 5,000 bbl/day, but that was for a very brief period, Suttles said. Since then, increased amounts of gas and gas hydrates had entered the tube, limiting the flow of oil, he said.

The 5,000 bbl/day estimate also forced the company to acknowledge that the prior US leak estimate of 5,000 bbl/day was too small, though BP said that opinions from scientists that the leak was 15-to-20 times larger appeared incorrect as well.

“I’m very confident the rate coming out of this well is nowhere near some of the estimates you see quoted on radio and TV,” Suttles said.

Meanwhile, BP said it was working with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the potential use of less-toxic chemical dispersants than Nalco’s Corexit.

“We met with them again yesterday, and they continue to push us to find an alternative,” Suttles said. “If we can find an alternative that is less toxic and available in the quantities needed, we will switch.”

BP reiterated that it had concerns over the marine life impacts of some of the dispersants listed as less toxic by the EPA, including Alabaster’s Sea Brat #4.

Overall, cleanup costs for the oil spill had already reached $760m (€608m), BP said on Monday.

Oil began spewing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico after a 20 April explosion sank the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon offshore rig.

($1 = €0.80)

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By: Ben DuBose
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