New cap might cap­ture all of spew­ing oil, ex-Coast Guard chief says

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Fred Tasker

MI­AMI — The first hint of a near­ing end to the mas­sive Gulf of Mex­ico oil spill was voiced Fri­day by the ex-Coast Guard ad­mi­ral in charge.

By July 15, a new, bet­ter cap might re­place the present leaky cap on the bro­ken well — tem­po­rar­ily con­tain­ing all of the oil, said re­tired Adm. Thad Allen.

Also, the re­lief well counted on to per­ma­nently seal the oil leak is a week ahead of its early Au­gust sched­ule for com­ple­tion, he said.

If the new cap works, it could cap­ture up to 80,000 bar­rels of oil a day. Cur­rent es­ti­mates of the amount of oil be­ing spewed are 35,000 to 60,000 bar­rels a day, so it all might be con­tained, Allen said.

The new sys­tem would in­volve cut­ting away the cur­rent cap on the well, which is poorly fit­ted and uses a rub­ber seal that lets thou­sands of gal­lons of oil a day spew into the Gulf. It would be re­placed by a thick steel cap that would be bolted on. It would con­nect to four riser pipes that would go up to four con­tain­ment ves­sels on the sur­face.

A de­ci­sion about whether to go ahead with the new cap will be made in about a week, Allen said. One con­sid­er­a­tion is to com­pute how much longer it might take to dis­con­nect such a com­plex new sys­tem if a hur­ri­cane ap­proaches, he said. With the cur­rent setup, oil con­tain­ment must be sus­pended 120 hours be­fore gale force winds ar­rive.

BP spokesman Robert Wine con­firmed that the new cap, if suc­cess­ful, might tem­po­rar­ily stop the en­tire flow of oil.

“We had been asked to come up with a plan to cre­ate ex­tra ca­pac­ity and du­pli­ca­tion so that if some­thing hap­pened to one (sur­face col­lect­ing) ves­sel, we could keep pro­duc­ing,” Wine said.

Allen also said BP’s ef­forts to drill a re­lief well to per­ma­nently close the leak­ing well are seven or eight days ahead of its Au­gust sched­ule, and within about 600 feet of the well at 11,817 feet be­low the sur­face of the Gulf. Work­ers are drilling about 15 feet at a time, then back­ing off the drill to take new read­ings to make sure they are on tar­get.

A sec­ond, back-up re­lief well is at 7,775 feet.

“I am re­luc­tant to tell you it will be done be­fore the mid­dle of Au­gust be­cause I think ev­ery­thing as­so­ci­ated with this spill and re­sponse re­cov­ery sug­gests that we should un­der­promise and over-de­liver,” the ad­mi­ral said.

Af­ter drillers reach the pipe in the blown-out well, they will need two to five days to bore into it, pump in enough heavy mud to over­power the up­ward pres­sure of the spew­ing oil, then pump in con­crete to seal it per­ma­nently, Allen said.

Also Fri­day, BP said some oil-skim­ming boats are back at work off the coasts of Alabama and Louisiana af­ter rough con­di­tions churned up by Hur­ri­cane Alex kept them ashore for a few days.

Keith Seil­han, BP’s in­ci­dent com­man­der in Mo­bile, Ala., said the size of the skim­mer fleet will in­crease dra­mat­i­cally as sea con­di­tions calm down. “We are not go­ing to sit around if we can be work­ing,” he said.

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