BP is urges to move faster on op­er­a­tions de­layed by weather

Austin American-Statesman - - FRIDAY BRIEFING - By John M. Broder

WASHINGTON — With a week­long win­dow of fa­vor­able weather open­ing in the Gulf of Mex­ico, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is press­ing BP to move quickly on two op­er­a­tions that could dou­ble the amount of oil cap­tured from the gush­ing well.

An oil re­cov­ery ship known as the Helix Pro­ducer, ca­pa­ble of cap­tur­ing up to 25,000 bar­rels a day, has been wait­ing near the crip­pled well for more than a week, un­able to con­nect to the well be­cause of high winds and waves from Hur­ri­cane Alex.

The weather has also de­layed de­ploy­ment of a new, tighter-fit­ting cap for the well that not only will be able to cap­ture more of the spew­ing oil but could po­ten­tially shut down all oil re­leases from the well. Swap­ping the caps re­quires dis­con­nect­ing the well from a re­cov­ery ship, the Dis­cov­erer En­ter­prise, po­ten­tially in­creas­ing the flow of oil by as much as 15,000 bar­rels a day for two to three days.

The two op­er­a­tions were to have be­gun a week ago and to have taken place in se­quence. The ad­min­is­tra­tion now wants BP to move for­ward with both at the same time to take ad­van­tage of a pe­riod of seven or eight days of pre­dicted calm weather.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion sent BP a let­ter Thurs­day ask­ing for de­tails of how the com­pany planned to pro­ceed with at­tach­ing the Helix and re­plac­ing the cap while min­i­miz­ing the unim­peded flow of oil dur­ing the changeover. The govern­ment wants to know how much of the oil BP can skim, burn or dis­perse dur­ing the swap.

Govern­ment of­fi­cials ex­pect a quick an­swer and plan to de­cide by to­day how quickly to pro­ceed.

Mean­while, work is pro­ceed­ing on two re­lief wells that of­fer the prom­ise of per­ma­nently killing the well. One of the wells is within 200 feet of the spew­ing Ma­condo well, Thad Allen, the re­tired Coast Guard ad­mi­ral who is lead­ing the fed­eral re­sponse to the spill, said in a brief­ing Thurs­day.

A top BP ex­ec­u­tive told The Wall Street Jour­nal and NBC on Wed­nes­day that un­der the most fa­vor­able con­di­tions, the spill could be stopped by July 27, al­though he cau­tioned that the weather or tech­ni­cal prob­lems could push that back. The orig­i­nal com­ple­tion date was mid-Au­gust.

At Thurs­day’s brief­ing, Allen also stuck to the later com­ple­tion date.

“We are down to the fi­nal days and weeks of clos­ing in to a point where we can in­ter­cept the wells,” he said. “Our tar­get date re­mains the mid­dle of Au­gust.”

The more im­me­di­ate plan is to re­place the cap and bring in ad­di­tional ves­sels to cap­ture oil. When the Helix is on line and the new cap in place, the sys­tem will be able to col­lect as much as 50,000 bar­rels a day of a flow that is es­ti­mated to be as high as 60,000 bar­rels a day. Ad­di­tional ships could cap­ture an­other 30,000 bar­rels.

The new sys­tem will al­low col­lec­tion ves­sels to move on and off sta­tion faster if storms blow up.

Chuck Cook ASS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Navy's MZ3A air­ship pre­pares to land in New Or­leans lake-front Air­port to help with the Gulf of Mex­ico re­sponse

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