BP is urges to move faster on operations delayed by weather
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.
The Navy's MZ3A airship prepares to land in New Orleans lake-front Airport to help with the Gulf of Mexico response