BP says it is mak­ing progress on cap­ping Gulf oil leak,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Breen

NEW OR­LEANS — Un­der­promis­ing with hopes of overde­liv­er­ing, BP said Sun­day that it is mak­ing progress on what might be its most ef­fec­tive ef­fort yet to con­tain the Gulf oil leak but cau­tioned that the ver­dict could be sev­eral days away.

A new cap be­ing placed atop the gusher is in­tended to pro­vide a tight seal and might even­tu­ally al­low the oil gi­ant to cap­ture all the crude leak­ing from the well for the first time since an April 20 oil rig ex­plo­sion set off the en­vi­ron­men­tal cri­sis. But sev­eral prior failed at­tempts to stop the leak have made BP PLC care­ful to keep ex­pec­ta­tions grounded.

“We’re pleased with our progress,” said BP se­nior vice pres­i­dent Kent Wells, who then has­tened to add that the op­er­a­tion was still ex­pected to last up to six more days.

Asked dur­ing a con­fer­ence call if the new cap and col­lec­tion ef­forts would end the spilling of oil into the Gulf, Wells said only that BP will cap­ture all the oil “at some point.”

Wells said BP might have to bring an­other ves­sel back on­line and add col­lec­tion ca­pac­ity to stop the oil flow al­to­gether.

Of­fi­cials won’t be sat­is­fied that the cap is work­ing un­til they’ve run tests on whether it can with­stand the tremen­dous pres­sure of oil push­ing up from be­low the seafloor, Wells said.

“We’ve tried to work out as many of the bugs as we can. The chal­lenge will come with some­thing un­ex­pected,” he said.

The well has been gush­ing largely unchecked since a leaky cap was re­moved from the well­head Satur­day to make way for the new one. Be­tween 88 mil­lion and 174 mil­lion gal­lons have al­ready spilled into the Gulf, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral es­ti­mates.

Wary Gulf Coast res­i­dents re­served judg­ment about BP’s lat­est ef­fort and said the dam­age al­ready done to the en­vi­ron­ment, fish­ing and tourism will haunt the re­gion for a long time.

“At this point, there have been so many ups and downs, dis­ap­point­ments, that ev­ery­body down here is like, ‘We’ll be­lieve it when we see it,’” said Keith Kennedy, a char­ter boat cap­tain in Venice, La.

Robotic sub­marines fin­ished re­mov­ing a busted piece of pipe that was bolted around the leak about 3 a.m. Sun­day. That paved the way for the in­stal­la­tion of a pipelike con­nec­tor called a flange spool that will sit on top of the spew­ing well bore. The new cap would be mounted on top of that con­nec­tor and have flex­i­ble pipes lead­ing up to sur­face ships.

The work was be­ing closely mon­i­tored at the White House, where Pres­i­dent Barack Obama is be­ing briefed mul­ti­ple times a day, ad­viser David Ax­el­rod said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“We have ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve that this will work,” he said.

The new cap will be aided in con­tain­ing the leak by the ar­rival of the Helix Pro­ducer, a ves­sel that will be able to take in about 1 mil­lion gal­lons of crude per day by Tues­day af­ter grad­u­ally ramp­ing up. The Helix con­nected to flex­i­ble pipes from the well Fri­day, and crews have been run­ning tests since then.

Like an­other ves­sel al­ready op­er­at­ing, the Q4000, the Helix will take in oil through con­nec­tions be­neath the new seal. Once the new cap is af­fixed, two other ves­sels are to con­nect to it for their oil col­lec­tion.

Ul­ti­mately, the four ves­sels col­lect­ing oil from the leak would have a ca­pac­ity of roughly 2.5 mil­lion to 3.4 mil­lion gal­lons a day — enough to cap­ture all the oil that’s leak­ing, if fed­eral es­ti­mates are right.

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