BP Gains Some Control Over Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

ROBERT, Louisiana, May 16, 2010 (ENS) – Overnight, BP technicians successfully inserted a tube in piping about 600 feet from the leaking wellhead on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor to divert some of the oil and gas to a drill ship 5,000 feet above on the water’s surface.

The oil was stored on board the drill ship Discoverer Enterprise and the natural gas was burned off. The recovered oil will be stored aboard the ship until it is transferred to another vessel for transport to a refinery on shore.

Drill ship Discoverer Enterprise and the drill ship DD III on location of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, May 12, 2010 (Photo courtesy BP)

The operation is the first time that any of the oil has been captured since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and burned April 20 and sank two days later, leaving the wellhead pipe broken and gushing oil at a rate that has been estimated from 5,000 barrels a day to 70,000 barrels a day.

The Unified Area Command reports that the test was halted temporarily when the tube was dislodged, but technicians have fully inspected the system and have re-inserted the tool.

“While not collecting all of the leaking oil, this tool is an important step in reducing the amount of oil being released into Gulf waters,” said the Unified Command, which consists of personnel from 12 federal government agencies, BP and Transocean, Ltd, owner of the Deepwater Horizon.

The procedure, never attempted before at such depths, involves inserting a five-foot length of the specifically-designed tool into the end of the existing, damaged riser from where the oil and gas is leaking.

With the approval of federal agencies and Federal On Scene Coordinator U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, methanol is flowing into the riser to help prevent the formation of icy gas crystals, known as hydrates, that foiled an earlier attempt to divert the flow of oil through a larger subsea containment dome.

In addition, the new riser will be heated with warmer sea water from the surface to promote the flow of oil from the ocean floor to the drillship above. This is a commonly used practice in ultra-deepwater oil production to counteract the cold temperatures at these water depths.

Secretary Salazar and Secretary Napolitano issued a joint statement on these efforts, saying, “Today, BP attempted another test to contain some of the oil leaking from the riser. This technique is not a solution to the problem, and it is not yet clear how successful it may be.”

Tarballs on the beach at Louisiana’s Fourchon Beach, May 13, 2010. (Photo courtesy LDEQ)

“We are closely monitoring BP’s test with the hope that it will contain some of the oil, but at the same time, federal scientists are continuing to provide oversight and expertise to BP as they move forward with other strategies to contain the spill and stop the flow of oil,” the secretaries said.

“We will not rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead, the spill is cleaned up, and the communities and natural resources of the Gulf Coast are restored and made whole,” they said.

Meanwhile, BP still intends to try and plug the leaking wellhead with junk and then cement it closed.

In an attempt to control the oil and gas still pouring from the well, BP continues to use chemical dispersants both at the source of the leak and at the surface. To date, some 600,000 gallons of dispersant have been deployed.

After a series of tests to determine if chemical dispersants would be safe and effective to help break up the oil spill at the source of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, a mile below the surface of the ocean, the Coast Guard and the EPA Saturday announced they have authorized BP to use dispersants at depths of 5,000 feet.

The use of the dispersant at the source of the leak is a novel approach to addressing the environmental threat posed by the spill. Test results indicate the subsea use of the dispersant is effective at reducing the amount of oil reaching the surface, and can do so with the use of less dispersant than is needed when the oil does reach the surface, according to the EPA.

Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries biologists found an oiled brown pelican, on Bayou Rigaud and took it in for rehab. May 13, 2010. (Photo courtesy LDWF)

The federal government will require regular analysis of the dispersants’ effectiveness and impact on the environment, water and air quality, and human health through a monitoring program and reserves the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if any negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits.

Dispersants sprayed on the surface help break up oil into tiny micron-sized droplets which mix into the upper layer of the ocean, the EPA explains. Dispersed oil forms a “plume” or “cloud” of oil droplets just below the water surface, mixes vertically and horizontally into the water column and is rapidly diluted. Bacteria and other microscopic organisms are then able to act more quickly than they otherwise would to degrade the oil within the droplets.

Meanwhile, oil from the broken wellhead continues to cause problems in nearshore areas and on shore. Skimming and in-situ burning were planned for today but postponed until the weather is more moderate. Aerial dispersant application did take place.

As of Saturday, 1.6 million feet of boom have been deployed, and all the Gulf ports remain open.

Louisiana state health officials today announced the closure of two more oyster harvesting beds west of the Mississippi River in Terrebonne Parish, bringing the total number of closures to eight. Five more were recently reopened. State employees are continuously testing eight million acres of coastal waters along the Louisiana shoreline for hydrocarbons.

On the slippery deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Harry Claiborne crewmembers reposition an oil covered containment boom. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathen E. Davis courtesy U.S. Navy)

After receiving reports of oiled trawls and boats in Terrebonne parish, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham Saturday closed a large area west of the Mississippi to commercial and recreational fishing in addition to the area from Chadaleur Sound and south around the Mississippi Delta, which was ordered closed last week.

Louisiana’s Breton National Wildlife Refuge remains closed and low-level overflights are prohibited to protect nesting birds. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service flights were conducted on Saturday and no oil was reported on any portion of the refuge. The Service warns that 25 national wildlife refuges along the Gulf coast could potentially be impacted.

Tarballs were reported from west of Galveston, Texas to the Florida panhandle. Testing already underway has shown some tarballs to be from this spill and others not, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.

In the state of Mississippi, 60 tarballs have been recovered along the coastline of Harrison and Hancock counties by the Department of Environmental Quality. Agency officials say there is no apparent public health risk related to the recovered tar balls or the oil spill at this time. Teams reported no oil or sheen in Mississippi waters, and no fish kills. NOAA satellite imagery indicates that the main oil slick is about 57 miles from Mississippi beaches.

Tarballs began washing up on the white sand beaches of Alabama’s Dauphin Island last weekend.

All along the Gulf coast, more than 1.25 million feet of containment boom and 440,000 feet of sorbent boom have been deployed to contain the spill. Another 3.5 million feet of boom is either staged, ordered or in production.

An oiled, cleaned and recovered green heron is released back to the wild at Louisiana’s Sherburne Wildlife Management Area. May 14, 2010. (Photo by Thomas Gresham courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says eight live birds have been admitted to the wildlife rehabilitation centers: two northern gannets, one green heron, three brown pelicans, one magnificent frigate bird, and one laughing gull. Of these, five birds have been cleaned and some have been released back to the wild.

Sixteen birds were dead on arrival: four northern gannets, one rock dove, one sora, five laughing gulls, one cattle egret, two brown pelicans, one American white pelican, and one frigate bird.

To report oiled or distressed wildlife call: 1-866-557-1401.

Spill responders are asking today for the public’s help in monitoring boom along the Gulf Coast. Boaters are requested to report sightings of broken, disconnected, or adrift boom; and encouraged to keep their distance from boom especially at night and in conditions of restricted visibility.

“Boom provides one more line of defense in protecting our favorite places along the Gulf Coast. It’s important the boom not be disturbed,” said Captain Bill Drelling, U.S. Coast Guard deputy incident commander of Sector Mobile.

Agencies have received reports of boaters driving through boom or disturbing boom in attempts to access protected areas. Responders understand the inconvenience of not being able to access these areas; however, areas that are boomed include some of the most environmentally sensitive places along the coast. Opening or removing these booms may expose those sensitive areas to environmental harm.

Officials are also concerned boom that has broken loose or has been opened without authorization poses a navigational hazard to the boating public and commercial shipping traffic.

Report damaged, vandalized, adrift, or stolen boom to: 1-866-448-5816.

More than 19,000 people are currently responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife.

More than 650 vessels are responding on site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts, in addition to dozens of aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and multiple mobile offshore drilling units.

Approximately 6.3 million gallons of an oily water mix have been recovered from skimming operations.

There are 17 equipment staging areas in place and ready to protect sensitive shorelines. In Alabama they are at: Dauphin Island, Orange Beach, and Theodore; in Florida at: Panama City, Pensacola, Port St. Joe, and St. Marks; in Louisiana at: Amelia, Cocodrie, Grand Isle, Shell Beach, Slidell, St. Mary, and Venice; and in Mississippi at: Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Pass Christian.

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