BP Begins Installing Better Oil Containment Cap Over Broken Well

HOUMA, Louisiana, July 11, 2010 (ENS) – Oil from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico is once again gushing unchecked into the water as BP replaces an inefficient containment cap with a more efficient one. The complex procedure done with remotely controlled robots a mile beneath the surface is expected to take seven to 10 days.

Taking advantage of a calm weather window during a hurricane season forecast to be extremely active, BP said this morning that installation of the new sealing cap is “proceeding as planned.”

The drillship Discoverer Enterprise, which has been collecting oil and flaring gas from the broken well through a “top hat” cap, has moved away from its position above the wellhead after operators aboard removed the inefficient cap Saturday afternoon.

A subsea dispersant wand was inserted into the riser to break up the oil now gushing from the wellhead. Another drillship, the Discoverer Inspiration, was moved into position above the well.

Ships clustered above the broken Deepwater Horizon wellhead beneath a cloud of smoke from burning oil brought up from the blown-out well. July 9, 2010 (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The containment system aboard another ship, the Q4000, continues to capture oil and gas from the well and flare the hydrocarbons at the surface. Once it becomes operational, the containment system aboard yet another ship, the Helix Producer, will begin capturing additional oil and gas.

This so-called “capping stack” procedure is being conducted with the approval of National Incident Commander U.S. Coast Guard retired Admiral Thad Allen after consultation with top government scientists and engineers including Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

“I validated this plan because the capacity for oil containment when these installations are complete will be far greater than the capabilities we have achieved using current systems,” Admiral Allen said Saturday.

“In addition, favorable weather expected over the coming days will provide the working conditions necessary for these transitions to be successfully completed without delays. The transition to this new containment infrastructure could begin in the next days but will take seven to 10 days to complete,” Allen said.

BP also is in the process of connecting a third vessel, the Helix Producer, which will increase collection capacity to an estimated 53,000 barrels per day out of an estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day. The Helix Producer is expected to begin operations Sunday.

The Helix Producer will collect oil brought up through the “kill line” on a stack of valves called the blowout preventer. This is the device that failed to prevent the well from blowing out on April 20, when an explosion and fire killed 11 crewmen and sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

The collection of oil through the kill line is a redundancy measure taken at the administration’s direction, Allen explained.

He said, “Throughout this response, the federal government has directed BP to develop more detailed plans, create redundancy measures in case those plans fail, and apply additional resources to the largest response to an oil spill in our nation’s history.”

Currently 46 skimmers are operating at the well site, part of the fleet of more than 570 skimmers now on the job.

Controlled burn task forces operating in a wider band around the source were able to conduct 15 controlled burns Saturday, further assisting the skimmer fleet and the Q4000 containment vessel.

On Monday, said Allen, the federal on-scene coordinator will be replaced, the third such change since this oil spill response began in April.

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft is scheduled to relieve Rear Admiral James Watson as the federal on-scene coordinator. Zukunft, who has been in the region for several weeks overseeing strategic planning while preparing to assume his new role, is the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for marine safety, security and stewardship.

On-scene at the BP spill site just before the Discoverer Enterprise, center, moved to allow installation of a better containment cap. July 9, 2010. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Favorable weather conditions allowed responders to conduct a successful controlled burn operation for the second consecutive day. As part of a coordinated response that combines tactics deployed above water, below water, offshore, and close to coastal areas, controlled burns remove oil from the open water in an effort to protect shoreline and wildlife.

BP and the U.S. Coast Guard, defendants in a lawsuit filed by the Animal Welfare Institute and three other animal protection and conservation groups, agreed July 2 to prevent the burning of endangered sea turtles in the controlled burns.

“We are pleased that BP and the Coast Guard have agreed to take a variety of actions to prevent the horrific burning alive of endangered sea turtles,” says Animal Welfare Institute President Cathy Liss.

As part of efforts to contain the oil spill that continues to devastate the Gulf, BP has been using “controlled burns” whereby oil is corralled by fire resistant booms dragged through the water by “igniter” boats and then lit on fire. Endangered sea turtles, including the Kemp’s ridley, one of the rarest sea turtles on Earth, are caught in the gathered oil and are unable to escape when the oil is set ablaze.

Under the settlement, the plaintiff groups will be notified if there is a qualified biologist present at burn sites for the purpose of locating and removing any turtles.

BP and the Coast Guard have agreed to establish a standard operating protocol for the burns, and to convene a group of scientists to determine the necessary elements of the protocol to ensure the safety of the turtles.

In exchange for these measures, the plaintiff groups withdrew their request for a temporary restraining order halting the burns, but the underlying lawsuit remains in place.

Sea turtle caught in BP oil spill (Photo courtesy Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries)

To date, 286 controlled burns have been conducted, removing a total of approximately 10 million gallons (238,000 barrels) of oil from the open water. Because calculations on the volume of oil burned can take more than 48 hours, the reported total volume may not reflect the most recent controlled burns.

The drilling of two relief wells continues and has not been interrupted by elevated sea states. The Development Driller III has drilled the first relief well to a depth of 17,780 feet below the Gulf surface, within just a few feet of the oil reservoir tapped by the Deepwater Horizon from which all of this oil has originated.

The Development Driller II has drilled the second relief well, a redundancy measure taken at the direction of the Obama administration, to a depth of 14,500 feet below the surface.

BP continues the “ranging” process, which involves periodically withdrawing the drill pipe and sending an electrical signal down to determine how close they are getting to the wellbore.

The Obama administration will continue to hold the responsible parties accountable for repairing the damage, and repaying Americans who have suffered a financial loss as a result of the BP oil spill.

To date, 103,013 claims have been opened, from which more than $162.6 million have been disbursed. No claims have been denied to date. There are 999 claims adjusters on the ground. To file a claim, visit www.bp.com/claims or call BP’s helpline at 1-800-440-0858. Those who have already pursued the BP claims process and are not satisfied with BP’s resolution can call the Coast Guard at (800) 280-7118.

Additional information about the BP claims process and all available avenues of assistance can be found at www.disasterassistance.gov.

Approximately 551 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline is currently oiled. That includes 297 miles in Louisiana, 97 miles in Mississippi, 65 miles in Alabama, and 92 miles in Florida. These numbers reflect a daily snapshot of shoreline currently experiencing impacts from oil so that planning and field operations can more quickly respond to new impacts; they do not include cumulative impacts to date, or shoreline that has already been cleared.

Approximately 81,181 square miles of Gulf of Mexico federal waters remain closed to fishing in order to balance economic and public health concerns, about one-third of the entire gulf. Click here for details.

To date, the administration has utilized assets and skills from numerous foreign countries and international organizations as part of what Admiral Allen called an “historic, all-hands-on-deck response,” including Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Russia, Spain, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, the European Union’s Monitoring and Information Centre, and the European Maritime Safety Agency.

By the Numbers to Date:

  • The administration has authorized the deployment of 17,500 National Guard troops from Gulf Coast states to respond to this crisis; currently, 1,580 are active.
  • More than 46,400 personnel are currently responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife and clean up coastlines.
  • More than 6,800 vessels are currently 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.
  • More than 3.06 million feet of containment boom and 5.65 million feet of sorbent boom have been deployed to contain the spill.
  • More than 29.1 million gallons of an oil-water mix have been recovered.
  • Approximately 1.76 million gallons of total dispersant have been applied – 1.07 million on the surface and 692,000 sub-sea.

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