On Monday, BP seemed to give up on its a four-story, 98-ton containment dome and said its "new hope is that a far smaller, two-ton container, known as a top hat, will capture less seawater," the New York Times reported late in the day. -- But the downside is that "It’s unlikely to be as effective in capturing all the oil," said Tony Hayward, BP’s CEO, and it is only "by the end of the week" that operationality it hoped for. -- "As early as next week, the company is preparing to execute a technique called a 'junk shot,' reconfiguring the crippled blowout preventer above the well and injecting golf balls, pieces of rubber tire, knots of rope and other materials to choke off the well." -- If the containment dome had us musing about Tom Swift and the Deepwater Horizon, the "top hat" and the "junk shot" sounded to us like a cross between the Hardy Boys and Cheech & Chong. -- But "[t]he technique was used to stop leaking Kuwaiti wells that Saddam Hussein’s army set on fire during the Persian Gulf war," though "it has never been tried at such depths below water. 'There’s a little bit of science to it, even if it sounds odd,'" said Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president for exploration and production. -- Meanwhile Tony Hayward, no doubt in exasperation, held out the the prospect of certainty: "The relief wells will ultimately be successful," he prognosticated, adding that "it's simply a question of how long it takes," the *Wall Street Journal* said. -- Hayward, who moaned "What did we do to deserve this?" in the early stages of the crisis, called the incident "unprecedented in over 20 years of deepwater exploration," and said "the lessons learned here 'will have profound implications for the industry.'"
SMALLER DOME READIED TO CAP LEAKING WELL
By Clifford Krauss and Susan Saulny
New York Times
May 10, 2010
HOUSTON -- After a 98-ton steel containment dome failed to stop a leak that continues to pour oil from a runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico, BP executives said on Monday that they would take another attempt at stemming some of the flow later this week with a far smaller containment device.
An estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day has been spilling into the gulf since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig leased by BP 50 miles offshore. Ever since, the company has tried one highly technical maneuver after another with little success.
Heavy winds and choppy seas became another challenge on Monday, with workers on cleanup vessels forced to wear respirators to protect themselves from fumes coming from burning the oil slick. “This is a very challenging environment to work in,” Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, told reporters at a briefing in Robert, La.
With no chance of capping the well in the next few days, the company was left with few options except shooting a chemical dispersant from a remote-controlled submarine robot into the thick of the leak, 5,000 feet under the gulf.
The company used the dispersant last week, but suspended the operation so the Environmental Protection Agency could begin to test the potential impact on the environment. Workers began spraying the dispersant again Monday, and BP executives said they had successfully broken up much of the oil and kept much of it from reaching the surface.
In another containment effort, National Guard helicopters in Louisiana’s Lafourche Parish dropped sandbags onto outlying island beaches on Monday in an attempt to safeguard the area’s wetlands.
BP executives concede that containment has been easier than plugging the leak, which must be the ultimate solution to the problem well. Officials had hoped that a four-story, 98-ton containment dome deployed over the weekend would funnel 85 percent of the leak from the riser pipe to a pipeline connected to a containment ship. But it became clogged by an unexpectedly high buildup of gas hydrates, crystal structures that form when gas and water mix in the low temperatures and high pressures of deep ocean waters.
The new hope is that a far smaller, two-ton container, known as a top hat, will capture less seawater, eliminating some of the risk of hydrate formation at its opening. But Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, acknowledged on Monday that due to the container’s much smaller size, “It’s unlikely to be as effective in capturing all the oil.”
The EPA has also given BP permission to inject methanol into the containment dome as the equivalent of antifreeze in another effort to keep the gas hydrates from clogging the system.
The containment vessel will be lowered while still attached to a drill ship. Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president for exploration and production, compared the operation to “heart surgery under 5,000 feet” of water.
The new box, which BP hopes will be operational by the end of the week, is only one of several options the company plans to try over the next two weeks to contain and plug the leak.
The work is monitored around the clock from a crisis management center at BP headquarters in Houston, where BP technicians, along with technicians from other oil companies and government officials, view a bank of three-dimensional seismic images transmitted to them by the submarine robots.
As early as next week, the company is preparing to execute a technique called a “junk shot,” reconfiguring the crippled blowout preventer above the well and injecting golf balls, pieces of rubber tire, knots of rope and other materials to choke off the well.
The technique was used to stop leaking Kuwaiti wells that Saddam Hussein’s army set on fire during the Persian Gulf war, but it has never been tried at such depths below water.
“There’s a little bit of science to it, even if it sounds odd,” Mr. Wells said.
If nothing else succeeds, BP has begun drilling one relief well and is planning another. One will intercept the leaking well and fill it with concrete to close it for good. But the wells take 90 days to complete.
“It’s clearly a situation that is serious for BP,” Mr. Hayward said. “The relief wells ultimately will be successful.”
Clifford Krauss reported from Houston, and Susan Saulny from New Orleans.
BP TAKES NEW TACK TO CAPTURE ESCAPING OIL IN GULF
By Angel Gonzalez
Wall Street Journal
May 11, 2010
HOUSTON -- After a rapidly freezing mix of natural gas and water derailed attempts to place a big underwater dome on top of a deepwater well leaking oil into Gulf of Mexico, BP PLC hopes a smaller dome will do the trick, Chief Executive Tony Hayward said Monday.
The big dome failed because "there's a lot more gas involved in the leak than we had hitherto believed," Mr. Hayward said. The gas combined with water to form hydrates that clogged a 12-inch opening at the top of the structure, he added.
The new steel dome, five feet in diameter and five feet tall and shaped like a "top hat," will be ready to deploy within 72 hours, the executive said in a meeting with reporters at BP's Houston campus. The company will pump methanol into the new dome to keep ice from forming. The smaller size of the structure also should keep water out, he said.
Mr. Hayward's comments come after several attempts to halt the estimated 5,000 barrel-a-day leak -- ranging from the giant subsea dome to shutting off a giant underwater blowout preventer using robots -- have failed. But BP is still trying to fight the spill both on the surface, at the shoreline, and at the well site, Mr. Hayward said.
While trying to deploy the smaller dome, BP is drilling a relief well to kill the leaking well, an effort that is expected to take months. A second, backup relief well will be drilled starting at the end of the week, "probably Friday," Mr. Hayward said.
"The relief wells will ultimately be successful," Mr. Hayward said. He added that the company will solve the problem -- "it's simply a question of how long it takes," he said.
The spill resulted from the explosion and sinking in April of the Transocean Ltd., Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which was finishing a well for the London-based oil giant. Eleven crew members were killed by the blast, and the spill threatens the shore of Gulf Coast states. It also risks undermining U.S. appetite for offshore drilling.
Much of the difficulty in containing the leak lies in the rig's depth. Mr. Hayward called the incident "unprecedented in over 20 years of deepwater exploration, and said the lessons learned here "will have profound implications for the industry."
BP is also planning a "junk shot" of diverse materials in an attempt to clog the blow-out preventer and prevent oil and gas from flowing through it. The shot would contain pieces of tire, knots of rope and other items, and will be tried in the next two weeks, said Kent Wells, a senior BP executive.
Mr. Hayward said BP resumed injecting dispersant at the source of the leak on Monday, the use of which "seems to be having a very significant impact" in dispersing the leak, and is being carefully monitored, he said.