BP PLC (BP) said Sunday it was able to reroute some oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico through a siphon system, a rare success in the company's ongoing struggle to control the spill.
A tube was inserted into a leaking riser that had connected Transocean Ltd.'s (RIG) Deepwater Horizon drilling rig with an underwater well before the April 20 explosion that caused the spill. The tube at one point became dislodged, but it was later reinserted, BP said.
"We are very slowly increasing" the rate of oil being captured from the leak, Kent Wells, a BP senior executive vice president, said during a press conference. "We do have oil and gas coming to the surface. We should anticipate in the next two days being able to measure how much oil (we) are taking in."
BP executives reiterated that the official estimate for the rate of the spill remains 5,000 barrels a day, downplaying reports of much higher volumes. Several scientists have said it could be many times that, and most involved in the response concede that a precise figure is impossible to pin down.
The magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon spill is likely to rival that of the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska. This spill has devastated the Gulf Coast's fishing sector, threatened the region's fragile ecosystem and already cost BP hundreds of millions of dollars. Aggressive use of chemical dispersants, construction of floating barriers and favorable tide patterns have kept the oil largely off the coastline, although the spill's footprint continues to spread in the Gulf. Eleven people were killed and several others injured by the explosion, the exact cause of which remains unclear.
Wells said BP would be able to estimate how much oil is being siphoned up to a storage facility on a ship by Monday or Tuesday.
"We'll do everything we can to capture as much as possible," he said, but he cautioned that BP would need to proceed slowly in order to avoid the crystal formations that thwarted an earlier plan to cap the leak with a coffer dam.
In the meantime, BP is pursuing other methods of stopping the oil, including a "junk shot" of debris to clog the hole. There are also plans to plug the oil flow with mud.
As is common, the oil being directed to the surface is accompanied by natural gas, which is being flared aboard the Discoverer Enterprise drill ship.
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