Oil Containment System Could Deploy Next Weekend

The large structure designed to contain hydrocarbons from the leaking wellhead causing the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico could be deployed as soon as six days from now, the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center reported Monday afternoon.

According to the unified command, the Subsea Oil Recovery System is designed to collect hydrocarbons from the well and pump them to a tanker at the surface. The recovered hydrocarbons will then be stored and safely shipped ashore. Weather-permitting, deployment could occur within six to eight days.

The 125-ton system comprises a 14' x 24' x 40' cofferdam structure that will be set on top of the largest leak source and act as a funnel for the leaking crude oil. The leak is located at the end of the riser (tubing), approximately 600 feet from the wellhead. Equipment at the top of the containment chamber is connected to a 5,000-foot, 6 5/8-inch drill pipe riser that will direct the hydrocarbons to the Discoverer Enterprise surface ship where recovered hydrocarbons will be processed. Oil separated from water and gas will be shipped to a designated oil terminal onshore. The illustration above, provided by the unified command, highlights the components of the Subsea Oil Recovery System.

The Discoverer Enterprise can process 15,000 barrels of oil per day and store 139,000 barrels. A support barge capable of storing 137,000 barrels of oil will also be deployed. According to the Joint Information Center, the subsea recovery system could collect up to 85% of oil rising from the seafloor.

The containment system has never been used at the water depth in question, roughly one mile below the surface. BP developed the system by quickly locating existing structures that have previously been used as cofferdams in shallow water recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina. After Katrina, the structures were lowered over damaged wellheads to allow divers to repair the wellheads. BP and Wild Well Controls, Inc. collaborated to convert the structures for deepwater use.

Unified command reported that the system is being fabricated in Louisiana and will be transported to the Discoverer Enterprise. Once it arrives at the well site, it will be lowered to the seabed. Remotely operating vehicles (ROVs) will monitor the installation and complete connections to the riser. The sides of the structure have been fitted with "mud flaps" to compensate for the cofferdam's weight and the muddy conditions at the sea bottom. The flaps will enable the structure to settle into the sea bottom and complete the enclosure.