BP to Try, Siphon Oil in 24 Hours

MOBILE (Dow Jones Newswires), May 28, 2010

BP will use a tube to try and siphon oil from the large leak a mile down in the Gulf of Mexico, and expects to have it in place within the next 24 hours, a company spokesman said.

If successful, the tube would contain one of the two remaining leaks spewing at least 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf since the burning and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig last month. Engineers will attempt to thread the tube into piping coming out of the well and then bring the oil to the surface.

BP said that, for now, it doesn't plan to deploy a so-called top hat containment device over the leak. Earlier, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen, the U.S. government's crisis commander, said at press briefing the top hat would be set in place Friday. But the BP spokesman said there had been a miscommunication about the containment plan. Friday's work comes after an earlier attempt to contain the leak with a steel dome failed.

The spill resulted from the April 20 explosion and sinking, two days later, of Transocean Ltd.'s (RIG) Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which was finishing a well for BP. Eleven members of the crew were killed by the blast, and the spill threatens the shore of several Gulf Coast states.

Allen said the next key step is to find a short-term means of stopping the leak as BP continues the longer process of drilling a relief well to permanently cap the flow. Other options under consideration include a "junk shot," whereby a variety of materials including tire pieces, knots of rope and other items would be sent down to plug the leak; the installation of a valve to shut it; or the installation of a new blowout preventer. The original blowout device designed to shut the well had failed.

BP plans to be ready to attempt plugging up the well by the end of next week.

Allen said the nature of the spill threatening the Gulf shore has been changing, breaking up and becoming less centralized. This makes the oil slick harder to contain, but means it's coming to shore in smaller quantities or "subsets" of a larger spill, he said.

"It is separating into different patches of oil in which you have open water between," he said. "There is good and bad news in that."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with other federal agencies, is expected to decide on further use of chemical dispersants in deepwater later Friday, Allen said.

Around 476,000 gallons of dispersant have so far been deployed to break up the slick, and more than 217,000 gallons are available, the joint command in charge of spill recovery said Friday.

Earlier this week, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said the environmental effects of using the dispersants were still under investigation, adding that the agency retained the right to halt use of the chemicals if the harm outweighs the environmental benefits.

Allen said dispersants have been tested as part of the spill response in deepwaters, something that hasn't been done before. The use of dispersants is a trade off between the toxicity of the chemicals offshore and the effects of the oil onshore, with federal officials needing a process in place to understand the environmental impact, Allen said.

"If we get approval to move ahead, we will consider continuous application of dispersants at the sub-sea level," Allen said.

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