Coast Guard: Not Sure How Smooth Cut Can Be

(Dow Jones Newswires), June 2, 2010

BP, under increasing pressure to contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has hit a snag while trying to sever a pipe connected to the well that has spewed oil for the past six weeks.

Overnight, the response team was able to "successfully" make the first shear cut of the pipe, U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander for the spill, said at a news conference in Houma, La. But then a specialized saw got stuck while making a second fine cut that's needed before a containment device can be put in place.

"They are working that problem right now. The goal is later on today is to finish that cut and to be able to put a containment device on top of the wellhead," Allen said.

The containment device is designed to channel oil up to a ship on the surface. BP is pursuing this option after announcing over the weekend that a strategy known as top kill, which appeared promising at first, had failed to plug the leak.

If the response team is unable to dislodge the saw, another saw would have to be used, Allen said. He added that there's no question that a second cut can be made, but it remains uncertain how precise the cut will be. The smoother the cut is, the better the chance will be that the containment device will be able to capture a greater quantity of oil.

"As soon as the cut is made that separates the remainder of the riser pipe from the lower marine riser package, they will assess the quality of the cut and either move to install the top cap, which is the tighter device, with actually a rubber seal around it, or the top hat, which is a little wide and has less of a seal."

The news of the snag comes as the slick continues to spread and the environmental and economic toll increases.

Allen said Wednesday that oil has now made landfall on parts of Mississippi and that tar balls and sheening were apparent in Alabama. Oil hasn't yet hit the coast of Florida's panhandle, Allen said.

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