BP claims pipe capturing 20% of spill

ENERGY giant BP yesterday said it was capturing about a fifth of the estimated oil gushing from its ruptured undersea Gulf of Mexico well and hoped to try to fully stop the flow later this week.

But BP, whose shares rose more than 2% on news of the limited containment, still faced tough questions from the US government and public over the extent of the spill threatening economic and environmental calamity to the US Gulf Coast.

“We’re throwing absolutely everything at this,” BP chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, said. The spill could eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident off Alaska as the worst US ecological disaster.

Suttles said a suction tube inserted into the well riser pipe on the ocean floor, almost a mile down, was siphoning off 1,000 barrels per day, about one fifth of the 5,000 barrels BP estimated to be leaking per day. Other estimates say much more oil is really leaking out.

“This is just containing the flow. Later this week, hopefully before the end of the week, we’ll make our next attempt to actually fully stop the flow,” Suttles said.

The next move would involve a “top kill” option in which engineers using undersea robots would try to shoot heavy “mud,” a mixture of synthetic materials, into the well to form a barrier to prevent oil and gas from escaping.

The Obama administration greeted the news cautiously, saying the tube insertion was “not a solution to the problem.”

Investors have already knocked around €24 billion off BP’s value over the spill, which followed an April 20 explosion aboard a rig drilling the well. Eleven workers were killed.

Over the weekend, scientists said they had found huge underwater “plumes of oil” several miles long, in the Gulf, suggesting much wider impact to the marine habitat than previously thought.

While the US Gulf Coast has so far been spared a massive landfall of heavy oil, small amounts of oil debris, in the form of surface sheen and tar balls, have come ashore in outlying parts of the coastline of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

There are fears that as the slick, which is broken into segments, spreads through the action of winds and current, it could run into the so-called “Loop Current” that could take it down to the Florida Keys and even up the US East Coast.

BP still faces a barrage of criticism and intense scrutiny from US authorities and Congressional inquiries. A Homeland Security Committee was conducting a hearing on the oil spill yesterday.

A US Labour Department official said that BP has a “systematic safety problem” at its refineries.

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