Oil was spewing freely into the Gulf of Mexico as BP crews claimed progress yesterday in the first stages of replacing a leaky cap with a new containment system they hope will finally catch all the crude from the busted well.
There’s no guarantee for such a delicate operation nearly a mile below the water’s surface, officials said, and the permanent fix of plugging the well from the bottom remains slated for mid-August.
“It’s not just going to be, you put the cap on, it’s done. It’s not like putting a cap on a tube of toothpaste,” Coast Guard spokesman Captain James McPherson said.
Robotic submarines removed the cap on Saturday that had been placed on top of the leak in early June to collect the oil and send it to surface ships for collection or burning. BP aimed to have the new, tighter cap in place as early as today and, as of yesterday, the work was going according to plan. BP hopes the capping operation will be done within three to six days.
Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said during a news briefing yesterday he was pleased with the progress but cautioned that unforeseen bumps could lie ahead.
“We’ve tried to work out as many of the bugs as we can. The challenge will come with something unexpected,” Wells said.
If tests show the new cap can withstand the pressure of the oil and is working, the Gulf region could get its most significant piece of good news since the April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers.
It would be only a temporary solution to the catastrophe.
Hope for permanently plugging the leak lies with two relief wells, the first of which should be finished by mid-August.
The work was being closely monitored at the White House, where President Barack Obama is being briefed multiple times a day, adviser David Axelrod said yesterday.
With the cap removed, oil flowed freely into the water, collected only by the Q4000 surface vessel, with a capacity of about 378,000 gallons.
That vessel was joined yesterday by the Helix Producer, which has more than double the Q4000’s capacity.
But the lag could be long enough for as much as 5 million gallons to gush into already fouled waters.
Meanwhile, the US Justice Department is still investigating whether to bring criminal charges, Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday.
“The investigation is ongoing. We are in the process of accumulating documents, talking to witnesses on both the criminal side and the civil side,” he said.
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