Gulf oil spill: BP worried about its own bid to capture more oil

The Coast Guard told BP to ramp up its collection efforts in the Gulf oil spill more quickly. BP detailed its plan late Sunday, but it also expressed doubts about success and safety.

By MARK GUARINO Staff Writer | Christian Science Monitor
posted June 14, 2010 at 8:24 pm EDT

In response to prodding by the Coast Guard, BP will attempt to more than double its collection of oil during the next two weeks.

To do this, it said, it will employ procedures that could fail and flout industry practices for safety. If successful, however, the maneuvers could collect more than 2 million gallons of oil daily – up from abut 630,000 gallons currently.

Unofficial estimates of how much oil might be leaking out of the well at the moment range from 1 million to 1.5 million gallons. Scientists are working on an official estimate.

Ultimately, BP wants to bring in a second tanker that will collect 1 million gallons of oil a day. For the moment, only the Discoverer Enterprise is collecting oil, and it has already reached its daily capacity. But that second ship is still a month away, and the Obama administration pressed BP on Friday to come up with an interim solution.

BP’s new plan

BP laid out that solution in a letter Sunday. Beginning this week, it will attach a pipe to the choke line – a part of the blowout preventer used in the failed “top kill” effort earlier this month. The pipe is intended to siphon more oil to the surface, where it will be burned off aboard a smaller ship, the Q4000.

BP hopes to siphon and burn more oil when another ship arrives later this month and connects to the kill line – another part of the blowout preventer used in “top kill.” Those two ships would give BP a total siphon-and-burn capacity of 1 million to 1.5 million gallons a day, the letter suggests.

Added to the current capacity of the Discoverer Enterprise, BP would be poised to capture more than 2 million gallons by the end of the month.

But in the letter, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles warned of several factors that may prevent the operations from working at full capacity. The “junk” fired into the blowout preventer during “top kill” could clog the choke and kill lines. Moreover, those lines were not intended for continuous use. Over time, they could erode.

BP cites risks

There are considerable risks involved, Mr. Suttles warned. The coordination of different vessels performing complicated tasks and the presence of volatile hydrocarbons among several hundred workers creates a situation that “is significantly beyond both BP and industry practice.”

“We will continue to aggressively drive schedule to minimize the pollution, but we must not allow this drive to compromise our No. 1 priority, that being the health and safety of our people,” Suttles wrote.

President Obama is planning to address the new plan, among other issues involving the BP effort, Tuesday evening in his first Oval Office speech since taking office. He traveled to the Gulf Coast Monday to meet with state and local leaders from all four states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida – where oil from the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion has reached shore.

At a stop in Gulfport, Miss., Monday, Obama said his discussions with Coast Guard officials involved figuring out how to “make sure that there’s effective coordination in terms of skimmers, vessels of opportunity that are out on the water right now.”

“Can we make sure that they are responding as quickly as possible to the oil before it starts getting closer to shore?” he asked.

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