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Gulf oil spill: Well gushing after cap is removed [Updated]

June 23, 2010 |  9:24 am

The containment cap BP had placed over its blown-out well was removed by an undersea robot vehicle, and the oil company was working to place it again. U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, incident commander for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, said BP feared methane hydrates were coming through the pipe leading from the cap to surface vessels, and the cap was removed out of "an abundance of caution."

BP also found that one of the vents of the cap had been closed, possibly due to a bump from one of the remotely operated vehicles hovering around the well. The cap, or LMRP, was installed June 5, and added equipment was attached June 16, according to BP statements.

[Updated at 9:48 a.m.: Allen said workers noticed earlier Wednesday that a "kind of a gas" was rising through a vent that normally carries warm water down to the cap to prevent the formation of sludgy, crystal-like hydrates, which can prevent the flow of oil.

"Out of an abundance of caution ... they moved the containment cap with the riser pipe and moved away so they can assess the condition," Allen said.

Allen said workers were checking the containment cap to see if hydrates had formed in it. If not, he said, they would attempt to reinstall the cap and continue collecting oil later Wednesday. However, he said, if hydrates were found, the process of clearing the equipment -- and the timeline for reinstalling the cap -- "will take a considerable amount longer."

The damaged Deepwater Horizon well is leaking 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day into the gulf. The containment cap -- which collects the oil and sends it to the surface via a fixed pipe -- is one of two systems that have been operating concurrently while a separate system is being constructed that eventually will be able to take up all of the leaking oil, and will be less prone to hurricane damage. At the same time, two relief wells are being drilled in an attempt to permanently stuff the well far below the seafloor.

On Tuesday, the two existing systems took up more than 27,000 barrels of oil, Allen said. While the containment cap system is being studied, the second system will continue to collect some oil and gas and flare it off on the deck of a ship. But this system can take up a maximum of 10,000 barrels per day, while the cap system had the capacity to take up 18,000 barrels per day.]

Live video of the site is available here.

-- Geoff Mohan and Richard Fausset

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