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Gulf oil spill: New siphon system increases oil collection

June 16, 2010 | 12:32 pm

BP introduced a new system Wednesday for sucking up some of the oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico Wednesday, bringing the total daily containment capacity to a maximum 28,000 barrels a day -- a fraction of the estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels flowing daily from the undersea well.

The new system uses equipment from a previously failed attempt to plug the well known as the "top kill" strategy, which sought to plug the leak with heavy drilling fluid. Since then, the equipment has been tweaked to suck oil from the well's failed blowout preventer and through a series of hoses to a ship on the ocean's surface, where it will be burned off.

The new siphon can remove about 5,000 to 10,000 barrels a day and will operate concurrently with an existing containment cap system that has the capacity to capture up to 18,000 barrels a day. To date, however, the containment cap has been collecting, at best, about 16,000 barrels a day.

On Tuesday, the ship collecting that oil was struck by lightning, touching off a small fire that halted the oil collection for about five hours and delayed the introduction of the new oil-collection system by a day.

BP said it plans to move yet another set of equipment into place that will allow the company to collect 53,000 barrels of oil daily by the end of June. The company said it will be able to collect 60,000 to 80,000 barrels daily by as early as mid-July.

A BP statement Wednesday noted that neither of the current collection systems has ever been used at such depths, adding that "their efficiency and ability to contain the oil and gas cannot be assured."

-- Richard Fausett

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