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Gulf oil spill: Storm to delay new oil collection effort

June 28, 2010 | 11:08 am

Alex
A BP plan to collect roughly twice the amount of oil than the company is currently capturing from its leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be delayed by six or seven days due to turbulent seas caused by tropical storm Alex. The storm is expected to reach hurricane status in the coming days, a BP official said Monday.

The stepped-up collection effort involves pumping the oil from the well through a floating riser up to a production vessel and a tanker ship on the ocean's surface. The effort had been scheduled to begin in late June but now probably won't start until July 6 or 7, according to Kent Wells, BP senior vice president.

"Basically, we've got about three days of additional work to do," Wells said in a Monday press conference. "This is very ... precise work. A lot of it's done on the surface," and "flat sea" conditions are required to get the job done.

Alex is expected to pass to the west of the spill site, which is about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, putting the site on the strong side of the storm, Wells said. "So it will create waves. We expect over the next six to seven days that the sea heights will go from ... 3 to 4 feet up to perhaps 10, even 12, feet. And that will restrict our ability to do these operations.

The current containment system is taking up about 24,000 barrels per day. The new system is expected to take up an additional 20,000 to 25,000 barrels daily.

The leak, triggered by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, is currently spewing from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day, according to government estimates.

The long-term hope for permanently plugging the well rests with the effort to install, thousands of feet below the ocean floor, a relief well. Since May, the company has been drilling two wells, one a redundant safeguard in case something goes wrong with the first.

Wells said the drilling efforts were not likely to be delayed by Alex. He said that although they were making great progress, the company was still predicting that the permanent fix would occur sometime in August.

That first relief well is only 20 horizontal feet from the original well. Wells said BP engineers will now carefully drill toward the original well, measuring and re-measuring as they go, eventually intersecting with it and jamming it with drilling mud.

Wells was notably optimistic about the chances of putting an end to the disaster with the relief well, given what he's seen of its progress thus far.

"I'm really confident in the team's chance of being successful here," he said.

-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta

Photo: Satellite image of Tropical Storm Alex. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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