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Gulf oil spill: BP says 'top kill' a failure, moves to new maneuver

May 29, 2010 |  5:02 pm
Topkill BP acknowledged the failure Saturday of its three-day effort to tamp down oil gushing from a blown out well and began work on a new operation to install a set of valves and pipe to pump oil to a surface ship.

“After three full days, we have been unable to stop the flow from the well, so we now believe it is time to move on to another option,” said BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, who cautioned that the new effort would be “a very complex operation.”

As with earlier failed efforts to cap the well and siphon off oil, the new maneuver has never been tried at 5,000 feet below sea level using robotic submarines, he noted.

The equipment, known as a “lower-marine riser package,” will take at least four days to install, he said, and could capture “a great majority” of the oil spewing from the well.

But in the end, only a relief well, expected to be finished by early August, would be able to plug the well, he said. Drilled from an angle, the relief well has reached 12,900 feet from the ocean surface and must reach a depth of 18,000 feet. “The farther we go, the slower it gets,” he said, adding, “We are ahead of our plan right now.”

The failure of BP's latest effort, the so called “top-kill” operation and a "junk shot" injection into the failed blowout preventer, came as public frustration mounted over what the government now calculates as the biggest oil spill in the nation's history. Earlier failures included a huge box known as a “top hat” and a tube inserted into the broken pipe.

“This scares everybody — the fact that we cannot make this well stop flowing,” Suttles acknowledged at a joint news conference with government officials in Robert, La.

Oil will once again begin gushing from the well, Suttles said. A government panel has estimated that the well had been leaking 504,000 to 798,000 gallons a day.

As much as 29 million gallons have spilled into the gulf since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, compared with 11 million gallons spilled by the Exxon Valdez tanker in 1989. BP, the owner of the well, says it will pay “all legitimate claims” from the accident, which President Obama on Friday called “a man-made catastrophe that is still evolving.”

In the news conference, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry told reporters, “Obviously we're very disappointed in today's announcement…but we want to assure you, we've had a very, very aggressive response.”

--Louis Sahagun in Louisiana and Margot Roosevelt in Los Angeles