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Gulf oil spill: Obama administration questions BP on containment steps

July 8, 2010 |  2:27 pm

  Discoverer enterprise

The Obama administration has asked BP if crews working on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can step up oil-recapturing operations at the same time work is underway to replace the “top hat” well cap with a tighter-fitting seal.

The repair crews struggling to contain the spill have positioned another ship, the Helix, to siphon off an additional 25,000 barrels a day of the oil, which would double the existing capture rate from BP's blown-out well on the seafloor.

But at least one of the two ships currently collecting spilled oil would have to move away from the wellhead site to allow the new capping equipment to be put in place, senior administration officials told reporters in Washington.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal on-scene coordinator overseeing the spill intervention, has asked BP whether the crews can move in the Helix at the same time they attempt to replace the well cap with a more effective seal, to get both operations accomplished during a week of calm weather ahead.

Administration officials said they feared the active hurricane season that began on June 1 could intensify through August and September, thwarting the work of oil-recovery vessels and those positioning the well- containment equipment.

The officials estimated the blown-out well is pumping 30,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil a day into the gulf. Recapturing capacity should be up to 50,000 barrels a day once the cap is replaced, and could have a capacity for 80,000 barrels a day after another vessel is brought in by the end of the month, weather permitting.

Allen said the cap replacement and additional oil-recovery operations were critical actions to “potentially securing the well completely.”

The senior administration officials, however, cautioned that previous forecasts of full containment have been overly optimistic.

-- Carol J. Williams

Photo: BP may shuffle some of the ships on the site of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. Credit: Bevil Knapp / European Pressphoto Agency