Energy giant BP has claimed it has succeeded in capturing "some" oil and gas by inserting a mile-long tube into the main Gulf of Mexico leak.
REUTERS - Energy giant BP on Sunday marked its first success at containing oil that is gushing unabated into the Gulf of Mexico and said it may be able to stop the flow permanently in about a week.
But reports of huge oil plumes in the Gulf -- including one as large as 10 miles (16 km) long, three miles (5 km) wide and 300 feet (91 metres) thick -- underscored the spill's environmental impact as the crisis moved into its 24th day.
Crude oil has been gushing unchecked into the sea from a ruptured well about a mile (1.6 km) under the ocean's surface, threatening an ecological and economic calamity along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
After other attempts to contain the spill failed, BP Plc succeeded in inserting a tube into the leaking well and capturing some oil and gas.
The underwater operation involved guiding robots to insert a small tube into a 21-inch (53-cm) pipe, known as a riser, to funnel the oil to a ship at the surface.
"It's working as planned and we are very slowly increasing the rate that is coming from the riser tool up to the surface," BP senior executive vice president Kent Wells told reporters at BP's U.S. headquarters in Houston.
"So we do have oil and gas coming to the ship now," he said.
Not all of the oil was being trapped, however. Wells said it was too early to say how much had been siphoned.
Preparations for a maneuver to inject mud into the well to stop the leak for good were ongoing and would be completed in seven to 10 days, he said.
The spill began after an April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers. It threatens to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska as the worst U.S. ecological disaster.
The success on Sunday followed a previous setback, when a cord taking the oil to the surface became entangled.
Officials have stressed the spill has had minimal impact on the shoreline and wildlife, but oil debris and tar balls were washing up on barrier islands and outlying beaches in at least a dozen places in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
"As nasty as they are, they are more manageable than a slick. They can be collected. They can be cleaned and we have crews doing that," Coast Guard Petty Officer Luke Pinneo said, referring to the latest discovery of tar balls on Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Scientists and residents of the Gulf Coast say a greater concern is the anticipated encroachment of oil into the environmentally fragile bayous and marshes teeming with shrimp, oysters, crabs, fish, birds and other wildlife.
The New York Times and other media reported scientists had detected huge oil plumes -- large columns of concentrated oil moving beneath the ocean surface -- in the Gulf, indicating the leak could be worse than estimates by BP and the government.
Estimates of the rate of escaping oil range widely from the official BP figure of 5,000 barrels per day (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) , adopted by the government, to 100,000 barrels (4.2 million gallons/15.9 million liters) per day.
BP officials said they did not have confirmation of such plumes and spokesman Andrew Gowers appeared to dismiss the reports as scientifically unlikely.
"It is my observation as a layman that oil is lighter than water and tends to go up," Gowers told reporters.
BP is facing growing political pressure to prove it will pay for all of the costs related to the spill.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demanded in a letter to BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward that the company make clear its commitment to "redress all of the damage that has occurred or that will occur in the future as a result of the oil spill."
The letter was released on Saturday and amid concerns about the implications of current U.S. law, which limits energy companies' liability for lost business and local tax revenues from oil spills to $75 million.
BP spokesman David Nicholas said on Sunday: "What they are requesting in the letter is absolutely consistent with all our public statements on the matter."
President Barack Obama's administration would like to raise the cap retroactively.
Date created : 2010-05-16