Monday, May 10, 2010
BP was looking for new ways Monday to stop an oil leak that is gushing an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, after a containment structure placed over the leak clogged during the weekend.
Next, the company is considering using a smaller containment box, called a "top hat," or injecting shredded rubber and other debris to stop the well, a procedure known as a "junk shot."
On NBC's Today show, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said none of the techniques has been tried on a well this deep, nearly a mile below the water's surface.
"I can't tell you if any one of them will work," Suttles said. "But as long as we have options, we'll keep trying. The goal here has to be to get the flow stopped."
The company's best hope for stemming the flow is a relief well. Drilling has begun but could take up to three months to finish.
An estimated 3.5 million gallons of oil has escaped from the well since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The resulting oil slick now threatens wildlife, fisheries and commerce all along the Gulf Coast.
The first patches of oil have reached barrier islands in Louisiana and Alabama. BP is working with state and local governments to protect fragile marshes and coastline. They’ve place more than 1 million feet of booms to either deflect or absorb oil.
In Louisiana on Monday, helicopters were dropping sandbags the size of elephants to keep the crude out of marshes. Oceangoing ships must be cleaned to make sure they are free of oil before entering the port of New Orleans and the port of Mobile.
At sea, skimming boats are collecting oily water from the Gulf’s surface. And the company is using chemical dispersants to break up the crude. BP says today it has begun using those chemicals at the site of the leak underwater, as a way to keep oil from reaching the water's surface.
A BP official told The Associated Press that the company has received federal approval to continuously spray chemicals underwater. The dispersants had never been tried at such depths before this spill and officials have been worried about the effect on the environment.
The company has spent $350 million to fight the spill so far, and its legal costs are mounting. A BP shareholder has filed a lawsuit against the company's top executives, accusing them of ignoring crucial safety issues on deep-water drilling rigs. Myriad other lawsuits have been filed by fishermen, tourism businesses and victims of the rig explosion.
The U.S. Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service will hold a public hearing in Louisiana Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a federal investigation into what caused the drilling rig to explode and sink.