Saturday, May 8, 2010

Box to contain oil leak touches down on Gulf floor

Box to contain oil leak touches down on Gulf floor


An oil slick is seen in front of the Transocean Development Driller III, which is drilling the relief well near the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig collapse and oil spill, in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Lousiana Friday, May 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Harry R. Weber, The Associated Press
Published: Friday, May 7, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.
ON THE GULF OF MEXICO (AP) — BP lowered a 100-ton concrete-and-steel vault onto a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, an important step in a delicate and unprecedented attempt to stop most of the gushing crude fouling the sea.

Underwater robots guided the 40-foot-tall box into place. Now that the contraption is on the seafloor, workers will need at least 12 hours to let it settle and make sure it's stable before the robots can hook up a pipe and hose that will funnel the oil up to a tanker.
"It appears to be going exactly as we hoped," BP spokesman Bill Salvin told The Associated Press on Friday afternoon, shortly after the four-story device hit the seafloor. "Still lots of challenges ahead, but this is very good progress."
By Sunday, the box the size of a house could be capturing up to 85 percent of the oil. So far about 3 million gallons have leaked in an environmental crisis that has been unfolding since a deepwater drilling platform exploded April 20, sending toxic oil toward a shoreline of marshes, shipping channels, fishing grounds and beaches. Eleven workers were killed in the accident.
The lowering of the containment device was a slow-moving drama playing out 50 miles from Louisiana's coast, requiring great precision and attention to detail. It took about two weeks to build the 40-foot box, and the effort to lower it by crane and cable to the seafloor began late Thursday night. After it hit bottom Friday afternoon, the crane gradually eased off to allow it to settle.
"We are essentially taking a four-story building and lowering it 5,000 feet and setting it on the head of a pin," Salvin said.

The task became increasingly urgent as toxic oil crept deeper into the bays and marshes of the Mississippi Delta.
A sheen of oil began arriving on land last week, and crews have been putting out floating barriers, spraying chemical dispersants and setting fire to the slick to try to keep it from coming ashore. But now the thicker, stickier goo — arrayed in vivid, brick-colored ribbons — is drawing ever closer to Louisiana's coastal communities.
There are still untold risks and unknowns with the containment box: The approach has never been tried at such depths, where the water pressure is enough to crush a submarine, and any wrong move could damage the leaking pipe and make the problem worse. The seafloor is pitch black and the water murky, though lights on the robots illuminate the area where they are working.
If the box works, another one will be dropped onto a second, smaller leak at the bottom of the Gulf.
At the same time, crews are drilling sideways into the well in hopes of plugging it up with mud and concrete, and they are working on other ways to cap it.
The well has been spewing about 200,000 gallons a day in the nation's biggest oil spill since the nearly 11 million gallons lost in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989.
The cause of the blast has not been determined, but investigators have been focusing on the so-called blowout preventer. Federal regulators told The Associated Press that they are going to examine whether these last-resort cutoff valves on offshore oil wells are reliable.

At Hopedale, a fishing community in St. Bernard Parish, La., that has been a staging area for efforts to protect inlets and bayous, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal stepped out of a helicopter and held aloft a tennis ball-size hunk of tarry oil he said a fisherman had retrieved near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Oil was reported moving west of the Mississippi toward fishing and resort villages on the Louisiana coast.
After a flyover, Jindal described the orange and brown goo surrounding Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands as resembling "a ring around your bathtub."
BP plans to sell the petroleum it recovers after separating out the large amounts of natural gas and seawater — something that industry experts said should not present much of a problem.
"That's something they do for every oil well," said Don Van Nieuwenhuise, director of petroleum geoscience programs at the University of Houston. "They'll refine it and crack it and everything, and by the time it gets in your gas tank, you'll never even know it was in the water."
The oil's planned destination, BP's Texas City, Texas, refinery, has its own checkered history. An explosion there in 2005 killed 15 people and injured 170. Regulators last October hit BP with a record $87 million fine for safety violations.

Timeline of Gulf oil spill, government response

Tuesday, April 20:
—Government responds to late-night report that the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon had exploded and was on fire. The rig was located 45 miles southeast of Venice, La., in the Gulf of Mexico.
Wednesday, April 21:
—Several Coast Guard rescue helicopters and a rescue plane respond to the site, searching for 11 missing workers.
—Interior Department's No. 2 official, David Hayes, goes down to New Orleans; Minerals Management Service (MMS) and Coast Guard establish operations centers near site of explosion.
Thursday, April 22:
—Deepwater Horizon oil rig sinks.
—Search-and-rescue operations includes 17 missions — 12 by air and five in the water.

Today's stories

Box to contain oil leak touches down on Gulf floor

Harry R. Weber, The Associated Press
Published: Friday, May 7, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.
( page 4 of 6 )

—National Response Team is activated. Organization of 16 federal departments and agencies including the White House, Coast Guard, the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Interior, and Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
—President Barack Obama convenes an Oval Office meeting to discuss ongoing response efforts.
—Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) with camera goes under water, confirms no visible oil flow from the well.
—Chemical dispersants, intended to break up the oil slick, are readied.
Friday, April 23:
—Authorities conduct 28 search-and-rescue operations covering about 5,300 square miles. At 5 p.m., the Coast Guard suspends the search for the missing 11.
—Rig is found upside down about quarter-mile from the blowout preventer. Oil sheen is reported, no apparent leak discovered.
—Homeland Security risk analysis says incident "poses a negligible risk to regional oil supply markets and will not cause significant national economic impacts."
—White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is asked whether the incident might affect Obama's plans to expand offshore drilling. "I don't honestly think it opens up a whole new series of questions, because, you know, in all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last," Gibbs says.
Saturday, April 24:
—Homeland Security report on critical infrastructure says problem has "no near-term impact to regional or national crude oil or natural gas supplies."
—Oil is found leaking from the well for the first time; pressure and rate of release are unknown.
Sunday, April 25:
—20 more vessels and 500 responders deployed.
—Oil leak is estimated at 1,000 barrels a day (42,000 gallons).
—Homeland Security report says estimated discharge rate could reach 64,000 to 110,000 barrels of oil per day if were to completely blow out.
—Five missions disperse about 13,000 gallons of chemical dispersants.
—Homeland Security report: "Current NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) oil trajectories predict no oil threat to shoreline within next 72 hours."
Monday, April 26:
—Interior Secretary Ken Salazar instructs MMS to physically inspect all deepwater rigs within two weeks, followed by physical inspections of all deepwater platforms.
—10 missions disperse roughly 15,000 additional gallons of dispersants, and 21,000 feet of containment boom are placed at the spill site.
—Homeland Security reports that attempts to activate blowout preventer valve through ROV are ineffective due to hydraulic leak on the valve.
—Interior Department begins planning for alternative interventions if the ROV valve procedure continues to be unsuccessful.
Tuesday, April 27:
—49 response vehicles are deployed — including barges, tugs, skimmers and recovery vessels
—Departments of Homeland Security and Interior announce joint investigation into spill, with investigators from MMS and Coast Guard.
—Top administration officials — including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Salazar, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and White House energy adviser Carol Browner — meet with BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, and other company executives.
—MMS approves plan for two relief wells.
—Homeland Infrastructure and Risk Analysis Center (DHS) reports, "marine ecology may be significantly more impacted than originally estimated based on more accurate (oil) release rate." Report also says: "Release of crude oil, natural gas and diesel fuel poses a high risk of environmental contamination in the Gulf of Mexico."
—Obama, on a Midwest tour, visits a wind energy plant in Iowa and talks about the need to transition from fossil fuels to green energy. He doesn't mention the oil spill.
Wednesday, April 28:
—BP's attempts to repair hydraulic leak on the blowout preventer valve unsuccessful
—Homeland Security report projects that based on drift calculations, oil may reach shoreline late Friday or early Saturday.
—Controlled burn conducted.
—An additional 42,000 gallons of dispersants are used.
—A third oil leak is discovered, and the Coast Guard revises estimates of the leak from 1,000 to 5,000 barrels of oil a day.
Today's stories

Box to contain oil leak touches down on Gulf floor

Harry R. Weber, The Associated Press
Published: Friday, May 7, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.
( page 6 of 6 )

—At the White House, the bad news is discussed at a hastily called meeting in the Situation Room. Obama is called and briefed on Air Force One, though the subject doesn't come up during a discussion the president has with his traveling press pool a short time later.
—The Coast Guard holds a late evening briefing in Louisiana to update the media on the developments.
Thursday, April 29:
—Napolitano declares disaster a "spill of national significance"
—Napolitano, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and other officials hold news briefing at White House with press secretary Robert Gibbs.
—Napolitano says declaration builds on efforts "already under way from Day One."
—Obama talks about spill in the Rose Garden, his first public comments on the issue.
—Obama orders Salazar to complete report on safety measures for offshore drilling within 30 days, says no new leases will go forward without needed safeguards.
—Salazar meets with oil and gas executives.
Friday, April 30:
—Obama sends Napolitano, Salazar and other top officials to Gulf Coast.
—Defense Secretary Robert Gates approves request for two C-130 planes to respond to incident.
Saturday, May 1:
—Napolitano names the Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Thad Allen, point man for the response.
Sunday, May 2:
—Obama visits the Gulf to inspect response operations
—An additional 30 vessels and 1,000 responders are deployed to Gulf Coast

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