BP Takes New Tack to Capture Escaping Oil in Gulf

Daily News Article   —   Posted on May 11, 2010

(by Angel Gonzalez, The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com) HOUSTON – After a rapidly freezing mix of natural gas and water derailed attempts to place a big underwater dome on top of a deepwater well leaking oil into Gulf of Mexico, BP PLC hopes a smaller dome will do the trick, Chief Executive Tony Hayward said Monday.

The big dome failed because “there’s a lot more gas involved in the leak than we had hitherto believed,” Mr. Hayward said. The gas combined with water to form hydrates that clogged a 12-inch opening at the top of the structure, he added.

The new steel dome, five feet in diameter and five feet tall and shaped like a “top hat,” will be ready to deploy within 72 hours, the executive said in a meeting with reporters at BP’s Houston campus. The company will pump methanol into the new dome to keep ice from forming. The smaller size of the structure also should keep water out, he said.

Mr. Hayward’s comments come after several attempts to halt the estimated 5,000 barrel-a-day leak-ranging from the giant subsea dome to shutting off a giant underwater blowout preventer using robots-have failed. But BP is still trying to fight the spill both on the surface, at the shoreline and at the well site, Mr. Hayward said.

While trying to deploy the smaller dome, BP is drilling a relief well to kill the leaking well, an effort that is expected to take months. A second, backup relief well will be drilled starting at the end of the week, “probably Friday,” Mr. Hayward said.

“The relief wells will ultimately be successful,” Mr. Hayward said. He added that the company will solve the problem-“it’s simply a question of how long it takes,” he said.

The spill resulted from the explosion and sinking in April of the Transocean Ltd., Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which was finishing a well for the London-based oil giant. Eleven crew members were killed by the blast, and the spill threatens the shore of Gulf Coast states. It also risks undermining U.S. appetite for offshore drilling.

Much of the difficulty in containing the leak lies in the rig’s depth. Mr. Hayward called the incident “unprecedented in over 20 years of deepwater exploration, and said the lessons learned here “will have profound implications for the industry.”

BP is also planning a “junk shot” of diverse materials in an attempt to clog the blow-out preventer and prevent oil and gas from flowing through it. The shot would contain pieces of tire, knots of rope and other items, and will be tried in the next two weeks, said Kent Wells, a senior BP executive.

Mr. Hayward said BP resumed injecting dispersant at the source of the leak on Monday, the use of which “seems to be having a very significant impact” in dispersing the leak, and is being carefully monitored, he said.

Write to Angel Gonzalez at angel.gonzalez@dowjones.com.

Copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.  Reprinted here for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at wsj.com.

Questions

1. Define hydrates and methanol as used in para. 2 and 3.

2. Why did BP’s attempt to contain the oil leak with a large underwater dome (Subsea Oil Recovery System) fail?

3. What solution is BP now going to try to contain the oil leak?

4. Why do engineers think this new attempt will succeed when the large dome failed?

5. Watch the video under “Background” below. What other attempt did BP make to stop the leak (but it failed)?

6. What assurance has BP’s Chief Executive Tony Hayward given about the oil leak?


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Background

Watch a video explanation of the oil leak below:

Resources

For a diagram of the “tophat” steel dome, go to deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/posted/2931/TopHatPDF.546847.pdf. (NOTE: This is a PDF document – it might take some time to open.)

For a previous article on the attempt to contain the oil leak with the big dome, go to studentnewsdaily.com/daily-news-article/expedition-to-contain-oil-leak-begins-in-gulf.

Another solution being used by BP is an oil boom.  Read about how a boom works at deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/posted/2931/NOAA_boom_fact_sheet.543431.pdf.

Visit BP’s website for information on the disaster at bp.com/genericarticle.do?categoryId=9033573&contentId=7061731.

Visit the U.S. government website for information on Coast Guard and other response to the BP oil disaster at deepwaterhorizonresponse.com/go/site/2931.