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Oil spill cap capturing 10,000 barrels a day
HOUSTON, JUN 6 (Agencies):
Published on 7 Jun. 2010 12:38 AM IST
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A cap placed over a ruptured well spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico is capturing about 10,000 barrels a day, or roughly half of the estimated flow, Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, who is commanding the federal response to the disaster, said Sunday.
“We’re slowly raising production,” he said in an interview on the ABC television news program “This Week.” Early Saturday, engineers were able to divert only 6,000 barrels in a 24-hour period to a ship on the surface as they worked to close two of four vents on the containment cap. But by midnight, according to Admiral Allen, the amount of oil diverted to the ship had reached 10,000 barrels. The ruptured well is leaking an estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.
Admiral Allen’s estimates were echoed by Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, in a BBC interview broadcast Sunday. He added that another containment system would be put in place by next weekend. “So when those two are in place, we would very much hope to be containing the vast majority of the oil,” he said.
Admiral Allen said that engineers hope to gradually increase the amount of oil captured into a nearby ship without jeopardizing the delicate recovery effort after so many other efforts failed in the last six weeks. The admiral is commanding the federal response to the disaster, which began after the Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers.
Oil is still escaping through four vents on the top of the cap, designed to relieve pressure and not overstress the containment system. Admiral Allen said that if the vents were closed too quickly, cold sea water could rush in and form the kind of icy hydrates that doomed a previous attempt to cap the spill.
The admiral had initially said that they hoped to begin closing the vents on Friday. But on Saturday he said that they had been unable to do so because the pressure inside the containment cap might become so great that oil would blast through the imperfect seal connecting it to the riser pipe.
“The want to raise that up to the maximum extent possible, on a daily basis, and then slowly start turning off those vents where the oil is coming out of right now when they’re sure that they don’t have sea water coming in.” he said.
The 6,000 barrels were recovered from midnight Thursday to midnight Friday, he said, and the goal of the capping operation is to push production to 15,000 barrels a day, which is the capacity of the ship above the damaged well.
In his weekly radio address broadcast Saturday, President Obama emphasized that the federal government had “mobilized on every front” to contain and clean up the oil spill, and called attention to the plight of some of the shrimpers and oystermen he met while visiting the Louisiana coast on Friday.
“These folks work hard,” the president said in the address, which he recorded Friday evening in Grand Isle, La. “They meet their responsibilities. But now because of a manmade catastrophe — one that’s not their fault and that’s beyond their control — their lives have been thrown into turmoil. It’s brutally unfair. It’s wrong. And what I told these men and women — and what I have said since the beginning of this disaster — is that I’m going to stand with the people of the Gulf Coast until they are made whole.”
During his visit to the Gulf Coast, Mr. Obama had kept up his criticism of BP, saying the oil company had paid billions of dollars in stock dividends and spent millions on image advertising while people who suffered from the disaster were reporting difficulties getting claims paid.
He reiterated that point in his address: “We’ve also ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and we will make sure they pay every single dime owed to the people along the Gulf Coast.”
Mr. Obama reeled off a ream of statistics to show the scale of the response so far. He said that more than 20,000 people are at work protecting the coastlines, and that he had authorized the deployment of 17,500 National Guard troops to help in the response. He said that 1,900 boats were in the Gulf working on the clean up, and that more than 4.3 million feet of boom had been deployed to try to keep oil from reaching the coastline.
And he said that while there have been early indications that BP’s latest efforts to put a cap over the well to allow them to pump some of the oil to the surface were working, “we are prepared for the worst, even as we hope that BP’s efforts bring better news than we’ve received before.”
The process of placing the large metal cap on the well had all the drama of a space launching. Thursday evening, about 80 engineers, scientists and government officials crowded into the hive — as the room in the subsea operations command center here is called — to watch on video screens as the cap was inched into place. The maneuver was their handiwork, and a critical step in the latest of what had been a string of dismal efforts to capture some of the oil leaking since the explosion.
As the cap hit the oil and gas streaming with great force from the top of the well, it suddenly disappeared, hidden from the video cameras by clouds of hydrocarbons spewing everywhere, said a technician who was there. The operation was briefly flying blind. But a few tense moments later the cap was successfully centered over the wellhead, 5,000 feet below the surface, then lowered half a foot to make a seal. The crowd, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, gave a cheer.
“I would say that things are going as planned,” Kent Wells, a BP executive, said at a briefing Friday afternoon. “I am encouraged. But remember, we only have 12 hours’ experience.”
At the briefing in Houston, Mr. Wells said that so far there were no signs that the cap or pipe were being blocked by ice-like hydrates, which had derailed an effort several weeks ago to contain some of the oil at the sea bed.
Mr. Wells would not predict how much oil could finally be collected, although Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said he hoped more than 90 percent of the spill could be contained until relief wells that would permanently stanch the flow were finished, perhaps by August.

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