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After Setback, Oil Spill Containment System Back Online

Jun 24, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

BP says it has repositioned a containment cap over a leaking well at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It had to be removed yesterday, following an accident involving an undersea robot.

The robot had collided with a vent, allowing gas to escape through a part of the cap that carries warm water down to prevent ice-like crystals from forming. The cap was removed so that the vent could be repaired, and so that engineers could make sure there were no other problems.

According to the Associated Press, the system had captured 700,000 gallons of oil in the 24 hours before the collision late yesterday afternoon. While the cap was off, about 104,000 gallons of crude spilled into the Gulf. Another 438,000 gallons was siphoned by an oil burning ship on the surface and incinerated.

The cap was repositioned late yesterday, and is now capturing oil again. An unnamed logistics coordinator told the Associated Press that it would take some time for the system to get “ramped back up.”

BP’s plan is that by next week, the containment system will be capturing 53,000 barrels a day. A third containment vessel is set to arrive at the site next Tuesday, and the company still believes it will meet its goal despite yesterday’s setback.

Government and independent scientists estimate that about 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil a day are flowing from the well. Anywhere from 67 million to 127 million gallons have spilled since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The company continues to work on two relief wells that will be needed to permanently stop the flow. BP said earlier this week that one has reached a measured depth of 15,936 ft, while the second has reached 10,000 ft below the surface. They should be completed sometime in August.

Meanwhile, as BP struggled with its containment efforts, oil continued to wash ashore on beaches from Louisiana to Florida. According to Reuters, Florida saw its worst impact so far, when an oil sludge washed up on three miles of Pensacola beach. Over the last couple of weeks, tar balls had been washing up on beaches along the state’s panhandle, but this was the first time the state had seen something this bad.

The section of beach covered by the sludge was closed, and workers were trying to scoop up the mess with small shovels. An oil-covered dolphin was also found stranded in the area affected by the sludge.

On another front, federal officials were trying to determine how to deal with a recent court decision that overturned the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling that was imposed in the wake of the spill. According to the Associated Press, the Obama administration on Wednesday night asked U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman to delay his court ruling while the Justice Department appeals the decision.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was also working to re-draft the moratorium order. According to The Wall Street Journal, while the industry generally opposes such a ban, it would be open to a more modest moratorium.

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