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BP Says it's Catching Less from Deepwater Horizon Spill, Prepping Risky Fix

May 24, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

BP admitted over the weekend that a mile long tube it is using to siphon oil from the leaking Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is only catching about 2,000 barrels per day. The oil giant had initially estimated it was capturing about 3,000 barrels, and at one point upped that estimate to 5,000.

In a statement issued over the weekend, BP admitted that the oil captured by the the tube fluctuated between 1,360 and 3,000 barrels of oil a day. It blamed the variable collection rate on “flow parameters and physical characteristics within the riser”.

Now, the Guardian is reporting that the President Obama is threatening to remove the company from efforts to seal the well if it does not act quickly enough to stop the leak. However, that could prove difficult, as the President admitted that only BP and others in the oil industry know how to deal with the problem.

Meanwhile, BP is continuing to prepare a “top kill” in an attempt to plug the leaking well. However, in an email sent to staff on Friday, BP PLC chief executive Tony Hayward said the use of the procedure “would be another first for this technology at these water depths and so, we cannot take its success for granted.” BP expects to try the maneuver sometime tomorrow.

A top kill involves using heavy drilling fluids and cement to plug the leak. Not only is there no guarantee that it will work in this situation, it is also very risky. Scientist told the Associated Press that should it misfire, a piece of equipment called a blowout preventer could spring a new leak if there’s a weak spot that is vulnerable to pressure from the heavy mud.

BP is also drilling two relief wells to permanently shut down the well, an effort that is scheduled to take months.

Finally, BP is refusing a directive from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to switch to safer chemical dispersants. As we reported previously, BP has been using a line of products called Corexit in unprecedented amounts to try to break up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Corexit was banned in Britain a decade ago, and critics say that there are other dispersants available that are less toxic and more effective.

Last week, the EPA had given BP 24 hours to choose a new dispersant. But in a letter dated May 20, the company told the agency that it still believes that Corexit is the best option. BP insists Corexit is effective, safe for the environment and that other potential dispersants aren’t available in sufficient quantities.

In a statement released over the weekend, the EPA said it met with BP to discuss the matter on Friday after receiving the May 20 letter. The EPA said it will continue to work over the next 48 hours to ensure that BP is complying with the directive.

While all that’s going on, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to be a growing menace. The US Coast Guard said more than 65 miles of the Gulf coast has been hit by the oil spill, and less than half of it can be cleaned up quickly. According to the Associated Press, it is feared that the thick oil that is moving into Louisiana’s wetlands and marshes will be impossible to remove. Some options could include setting the wetlands on fire or flooding areas in hopes of floating out the oil.

But it is possible that the only viable option for many impacted areas is to do nothing and let nature break down the spill. Over time, weather and natural microbes will break down most of the oil. However, much plant and wildlife will be destroyed in the years it will take for that to happen.

The marshes are vital to Louisiana. They not only serve as a natural protector against hurricanes, they also house the nurseries for shrimp, crabs and oysters that are so important to the state’s seafood industry.

According to the Associated Press, Gov. Bobby Jindal and officials from several coastal parishes want permission to erect a $350 million network of sand berms linking the state’s barrier islands and headlands to try to block the flow of oil. The plan still needs to be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.


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