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BP Set to Attempt Another Oil Spill Fix Today

May 13, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

BP will try again today to stop the flow of oil from a leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico. This time, the oil giant is pinning its hopes on a small containment dome that it says should be operational sometime today.

The well has been gushing more than 200,000 of oil per day into the Gulf since an April 20th explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Eleven crew members were killed in the blast, which also sunk the rig.

According to a Reuters report, the containment dome – known as a top hat – was lowered to the sea floor yesterday. BP is studying whether to try just positioning the top hat over the leak or inserting a tube directly into the existing equipment. In either case, the leaking oil would then be siphoned up to an awaiting tanker.

Because the leaking well is located nearly a mile under the ocean, the operation will be difficult and there is no guarantee that it will work. This past weekend, BP’s efforts to contain the well with a larger device failed after hydrates – ice-like crystals – formed and clogged the structure and made it buoyant.

BP is also planning to try and block the crude flow with a “junk shot,” in which materials including golf balls, knotted rope and shredded tires will be shot at high pressure into the well’s failed subsea blow-out preventer. It will be two weeks before that process is completed. BP has also started drilling a containment dome to contain the leak permanently, but that process could take as long as three months.

The ever-growing oil slick continues to threaten the ecology and economy of the Gulf Coast. According to Reuters, gobs of what appeared to be oil washed up yesterday at beach near Port Fourchon, Louisiana. The material is being tested to see if it came from the oil spill.

In Louisiana, oil has already washed ashore at Whiskey Island, the Chandeleur Islands and Port Eads. Alabama’s Dauphin Island has also reported oil on shore, Reuters said. So far, 87 sea turtles, 18 birds and six dolphins have been found dead, and officials are trying to determine if the spill played a role in those deaths.

On Capitol Hill, congressional committees continued their investigations of the spill. During a hearing before his panel, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that House investigators had learned that the Deepwater Horizon well had failed a key pressure test the day of the explosion.

Another member of the Committee, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), said a preliminary investigation had uncovered “four significant problems” with the blowout preventer, which he said had a leak in a key hydraulic system. Stupak charged that the blowout preventer was not powerful enough to cut off the oil flow before the rig blew up.

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