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Dome Arrives to Contain Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

May 6, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

A huge steel and concrete containment dome has finally arrived at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It is hoped that the huge box will contain much of the oil leaking from the stricken well once it is moved into place over a broken pipe on the sea floor.

If all goes as planned, the dome should be in place this weekend. That could not come soon enough for residents of Gulf Coast states. This morning, several media outlets are reporting that the massive oil slick spawned by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig over two weeks ago has reached Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands. The Chandeleur Islands are a chain of uninhabited barrier islands that are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. They are an important migrating point for birds and are a prime marsh and forest wildlife area.

Crews have been able to stop one of three leaks responsible for the oil spill. But that has not slowed the flow of oil, and more than 200,000 gallons of crude a day continues to gush from the well.

Once the containment dome is in place, the plan is to pump the trapped oil through nearly a mile of pipe up to a tanker ship. If all goes well, a second dome will be used to cap the final leak. Then, crews will have time to finish a relief well they are currently drilling nearby. The relief well will be used to divert oil from the leaks, permanently stopping the flow.

While everyone is hoping the containment domes will work as planned, officials have cautioned that there are no guarantees. While this method has worked in shallow water, it has never been attempted before in such deep ocean.

Several things could go wrong. According to the Associated Press, both the frigid water temperature — about 42 degrees Fahrenheit — and exceptionally high pressure at those depths could cause the pipe to clog with what are known in the drilling industry as “ice plugs.” Warm water and methanol will be continuously pumped down the pipe to dissolve any clogging.

What finally arrives at the tanker will be a volatile cocktail of oil, gas and water, the Associated Press said. It will have to be separated without causing an explosion.

Crews are also battling the spill in other ways. Yesterday, good weather allowed the aerial dropping of 150,000 gallons of chemicals meant to disperse the oil and prevent it from reaching shore. Crews also skimmed a total of 588,000 gallons of an oil and water mixture and conducted five controlled burns. More fires are scheduled for today, the Associated Press said.

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