Technology Review: Another chance to stop the Gulf leak
BP is trying a new technique yet again to clog the flow of oil and gas from the month-old Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But the proposed "top kill" method is untested at the 5,000-foot depth of the spill.
It is also said to be the most invasive maneuver attempted to date. The warning's been made that in a worst case scenario it could actually rupture the leaking well, accelerating the flow of crude.
BP gained some ground last week when it installed a tube in the broken mile-long riser that once linked the Deepwater Horizon rig to its seafloor wellhead. By Wednesday the Riser Insertion Tube Tool was sucking 3,000 barrels of oil per day into the holding tank of a drilling vessel, cutting releases to the sea in half. The vessel is also flaring off about 14 million cubic feet of captured natural gas per day.
More has come out on the initial problem regarding the blowout preventer's inability to stop the flow of oil and gas after it lost control of its 18,000-foot well on April 20. Steve Newman, president and CEO of Transocean, Deepwater Horizon's owner-operator, told a Senate hearing Tuesday that the BOP's "dead man" mechanisms failed to trigger its rams to pinch off or sheer the drill pipe because the automatic activation mechanisms respond to separation of the BOP from the riser or rig--only the latter occurred, and not until two days after the accident.
Maintenance issues also came up; a loose fitting on a hydraulic line may have limited the force of the BOP's rams and crimpers. And shipboard testing of a control panel recovered from the BOP revealed a low battery.
The top kill procedure, if it works, will stanch the flow of oil and ultimately allow workers to cap off the well with two relief wells-but these caps won't be ready for several months.
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