BP screws up another attempt to stop massive oil spill

As oil spills, BP fumbles...again (AP)

BP fumbled its latest underwater experiment with the wild Gulf gusher — just like every other endeavor the company has tried to fix the nation’s worst oil spill and BP’s chief executive said the company wasn’t fully prepared for the disaster.

First, a 100-ton, four-story box couldn’t contain the spill because icelike crystals clogged the top. Then, a straw-like device that actually did capture crude was inconsistent at best. The supposed top kill — shooting heavy mud and junk into the well — couldn’t overcome the pressure of the oil. And the most recent risky gambit ran into trouble a mile under the sea Wednesday when a diamond-tipped saw became stuck after slicing through about half of the blown-out well.

It took BP 12 hours to free the saw, and the company hopes to use giant shears similar to an oversized garden tool to snip off the pipe. However, the cut won’t be as clean if successful, and a looser fitting cap will have to be placed over the spill.

No timetable was given for when that might start, a familiar refrain in this six-week-old disaster.

The Financial Times on Thursday quoted BP CEO Tony Hayward as saying it was “entirely fair” to criticize the company’s preparations.

The newspaper quotes Hayward as saying: “What is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your tool kit.”

However, Hayward said BP had been successful so far in keeping most of the oil away from the southeastern U.S. coast.

“Considering how big this has been, very little has got away from us,” Hayward was quoted as saying.

So far, each novel attempt to stop more oil from spewing into the Gulf has dragged on and misfired. All along, the company has been drilling a relief well, the best option at stopping the gusher — but it’s still two months away.

Since the biggest oil spill in U.S. history began to unfold April 20 with an explosion that killed 11 workers aboard an offshore drilling rig, crude has fouled some 125 miles of Louisiana coastline and washed up in Alabama and Mississippi. The well has leaked anywhere from 21 million to 45 million gallons by the government’s estimate.

The latest attempt to stop it, the so-called cut-and-cap method, is considered risky because slicing away a section of the 20-inch-wide riser could remove kinks in the pipe and temporarily increase the flow of oil by as much as 20 percent.

And the situation on the water’s surface becomes more dire with each day.

Oil drifted perilously close to the Florida Panhandle’s famous sugar-white beaches, and crews on the mainland were doing everything possible to limit the catastrophe. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the nation’s point man for the spill, directed BP to pay for five additional sand barrier projects in Louisiana. Boats were also sent packing east, along with four helicopters to help skimmers spot oil threatening Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida coast.

As the edge of the slick drifted within seven miles of Pensacola’s beaches, emergency workers rushed to link the last in a miles-long chain of booms designed to fend off the oil. They were slowed by thunderstorms and wind before the weather cleared in the afternoon.

Forecasters said the oil would probably wash up by Friday, threatening a delicate network of islands, bays and white-sand beaches that are a haven for wildlife and a major tourist destination dubbed the Redneck Riviera.

“We are doing what we can do, but we cannot change what has happened,” said John Dosh, emergency director for Escambia County, which includes Pensacola.

The effect on wildlife has grown, too.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 522 dead birds — at least 38 of them oiled — along the Gulf coast states, and more than 80 oiled birds have been rescued. It’s not clear exactly how many of the deaths can be attributed to the spill.

Dead birds and animals found during spills are kept as evidence in locked freezers until investigations and damage assessments are complete, according to Teri Frady, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

“This includes strict chain-of-custody procedures and long-term locked storage until the investigative and damage assessment phases of the spill are complete,” she wrote in an e-mail.

As the oil drifted closer to Florida, beachgoers in Pensacola waded into the gentle waves, cast fishing lines and sunbathed, even as a two-man crew took water samples. One of the men said they were hired by BP to collect samples to be analyzed for tar and other pollutants.

A few feet away, Martha Feinstein, 65, of Milton, Fla., pondered the fate of the beach she has been visiting for years. “You sit on the edge of your seat and you wonder where it’s going,” she said. “It’s the saddest thing.”

Officials said the slick sighted offshore consisted in part of “tar mats” about 500 feet by 2,000 feet in size.

County officials set up the booms to block oil from reaching inland waterways but planned to leave beaches unprotected because they are too difficult to defend against the action of the waves and because they are easier to clean up.

“It’s inevitable that we will see it on the beaches,” said Keith Wilkins, deputy chief of neighborhood and community services for Escambia County.

Florida’s beaches play a crucial role in the state’s tourism industry. At least 60 percent of vacation spending in the state during 2008 was in beachfront cities. Worried that reports of oil would scare tourists away, state officials are promoting interactive Web maps and Twitter feeds to show travelers — particularly those from overseas — how large the state is and how distant their destinations may be from the spill.

___

Melissa Nelson reported from Pensacola, Fla., and Adam Geller from New Orleans. Associated Press writers Greg Bluestein in Covington, La., Matt Sedensky in Pensacola, Travis Reed in Miami, Kevin McGill over the Gulf of Mexico, Darlene Superville and Pete Yost in Washington, Brian Skoloff in Port Fourchon, La., Mary Foster in Boothville, La., and Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans also contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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6 Responses to "BP screws up another attempt to stop massive oil spill"

  1. NC-Tom  June 3, 2010 at 10:52 am

    A story I recently heard on NPR gives some idea of the pressures involved with this blowout. The last really big spill in the Gulf back in the 70s was shallow enough that they could send divers down to work on it. The divers reported that the rush of the oil coming out of the pipe sound like roar of dozens if not hundreds of jet engines.

  2. Carl Nemo  June 3, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    First a saw, then hydraulic shears…?

    They should have used “detonation cord” also known as primer cord that’s used for underwater demolition efforts etc. cutting pilings, underwater steel supports etc. It would have cut right through the pipe leaving a fairly clean fused edge. Since the spill is underwater there’s not a correct fuel/air mix for the oil and other volatiles to burn.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detonating_cord

    When you try to cut any pipe with shears unless you are able to put a hardened, solid steel insert close to the shear point, it’s going to pinch/bucklle the pipe. The insert prevents the pipe from pinching or buckling. A regular pipe cutter cuts pipe by either ratcheting or circling around the tubing or pipe until it cuts through cleanly with evermore pressure applied as the jaws are tightened via a handle or screw affair. Presumably they don’t have pipe cutters large enough to work under water in this fashion, but if so then they should have done the job right.

    Visualize you call a plumber to your house and he has to work on older copper or galvanized metal pipe and he brings hydraulic shears which screws up the ends of the old pipe rendering it useless for fittings. / : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. DejaVuAllOver  June 3, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Geez, Carl. You know a lot more than the CEO of BP, apparently. Then again, changing a lightbulb is way beneath the dignity and way above the intelligence of the luminaries that run our corporate state.

  4. woody188  June 3, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Hayward said BP had been successful so far in keeping most of the oil away from the southeastern U.S. coast.

    What, by sinking it using toxic dispersant?

    Aquatic wildlife doesn’t live on the beach other than crabs and sand fleas.

    • rick the mechanic  June 4, 2010 at 8:09 am

      Sorry people I have listened to this to long. cut the pipe which is now done, drop a valve on the the end of the pipe with hydraulic clamp fitting or a split clamp type fitting with big nuts and bolts to attach it to the pipe. Close the valve. this is standard procedure when a blow out above the surface happens whats the big deal.

      • Alfred Supe  June 7, 2010 at 7:10 pm

        And these idiots (who most resemble the Three Stooges) want to drill under the Great Lakes? When they are insane enough to drill a well in water so deep that they have no reliable way of stopping it off? I say to Hell with Palin and her “Drill, baby, drill” philosophy I could puke.
        BPs entire assets should be frozen and only used to stop this disaster, and then to make the States and people whole, down to the last penny. And all the rest, if any, should be considered a punitive damages.

        Alfred Supe AKA John1172002

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