NPR logo BP Tries Capturing Oil With Mile-Long Tube

BP Tries Capturing Oil With Mile-Long Tube

Maybe it's just in the nature of people who make their livelihoods as energy prospectors to be eternal optimists even in the face of long odds and even after their first effort was an embarrassing failure.

But it probably helps to have confidence when you're faced with solving the kind of problem no one has ever confronted before — an underwater oil gusher about a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

So it arguably wasn't a bad thing that BP engineers sounded upbeat Saturday that their latest plan would work to capture much of the oil flowing out of the well that was once connected to the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig.

The Associated Press reported:

ROBERT, La. (AP) - BP was confident Saturday its latest experiment using a mile-long pipe would capture much of the oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, even as the company disclosed yet another setback in the environmental disaster.

Engineers hit a snag when they tried to connect two pieces of equipment a mile below the water's surface. BP PLC chief operating officer Doug Suttles said one piece of equipment, called the framework, had to be brought to the water's surface so that adjustments could be made to where it fits with the long tube that connects to a tanker above.

The framework holds a pipe and stopper, and engineers piloting submarine robots will try to use it to plug the massive leak and send the crude through the lengthy pipe to the surface.

"The frame shifted, so they were unable to make that connection," said Suttles, who believes the adjustments will make the device work.

At least 210,000 gallons of oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico since an oil rig exploded April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven people were killed in the blast.

BP's latest idea seems to have the best chance for success so far, said Ed Overton, a LSU professor of environmental studies. At the surface this would be easy, Overton said, but using robots in 5,000 feet of water with oil gushing out of the pipe makes things much more difficult.

"It's something like threading the eye of a needle. But that can be tough to do up here. And you can imagine how hard it would be to do it down there with a robot," Overton said.

For the sake of the gulf and all the animals and people dependent on it, we can't do anything other than hope it works.