Hurricane, Other Bad Weather Have Affected Clean-Up Efforts In Gulf

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Bad weather is delaying BP's plans to collect more oil from its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico, NPR's Richard Harris reports.

The company had planned to hook up an additional ship to collect oil from the well at the end of June, but Hurricane Alex and other bad weather made the seas too rough.

Alex didn't get anywhere near the well, but it did stir up rough seas, which spread far across the Gulf, stopping skimming operations and delaying BP's efforts to install a new oil collection system on the sea floor.

On Morning Edition, Harris described what the leaking well looks like today:

There's the cap on top of the well, with oil billowing out vents in the top and out the bottom. Some oil is coming out a pipe on the top of the cap. On the side of the blow-out preventer there are two more hoses, just 3-inches across. One leads up to a ship called the Q4000, which is burning about 8,000 barrels of oil a day. The other goes up to a giant cylinder that's floating about 300 feet below the surface. No oil in that pipe yet... because the seas are too rough for BP to finish connecting that cylinder to another ship on the surface called the Helix Producer.

BP continue to wait for the seas to calm down. (That could happen today or tomorrow.)

According to Harris, the company may be able to collect as much as another 25,000 barrels oil daily. On paper, they'll have the capacity to process 50,000 barrels every day.

So, a best case scenario is that, by the end of this coming weekend, BP will be capturing most of the oil. What about stopping it altogether?

The best hope is the relief well, which is only a couple of hundred feet away from its destination, Harris said "They'll drill into the outer steel wall of the blown-out well, to pump-in heavy fluid."

If they're lucky, they can fill-up the entire damaged well to stop it from flowing. If they can do that, they'll pump in cement and permanently cap off the damaged well. But there's another pipe inside that pipe, and if the oil is also running up through that interior pipe, they'll have to drill through that, too, and try again with the heavy fluid and the mud.



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