BP To Bring In More Ships To Capture Oil
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
We're going to step back for a moment now to answer a number of questions that we have about the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It's now been 52 days since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. The federal government updated its official calculation yesterday of the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf. The new estimate puts the spill at 20 to 40,000 barrels a day. That's equivalent to a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez every six to 12 days.
For the latest on efforts both to slow and eventually stop the spill, we're joined once again by NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris. Hey, Richard.
RICHARD HARRIS: Hi, Melissa.
BLOCK: Let's talk about the collecting device that's now sitting on top of this well. There is clearly a lot of oil that's still making it into the Gulf. And given this new number from the government, do we have any clear idea of how much oil is not being captured, not going up to the surface?
HARRIS: Yeah. Well, we have some idea. The cap is capturing perhaps 15,000 barrels a day, taking it up to the surface thereabouts. Which means that, depending upon where you put your finger on this other estimate, about half of it is still going into the Gulf. So it's doing something but it's still clearly a huge spill in the Gulf right now.
BLOCK: And they originally thought that may be 20 percent would be not captured.
HARRIS: Well, yeah. BP was saying they were hoping they could capture 90 percent of the oil with this device. It's clear they're not going to get to that point.
BLOCK: Well, what's keeping BP from capturing more than the 15,000 barrels a day?
HARRIS: Well, the have to work both with the equipment under the surface, which they're not fully prepared to do. And they need more vessels on the surface. And they are working both ends of the problem right now.
What they're hoping to do next week is to take some pipes that go into the blowout preventer that had been used earlier to try to kill the well by pumping heavy fluid into it. They're actually going to reverse the flow in those pipes and bring oil up to another vessel that they are now hoping to put into place. And that may be able to capture another 10,000 barrels of oil a day, which would mostly just be burned off, as a matter of fact.
But that's not even a permanent solution even in these temporary days, because that still is not probably going to be sufficient to handle the amount of oil that's coming out of that cap. So they're thinking ahead now beyond that, planning to bring in four new vessels from the North Sea to try to put in yet a third capturing system in order to capture as much oil as we now believe is coming out of this well.
BLOCK: It does seem odd, Richard, bring them all the way from the North Sea. This has been going on now for 52 days. Why just now are these vessels on the way?
HARRIS: Right. That's a very good question: Why didn't BP do this a couple of weeks ago? Because it is going to take a couple of weeks for them just to come across the Atlantic Ocean, and we have not heard a really good answer for that. What we have heard is that these ships don't exist in the Gulf and they did have to go off to the North Sea, because they have special rough weather capabilities that may be needed this summer, as hurricane season hits.
BLOCK: Now, the plan that's on the table to plug the leaking well is to dig these two relief wells that we've been talking about before. What's the timetable, Richard? When would those be done?
HARRIS: Well, they're saying best case for the first well would be mid- August, and that depends upon good weather, because a hurricane could disrupt activities for weeks and weeks. But if the weather cooperates and the rocks don't give them too much grief, they could get down there in mid-August with that well.
If all goes really well, according to plan, you really only do need one well. The idea is to pump cement down that well and plug up the existing well at the bottom.
BLOCK: And any guarantee that that works? I mean what's past history shown with that?
HARRIS: I have not found an instance where this has failed permanently. But I found many instances where it didn't work on the first time, the second try, the third try, even the fourth try. So this is a very difficult circumstance. You know, they say this is the only thing that could possibly work in the long run, so it has to work eventually. Otherwise, we could have oil spilling into the Gulf for years and years and years. So it has to work.
BLOCK: When you think, Richard, about this new number - 20- to 40,000 barrels of oil a day that the government now say it accepts - do you think that the government or BP would have handled this spill differently from the start if they had used that number at the outset?
HARRIS: Well, the government and BP have said all along that in terms of their coastal response, they sort of gave it everything they got as soon as they got. I'm sure that will be examined as the years go by, as we look back on the spill to see if really they did do everything they could have done.
I think when it comes time now to looking at the response today to this amount of oil spewing out, I have to wonder whether people at BP said, well, gee, if we'd taken these numbers more seriously, if we'd believed them that we may have been able to move equipment faster, we may have planned out our response faster.
BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Richard Harris, thanks so much.
HARRIS: My pleasure.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.