MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen says BP has started sawing through the bent pipe now sitting atop its gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico. That is a key step in the latest effort to capture oil and gas spewing from the well, as plugging it from above is now considered too risky. NPR's Richard Harris reports.
RICHARD HARRIS: Before BP tried its top kill maneuver last week, it had a list of other things it could try to plug the well if that didn't work. For example, they had another blowout preventer they could put on top of the broken one or a valve they could install there.
But today, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen made it clear those ideas are now off the table.
Admiral THAD ALLEN (United States Coast Guard): I think the first thing to understand is we're not talking about capping the well anymore. We're talking about containing the well.
HARRIS: That is capturing the oil and gas that comes out of the well and piping it to the surface. Capping the well from above is just too risky. It turns out the well pipe under the seabed is possibly in much worse shape than they'd realized before they tried the top kill maneuver.
Adm. ALLEN: We don't want to restrict the flow and put pressure down that wellbore because I don't think we know the condition of it, given the results of the top kill data that we got back.
HARRIS: Plugging the well at the top could end up forcing oil and gas out the sides of the well and into the ocean, and that would be much harder to deal with than a gushing pipe.
So the plan is to capture the oil from the pipe. To do that, they're first going to chop off the bent pipe at the top of the well coming out of the blowout preventer. That will actually increase the flow of oil, BP says by 10 percent, Allen says quite possibly by more.
Adm. ALLEN: We could see, during that period before the cap goes on, a 20 percent increase in oil flow. And we have discussed with British Petroleum mitigating measures regarding undersea dispersant use and so forth as we move forward to try to mitigate the impact.
HARRIS: That could spew for 24 to 36 hours or longer. But at some point, BP plans to lower a gadget over the freshly cut pipe to capture the flow and convey it to the surface.
Allen says they have two connecting devices to choose from, depending upon how clean the pipe cut turns out to be. One has a rubber seal. The other one would have a loose fit.
Adm. ALLEN: I don't want to trivialize this, but it's kind of like the difference between having a garden hose with a rubber gasket in it or not.
HARRIS: The well will flow until at least August, which is when BP hopes to pump cement into the bottom of it from a second well. As a result, BP is now working on a plan so their oil capture system will work regardless of the weather, and that could be a challenge. Hurricane season started today.
Richard Harris, NPR News.