BP Hopes Cap Will Keep Oil From Escaping BP has placed a cap on the well gushing oil at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. It's still too early to tell if the latest attempt to stop the leak has been successful.
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BP Hopes Cap Will Keep Oil From Escaping

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BP Hopes Cap Will Keep Oil From Escaping

BP Hopes Cap Will Keep Oil From Escaping

BP Hopes Cap Will Keep Oil From Escaping

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BP has placed a cap on the well gushing oil at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. It's still too early to tell if the latest attempt to stop the leak has been successful.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris is covering this story. He's in our studios. Richard, good morning.

RICHARD HARRIS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what is this cap?

HARRIS: Well, you can think of it as a giant funnel, upside down over the well. And basically, the skinny end of this funnel is a mile-long tube that goes all the way up to a ship on the surface. And basically, the idea is to have this funnel capture the oil as its spewing out of the well, and eventually coax it up the tube, bring up to a ship on the surface, separate out the oil, put it in tankers and burn off all the natural gas that's coming up with it.

INSKEEP: So, in theory, you have a problem solved - in theory.

HARRIS: But every time that funnel moved, it had - or towards the end of the evening, it had giant plumes of green stuff, which was presumably methyl alcohol, that - it was part of the whole process. And as it moved over, basically, the ship on the surface that was holding the funnel was moving, too. So moving - it was actually - the ship was moving to move the funnel directly in place at around 9:30...

INSKEEP: Move that thing at the bottom of this mile-long pipe. Amazing.

HARRIS: Exactly. It's just amazing to watch. And about 9:30 at night, the thing went right over the well. And, you know, enormous clouds of oil resulting.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about those clouds of oil because, of course, there are live feeds. I'm looking at one here at BP.com, live camera feeds of what's going on underground. And I guess as a layman, what I'd really like to see is a bunch of pipes in the water and nothing else. But what I see are huge clouds of what look oil still spewing up into the ocean.

HARRIS: If that natural gas mixed in with the oil gets in touch with ocean water, it can create these ice crystals that can plug everything up. So that's the main concern. That was why they had that methyl alcohol - that green-tinted stuff - flowing around last night. So...

INSKEEP: Which reminds us how complicated a problem this is. You don't just stick a pipe there and hope that it all spews up to the surface.

HARRIS: That's exactly right. And they've been saying all along that they didn't expect this to capture all the oil. It's still - to your eye and mine, it still looks like an awful lot of oil down there. But it's possible. We don't know. We'll learn later today, I hope, if they're actually able to collect some right now, and if so, how much they are collecting.

INSKEEP: What if this doesn't work?

HARRIS: They are also, of course, drilling this second well and a third well in case the second one fails. And they're...

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm. These are the relief wells.

HARRIS: The so-called relief wells, yeah - although they don't relieve anything. All they do is they provide a channel to put concrete down or cement down to plug up this well. So that's mid-August at the earliest. But that's basically where we're headed.

INSKEEP: And in a couple of seconds: Even if this funnel we're talking about works, it's just a temporary solution until you that that more permanent thing.

HARRIS: Until those wells are plugged. That's right.

INSKEEP: Richard Harris, thanks for your explanations.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: NPR's science correspondent Richard Harris, in our studios this morning.

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