* Officials don't know if chamber will corral leak
* BP breaking new technological ground
By Kristen Hays
HOUSTON, May 5 BP Plc (BP.L) officials said on
Wednesday that they still don't know if a 98-ton steel
"containment chamber" that shipped out to the site of a massive
undersea oil leak in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico will stem the flow
Television broadcast dramatic images of the huge white
structure, loaded onto an ocean-going barge, heading for the
site of the leak at the former Deepwater Horizon oil rig --
some 50 miles (80 km) off the Louisiana coast and 5,000 feet
(1,500 metres) under the surface of the ocean.
The rig owned by Transocean Ltd (RIGN.S)(RIG.N), sank on
April 22, two days after it exploded and caught fire while
finishing a well for BP. Eleven crew members are missing and
The science involved in the company's most promising shot
so far to contain the leak within a few days has never been
done a mile beneath the ocean's surface, said Bob Fryar, senior
vice president of Angola for BP.
"It is important to know that this is new technology,"
Fryar told reporters in a briefing.
He declined to rate the chances of whether the chamber
would corral oil at the larger of two remaining leak sites and
channel it to a pipe leading to a drillship above, as planned.
"This has never been done before. You typically put odds on
something that has been done before," he said.
Fryar and David Clarkson, BP's vice president for project
execution, provided details on the frontier operation.
Following are some of the salient facts:
* Once shipped to the site of the main leak, the chamber
will be lowered by cable to the site of the leak. Once at the
seafloor, underwater robots will place it on top of the leak.
The chamber, 40 feet tall, 24 feet wide and 14 feet deep, has
steel shelf-like "flaps" on the side to ensure it doesn't sink
more than 15 feet into the mud, which should leave sufficient
space to collect the oil.
* The funnel-like top of the chamber will be connected to a
drill pipe inside a larger pipe, known as a riser. That
mechanism will then be connected to Transocean's Discoverer
* The dual-pipe mechanism is necessary to allow warm water
and a chemical, methanol, to be pumped into the space between
the drill pipe and larger pipe. Cold temperatures and high
pressures a mile beneath the water's surface can allow natural
gas and water to turn ice- or sludge-like in the larger pipe
and stop the flow, Clarkson said. The leaking oil is "very
gassy," with 3,000 cubic feet of gas in each barrel of oil.
* When the fluids reach the drillship, they will go to a
closed processing system designed for normal well testing.
There, the oil, gas and water will be separated. The oil will
be stored in a tank that can hold up to 128,000 barrels of oil;
the gas will be flared; and the water will be dumped back into
* The larger leak is estimated to be releasing about 85
percent of the gushing oil, Fryar said. A second leak is from a
bent pipe connected to a blowout preventer at the seabed that
failed, leading to the explosion. A second containment chamber
is being built at Wild Well Control in Port Fourchon,
Louisiana, to place atop the second leak.
* The oil collected aboard the drillship can be later
offloaded onto a standby vessel to take to BP's 455,790
barrel-per-day (bpd) Texas City, Texas refinery to process.
"There would be a lot of water in it, so it would need to be
handled properly when it gets back to the refinery," Clarkson
Fryar said BP's other activities to address the spill will
continue, such as burning the slick at the water's surface when
weather allows, continued efforts by underwater robots to
activate the failed blowout preventer, and booms deployed to
try to prevent oil from reaching Gulf Coast shorelines.
He said BP also is considering another option known as "top
kill" which would involve pumping heavy fluids into the top of
the failed blowout preventer to try to plug the leak.
Fryar said that option would be "a couple of weeks away,"
as BP continues trying to fix the blowout preventer with
"We are looking at various options around the" blowout
preventer, Fryar said. "This is a dynamic situation we find
ourselves in, and we continue to work all the options."
(Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Marguerita Choy)