June 28, 2010 / 2:10 PM / in 10 years

UPDATE 3-BP says storm delaying added oil-capture capacity

* No interruption to current systems from Alex - BP

* Plan to siphon 80,000 bpd by mid-July still on track

* First relief well nears side of blown-out well (Updates with Coast Guard comments)

By Kristen Hays

HOUSTON, June 28 (Reuters) - BP Plc (BP.L)(BP.N) said on Monday its plan to nearly double the amount of oil it can capture from the Gulf of Mexico leak will be delayed for about a week by high waves expected from tropical storm Alex.

With oil spewing into the Gulf since the disaster began on April 20, BP’s current collection system using a drillship and a service rig can handle up to 28,000 barrels per day (bpd).

This week’s planned addition of another rig to raise that capacity to 53,000 bpd would have to wait until the threat from Alex had passed, said Kent Wells, BP’s senior vice president of exploration and production.

A plan to boost capacity to 80,000 bpd by mid-July remains on track, Wells told reporters.

A team of U.S. scientists estimate the leak, one mile (1.6 km) under the surface of the Gulf, is spewing up to 60,000 bpd overall.

Having collection capacity above 60,000 bpd is intended to provide redundancy and have vessels on hand if a problem erupts at another, according to BP and the Coast Guard.

Wells said Alex was not expected to interrupt the current oil-capture systems or the drilling of a pair of relief wells intended to plug the leak by August.

BP will continue those operations “unless unfortunately a storm heads directly our way,” he said.

Alex will likely strengthen into the first hurricane of the Atlantic season on Tuesday before hitting shore near the Texas-Mexico border early on Thursday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. [ID:nN27206834]

Wells said waves of up to 12 feet (3.7 metres) could force a week-long delay in hooking up the third oil-capture system.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top U.S. official overseeing the spill response, said waves of 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 metres) could impede the ability to load collected oil onto a tanker that ships it to port.

He said 12-foot waves could make the drillship, Transocean Ltd’s (RIGN.S)(RIG.N) Discoverer Enterprise, stop operations.

“We would be concerned around 12 feet for the Enterprise,” Allen told a briefing in New Orleans.

Allen said a storm-related shutdown of the rigs drilling the relief wells could interrupt those operations for up to two weeks.

Wells said the first of the relief wells, begun on May 2, was within 20 feet (6 metres) of the side of the blown-out well. It will slowly drill another 900 feet (275 metres) to the bottom before intercepting the well so heavy drilling fluid and cement can be pumped in to plug the leak, he said.

The drillship collects oil from a pipe connected to a containment cap atop failed equipment called a blowout preventer on the seabed. An undetermined amount of oil billows out from under the cap and through vents on top into the sea.

BP said on Monday its capture systems collected or burned off 24,450 barrels of oil on Sunday. (Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by John O’Callaghan)

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