VENICE, Louisiana (Reuters) - BP Plc is working on several options to try to control oil gushing from its ruptured seabed well in the Gulf of Mexico, including the possible use of a smaller “top hat” containment dome, or tapping directly into the well riser pipe, a BP executive said on Sunday.
The latest initiatives to contain the huge growing spill that threatens an environmental catastrophe to the U.S. Gulf Coast followed an initial setback in an operation to place a massive metal containment dome over the larger of two leaks.
“What we’re working on now is we’re gathering some data to help us with two things: One is another way to do containment, and the second is other ways to actually stop the flow,” BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles told Reuters.
“On the containment side, we’re working two options: one is a smaller dome — we call it the ‘top hat,’ and the second is to try to find a way to tap into the ‘riser,’ the piece of pipe the oil is flowing through, and take it directly from that pipe up to the ship on the surface,” he added.
The possible solutions being studied also included a so-called “junk shot” of debris into the failed blowout preventer of the gushing well to try to block it.
“What it involves is that we have some pipe work on the blowout preventer, and if we can open certain valves on that we could inject basically just rubber and other type of material into (it) to plug it up, not much different to the way you might plug up a toilet,” Suttles said.
Making the work all the more difficult was the fact that it was taking place almost a mile down on the ocean floor, requiring the use of remotely controlled vehicles working in the inky blackness of the deep water.
Commenting on the tar balls which had washed ashore at the weekend at Alabama’s Dauphin Island beach, Suttles said these were being tested to see if the oil came from the BP well. “I think it was a fairly limited number (of tar balls),” he said.
Asked about the feared damage to the environment of the U.S. Gulf Coast from the spreading oil slick, the BP executive said: “It depends on how effective we are in keeping the oil offshore and containing it in the booms, and so on.”
“I think we’ll have to see. So far, we’ve been very fortunate that very little oil has come ashore, Let’s hope that we can keep it that way,” he added.
Suttles said BP was also striving to mitigate the economic impact of the spill on the livelihoods of Gulf Coast residents and businesses, including paying legitimate damages claims.
“Right now, we’re trying our best to get money into people’s hands and employing local labor and using local businesses to offset some of those impacts,” he said.
Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Eric Walsh