(Reuters) - Interference from gas hydrates, a natural phenomenon found on ocean floors, has stopped BP’s first attempt to significantly stem the flow of crude oil from a blown-out underwater oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP lowered a 98-ton containment chamber to the site of the oil leak on Friday; the chamber is intended to contain one of two leaks gushing at least 5,000 barrels per day (bpd) (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) of crude oil into the northern Gulf.
The leaks, first detected on April 25 after a drilling rig off the Louisiana coast caught fire on April 20, threaten the economy and environment along the U.S. Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida.
The hydrates have formed what is described as a slush blocking a pipe meant to carry the oil gushing from the well to a ship on the ocean surface about 5,000 feet above the well site.
Below are facts about gas hydrates, from Texas A&M University, Rice University and the U.S. Energy Information Administration:
* Hydrates are crystals formed at high pressure and low temperatures where water and natural gases are present.
* In a hydrate, the natural gases, which can include hydrocarbons, are encaged in a lattice of ice formed from water. The most common gas found in hydrates is methane.
* Gas hydrates were first found in the Gulf of Mexico in 1983 and can form mounds on the floor of ocean that range in color from white to orange and red.
* Hydrates are often found where oil is seen seeping from the floor of the Gulf and are a guide to oil and gas fields beneath the ocean floor.
* Gas hydrates are seen as a possible future source of energy.
Reporting by Erwin Seba; Editing by Cynthia Osterman