BP engineers, after three weeks of working on it, are having some success now with capturing some of the leaking oil. They are using a mile-long pipe to divert oil to a drill ship. They had two false starts but the third try was successful and they got a tube inserted into the damaged pipe that is leaking most of the oil.

A Mile-Long Diverting Pipe

According to Doug Suttles, BP’s COO, the mile-long tube is diverting over 1,000 barrels of spilt oil and carrying to the ship. Kent Wells, one of BP’s senior executive vice presidents, said that this diversion is “working as planned”.

  • “So we do have oil and gas coming to the ship now, we do have a flare burning off the gas, and we have the oil that’s coming to the ship going to our surge tank,” he said in a Houston briefing yesterday.

He was not able to specify what percentage of the leaking oil this mile-long tube was diverting.

  • “We want to slowly optimize it to try to capture as much of the oil and gas as we can without taking in a large amount of seawater,” he said.

Predictions and Estimates Difficult to Make

In spite of dire predictions, there are so far no spoiled beaches or wetlands. The size of this spill is still less than half the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. Scientists are trying to track the spill and they say that much of the oil is below the water surface. However, they cannot predict whether it might travel to surrounding beaches or gradually settle on the ocean floor.

According to an Associated Press report on Friday, this oil is light, not heavy, which means that nearly all the benzene, one of the main oil ingredients and a flammable and very toxic organic compound, will probably evaporate. Also, workers have sprayed more than 436,000 gallons of chemicals on the oil to break it into droplets; and have recovered over four million gallons of oily water.

In an event like this oil spill, scientists use computer models and look at previous such events to predict how things will go, but there is apparently no model for a deepwater spill like this one, and little or no history. That makes predictions and quantity estimates uncertain. However, one Ed Overton, a chemist at Louisiana State University who has been analyzing this spill, said that he thinks most of the oil is just under the water surface, within one foot.

  • “Ultimately, you could have a lot of oil on the shoreline. It won’t be a black tide coming in, it will be globs coming ashore,” he said.

If the oil were to sink to the ocean floor, that would contaminate the food chain and shrimpers are nervous about that possibility. However, Overton does not agree with that prediction. He says this oil is too light to sink.

BP’s Longer-Term Plan

BP’s real goal is to seal the oil well permanently and the current mile-long pipe is a temporary measure. The plan for permanent sealing involves pumping heavy mud into the well through the safety device, the “blowout preventer”, that failed. There is a ship in position now that will be pumping the mud and it has over two million gallons of mud on board, which is more than workers expect to need. The well extends below the seabed about 13,000 feet. The mud would then be cemented in place, thus sealing the well.

It will be some time before corrective work is complete for this oil spill. Please see Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill for more information on legal aspects of this situation.

If you are wondering whether you have a valid legal claim in connection with oil spill damage, please contact our Mobile, Alabama law office today for a free case evaluation.

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