Oil cleanup moves forward; investigations ongoing

Monday, April 26, 2010 @ 04:04 PM gHale

While investigations will continue into how the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded last week, officials today were doing what they could to stop the massive oil leak coming from the sea bed.

It may take months to drill a well to stop the oil spill under the Gulf of Mexico that threatens to become an environmental disaster, said officials at BP Plc.

BP and Swiss drilling contractor Transocean Ltd. began using remote-controlled vehicles yesterday to try to halt the 1,000 barrel-a-day leak. If that doesn’t work, BP may need to pump heavy fluid into a relief well to stop the flow of crude from the seabed.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ni7w4ebvpw&feature=player_embedded#!

This cleanup will be the largest of its type in at least 20 years, according to the Marine Spill Response Corp., one of the companies involved in the operation. The explosion that sank Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig last week and left 11 missing, and now presumed dead, has caused a 600-square-mile (1,600 square kilometers) oil slick. There were 115 aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig at the time of the blast and they were safely evacuated.

“The relief well as described could take several months,” said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer of exploration and production, during a Sunday teleconference.

The search for the 11 missing has been suspended. The accident may cost insurers and reinsurers $1.6 billion, according to an estimate by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

In an effort to plug the leak, remote-controlled vehicles are seeking to shut a blowout valve to stop oil rising to the ocean floor. If the valve isn’t activated the companies may need to drill a second well to intercept the leakage and inject a heavy fluid to prevent oil or gas from escaping, London-based BP said in a statement.

Activating the blowout valve could take 24 to 36 hours, said Suttles. Transocean is shipping two rigs to help stop the leak, with the first scheduled to arrive today and the second May 2.

Oil is leaking out in two places at the site, said David Nicholas, a spokesman in London for BP, which is responsible for the cleanup. Thunderstorms, rain and rough seas are hampering efforts to clean up the spillage, according to the Coast Guard, BP and Transocean.

At the time of the blast, 79 Transocean employees, 6 BP workers, and 41contract workers were concluding exploratory drilling. They were days away from announcing a “commercially attractive” oil deposit discovery when the explosion occurred, according to reports.

The blast was likely a blowout caused by natural gas forcing its way up the well pipe, said Transocean Vice President Adrian Rose. The incident remains under investigation.

Offshore oil rig work has become safer in recent years due to improved training, safety systems, and maintenance, but it remains an extremely dangerous occupation.

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