May 13, 2010 3:55 PM by Bea Karnes, News First 5
BP officials trying to contain a gushing Gulf oil leak will first try sucking oil away from the well with a tube that will be inserted into the jagged pipe leaking on the seafloor.
Company spokesman Bill Salvin said Thursday BP hopes to start moving the 6-inch tube into the leaking 21-inch pipe - known as the riser - on Thursday night. The smaller tube will be surrounded by a stopper to keep oil from leaking into the sea.
The tube will then siphon the oil to a tanker at the surface.
Salvin said engineers have to first move the smaller tube past seawater that has gotten into the riser. The seawater could mix with methane to form crystals that could clog the pipe.
The next option, a small containment dome dubbed the "top hat," remains on the seafloor but won't begin trapping oil from BP's leaking oil well until at least next week, company officials said Thursday.
Crews are also drilling a well to relieve pressure on the blowout and eventually cap it, but that is expected to take about three months to complete.
The stubborn blowout continued to spew an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf each day.
In Congress, federal officials looking into the disaster were focusing Thursday on lax or outdated federal regulations.
Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said he wants to know why the Minerals Management Service gave permits to BP and the companies involved in various aspects of the well and rig.
Stupak told CBS Thursday that once permits to drill are issued, the federal government's role is to make sure the companies are drilling properly.
House investigators at a hearing Wednesday said they found evidence of equipment failures in aspects of the well's safety that weren't monitored: a leaky cement job, a loose hydraulic fitting, a dead battery.
The trail of problems highlights the reality that, even as the U.S. does more deepwater offshore drilling in a quest for domestic oil, some key safety components are left almost entirely to the discretion of the companies doing the work.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this week said he would split the Minerals Management Service in two to make safety enforcement independent of the agency's other main function - collecting billions in royalties from the drilling industry.
But the events that unfolded in the hours before the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig suggest that much more will ultimately need to be done on the regulatory front.
Focus on blowout preventer
Lawmakers have focused in on the rig's blowout preventer, which Lamar McKay, the president of BP America, said at the House hearing "was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident."
On April 20, desperate rig workers tried to activate the preventer's hydraulic cutoff valves to squeeze off the surge. However, hydraulic fluid was leaking from a loose fitting in the preventer's emergency system, making it harder to activate powerful shear rams to cut the piping and cap the blowout. Also, a battery had gone dead in at least one of two control pods meant to automatically switch on the preventer in an emergency.
Since then, industry officials have acknowledged a fistful of regulatory and operational gaps:
No federal standards exist for the makeup of the crucial cement filler.
There is no government standard for design or installation of blowout preventers.
The federal government doesn't routinely inspect them before they are installed.
Their emergency systems usually go untested once they are set on the seafloor at the mouth of the well.
The federal government doesn't require a backup.