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Jun. 4 2010 - 10:30 am | 478 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

BP lowers cap onto well; oil continues to gush through valves

A view of the cap soon after it was placed on the leaking oil well. The brown plume of oil is emanating from open valves.

UPDATED with statement from Deepwater Horizon Response, just posted on Facebook: “The LMRP Cap is in place and nitrogen pressure head is slowly being reduced in the riser. Throughout the day, the vents in the cap will be closed as production begins on the surface. The goal is to ensure methane hydrates do not form in the cap.”

BP lowered a cap onto the severed pipe of the Deepwater Horizon well late Thursday night, but oil and gas have continued to gush from open valves on the cap.

BP’s plans call for the valves to be closed once the cap is fit snugly on the pipe and oil begins to flow up a relief pipe to a ship at the surface (BP animation).

The company is closing the valves slowly while reducing pressure on nitrogen being pumped into the cap. The goal is to prevent the formation of methane hydrates–caused when icy seawater comes into contact with methane gas. Hydrates foiled a prior attempt to cap the well by preventing oil from rising up the relief pipe and making the cap buoyant.

The Coast Guard released this statement from Admiral Thad Allen just after 11 p.m. Central time last night:

“The placement of the containment cap is another positive development in BP’s most recent attempt to contain the leak, however, it will be sometime before we can confirm that this method will work and to what extent it will mitigate the release of oil into the environment,” said Admiral Thad Allen, National Incident Commander. “Even if successful, this is only a temporary and partial fix and we must continue our aggressive response operations at the source, on the surface and along the Gulf’s precious coastline.”

Meanwhile, scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research released a video yesterday plotting the probable path of the BP Oil Spill once it reaches the Atlantic’s fast-moving Loop Current. They cautioned the video should not be considered a forecast, but a likely scenario if Atlantic currents behave typically.

In the video, swirling, fanged fingers of sickly yellow–reminiscent of the smoke from Cruella de Vil’s cigarette–spin out of the Gulf of Mexico, slide north along the Florida Coast to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and then unroll across the North Atlantic.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Will the oil reach Florida?’” said NCAR scientist Synte Peacock in a press release from the Boulder, Colo. research center. “Actually, our best knowledge says the scope of this environmental disaster is likely to reach far beyond Florida, with impacts that have yet to be understood.”

The actual path of the oil spill could also differ from the computer model for other reasons: scientists did not adjust for oil’s lighter density nor did they predict the possible effect of a million gallons of chemical dispersant BP has injected into the gushing leak to break the oil into smaller globules.


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    Environmental reporting recruited me 25 years ago—on my first day as a reporter for my college newspaper, when I discovered my college was discarding radioactive waste in the regular city trash. Since then I've written hard news for dailies, including the Arizona Republic, and slanty news for alternative weeklies, including Newcity. I've written a column for New Times, stories on the Web for Forecast Earth, essays for PEN International and other magazines. I lived in an idyllic California village nestled among volcanoes and vineyards until my batteries were full of sunshine, and then I returned to my origins on the South Side of Chicago, where hope persists with no illusions about the struggle ahead. I cross the asphalt jungle by bicycle and el, mostly to get to the University of Chicago, where I teach journalism. But what matters more than any of this is a lifelong love for the natural world. We are all born with it, I believe, but some turn away.

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