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Jun. 5 2010 - 10:59 am | 339 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

BP diverts 6,000 barrels from oil spill to ship in first day

Gas From Damaged Wellhead Being Burned

Gas from damaged wellhead being burned from the ship above. Image by Deepwater Horizon Response via Flickr

The containment cap placed on the leaking wellhead of the Deepwater Horizon succeeded in diverting 6,000 barrels of oil to a ship in the first 24 hours–that’s a quarter to a half of the oil estimated to be flowing from the well, Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen announced moments ago in a teleconference with reporters.

That number is expected to increase as BP lowers pressure inside the wellhead by drawing oil to the surface at an increasing rate.

The ship above the well, dubbed the Discover Enterprise, can reportedly process up to 15,000 barrels per day. The U.S. has estimated 12,000 to 25,000 barrels per day are leaking from the wellhead.

“What’s happening is they are increasing production rates, and they’re doing it gradually to avoid the formation of hydrates. The goal is to achieve maximum production on the vessel overhead,” Allen said.

Oil continues to leak from the seal between the cap and the severed wellhead, and that leak will probably continue until BP finally seals the well beneath the earth by injecting slurry into it from a relief well–an event that may not take place until August. That’s because the pressure of the oil inside the cap has to remain higher than the pressure of the surrounding water.

“What you want to do is keep oil in the containment cap and not water, because water produces hydrates,” Allen said.

Methane hydrate crystals foiled an earlier attempt to cap the well by blocking the path of the oil to the surface and making the cap more buoyant.

Vents on the cap, also designed to prevent the formation of hydrates, also remain open, allowing oil to escape from the cap. Those will be gradually closed as the production rate increases on the ship overhead.

The ship measured the 6,000 barrels from midnight Friday morning to midnight Saturday morning, as the process began. The rate of recovery should only accelerate, barring hurricanes and other mishaps. The government is working with a number of estimates of the flow rate of the spill. An official Flow Rate Technical Group used three different methods to estimate the spill at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day. Another independent estimate put the rate at 12,000 to 25,000 per day.

The process of siphoning oil to the ship should help officials develop more accurate estimates of the spill rate as well, Allen said.


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  1. collapse expand

    Thanks for your ongoing coverage of the spill, Jeff. It’s just as good as your coverage of Copenhagen some months ago. What a contrast between the hopefulness there and the utter devastation in the Gulf.

  2. collapse expand

    Obama is demanding the BP make good on all payments to clean up their mess.

    Oh Please!! BP is just going to pass that bill on to each of us by increasing the price of gasoline.

    Better way is to not buy BP gasoline where ever you are. Now, that will teach them a good lesson.

  3. collapse expand

    Jeff, there’s no net change of flow going into the ocean. Remember they were siphoning about 2,000 barrels a day when the flow was 20,000 barrels a day. Then they said cutting the valve would increase the flow by 20% = 24,000 barrels a day. Now they said they got 6,000 barrels a day recovered. That’s still gives 18,000 barrels a day leaking into the ocean. It’s unchanged.

    This looks like a trick by BP to increase the amount of oil it could recover while waiting for the side wells to get completed.

    • collapse expand

      Thank you for your comment, Yardley. A couple of thoughts: BP capped the well close to 11 p.m. Thursday and then began to very gradually reverse the pressure so the oil would begin to rise slowly up the pipe to the ship. The 6,000 barrels was collected from midnight that night to midnight the next night. That includes many hours during which that gradual reversal of pressure was taking place. Once the flow is established, the amount collected in 24 hours should be higher. Once the vents are closed the amount collected should be higher again. Once they begin drawing oil up separate pipes connected to the wellhead–the pipes used unsuccessfully for top kill and junk shot–the amount collected should be higher again.

      And if the flow increased by 20 percent when BP cut the riser, removing a crimp in the pipe, then it should decrease by at least 20 percent with a cap on it, which is more of an obstruction than a crimp. I think it’s evident from the live video that the flow has decreased. The fins on the cap are always visible now. On Friday they were almost constantly obscured in billows of oil. There’s still a lot of oil leaking into the gulf–and every drop is a drop too much–but I believe they’re capturing more of it than they have before.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    About Me

    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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