Thursday, June 24, 2010

BP's Containment System Removed for a Day

Yesterday BP had to remove the containment chamber that had been funneling oil to the surface from the leaking riser pipe. It was back in place by evening, but in the meantime oil was free to flow from the pipe unimpeded.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the BP oil leak, told reporters in his daily briefing that the Discoverer Enterprise removed the device from the bleeding well after workers detected what appeared to be natural gas coming directly into the ship through a line that was being used to run warm water into the top hat to prevent a buildup of ice-like hydrate crystals. With the ship burning off millions of cubic feet of natural gas each day, workers were concerned the gas might ignite, creating an explosive situation aboard the ship.

Allen said it was unclear how the gas came to be in the warm water line, but that initial suspicions centered on the possibility that a robot vehicle working neaer the top hat had accidentally bumped it and closed one of the vents through which the crude continues to escape. That may have increased pressure within the top hat, forcing gas into the warm water line.
The containment system has worked fairly well in collecting at least some of the leaking oil, so hopefully it will be back to its previous form fairly quickly. That something like this could happen underscores how precarious this operation is and how important it will be to complete the relief wells.

Even with the containment system, a lot of oil has continued to escape into the Gulf of Mexico. Some of it recently reached the Pensacola area in Florida.
Cleanup workers in the area were kept busy overnight Wednesday, clearing eight tons of oil spill waste off a Perdido Key barrier island. By morning, a three-mile-long trail of the oily slick had washed up between the Pensacola Beach pier and Fort Pickens National Park.

In addition, the county spotted several solid masses of 8-by-10-foot weathered oil waste in the Pensacola Pass on the Florida-Alabama line. It was contained and a skimmer was on site, said Kelly Cooke, Escambia County's public information officer....

Despite a faint odor from the oil, a couple of dozen sunbathers watched as workers snaked along the sand with their shovels and rakes, occasionally resting under tents to sip water.

The Escambia County Health Department sent out a health advisory Wednesday warning beachgoers not to swim or wade in the oiled water, avoid contact with the oiled sand or sediment and stay away from dead fish and sealife. The region remains closed to fishing.
Similar scenes have played out all along the gulf coast this summer.