May 29, 2010

Very depressing news - again. (The Oil Drum has an update here.)

BP's three-day effort to throttle the leaking gulf oil well with multiple blasts of heavy mud has failed. The attempted "top kill" of the well was abandoned late Saturday afternoon, leaving the huge Macondo field deep beneath the sea floor once again free to pump more than half a million gallons of crude a day into the gulf.

"I can say we tried. But what I can also say is this scares everybody, the fact that we can't make this well stop flowing or haven't succeeded in that so far," BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said in a late-day press conference.

"There's no silver bullet to stop this leak," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said.

The top kill -- a term most Americans had never heard until it became part of the new national vocabulary along with "blowout preventer," "containment dome" and "junk shot" -- had been seen as the best hope for turning the oil spill calamity into something finite in scope. Now BP must fall back on a containment strategy in the near term, hoping to capture as much oil as possible.

Sitting on the sea floor and awaiting deployment is a new containment dome, what the company calls the Lower Marine Riser Package (LMRP) cap. With robotic submarines the company will sever the leaking, kinked riser pipe that emerges from the top of the blowout preventer, the 5-story tall contraption on top of the wellhead. Then engineers will guide the LMRP cap onto the pipe. The cap is fitted with a grommet designed to keep out sea water and prevent the formation of slushy methane hydrates that bedeviled an earlier containment dome effort. The LMRP cap procedure will take 4 to 7 days, officials say.

"This operation should be able to capture most of the oil. I want to stress the word most, because it's not a tight, mechanical seal," Suttles said.

President Obama reacts:

WASHINGTON—U.S. President Barack Obama, responding to the failure of BP's latest attempt to plug a mile-deep oil and natural gas leak in the Gulf of Mexico, on Saturday expressed outrage at the duration of the spill and said that a new method the company will attempt will be "difficult and take several days."

"Every day that this leak continues is an assault on the people of the Gulf Coast region, their livelihoods, and the natural bounty that belongs to all of us," Obama said in a statement. "It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking, and we will not relent until this leak is contained, until the waters and shores are cleaned up, and until the people unjustly victimized by this manmade disaster are made whole."

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