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BP Moving Oil Spill Containment Dome Into Place

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BP has begun maneuvering a containment dome over a gushing oil well 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. It is the oil giant’s latest attempt to curb the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The procedure, dubbed by some a “cut and cap” hit a snag yesterday when a robotic diamond-edged saw became stuck in an attempt to make the second of two cuts in a 20-inch pipe leaking oil on the sea floor. It took about 12 hours for engineers to free the saw from the pipe. They then completed the cut with giant shears.

The final cut was not as smooth as engineers would have liked it to be, making it less likely that the containment dome will catch all of the oil once it is in place. It won’t be known how much oil BP can siphon to a tanker on the surface until the cap is fitted.

The oil leak won’t be permanently stopped until BP completes one of two relief wells it is drilling nearby. The earliest that will occur is mid-August.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, when the oil rig exploded, killing 11 crew. Since then, the gushing well spewing as much as 800,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana has already seen 125 miles of coastline fouled by the spill, with thick crude moving into the state’s vital marshes and wetlands. Oil has washed up in Alabama and Mississippi as well, and the slick is said to be only miles from Florida’s Pensacola Beach.

Now there are fears that the spill could impact an even wider area. According to a computer model developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), if the slick makes it into Gulf Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida’s Atlantic coast within weeks. It can then move north as far as about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with the Gulf Stream, before turning east. Once the oil is in the Loop Current, it will travel about 40 miles per day. In the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream, it can travel about 100 miles per day.

NCAR released six model simulations today, all of which have different Loop Current characteristics, and provide slightly different scenarios of how the oil might be dispersed. The simulations all bring the oil to south Florida and then up the East Coast. However, the timing of the oil’s movement differs significantly depending on the configuration of the Loop Current, the statement said.

NCAR stressed that the course plotted by the model is only a prediction, not a forecast. It did not account for regional weather conditions or other factors that would impact the movement of the slick.

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