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BP oil spill: Undersea lumberjack gets saw snagged in pipe

Unmanned deep-sea subs at the BP oil spill are attempting a crucial cut of the 'riser' pipe. But like rookie lumberjacks, they've jammed the diamond-wire saw.

By Staff writer / June 2, 2010

An underwater robotic arm (r.) attempts to free the diamond saw that became stuck while being used to cut through the pipe at the site of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in this image from a BP live video feed, Tuesday.

BP/Reuters

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Atlanta

At first blush, a lumberjack probably doesn't have much in common with the engineers and scientists trying to stop the BP oil spill at its source 5,000 feet below the surface.

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But a woodsman would well know the feeling being experienced by the remote pilots of the deep-sea disaster bot subs working the spill – the feeling when a saw gets snagged.

BP has been attempting to slice a crucial piece of "riser" pipe at the source of the oil spill in order to fit a containment device over the so-called lower marine riser package. But the attempt bogged down overnight as a special diamond-wire saw snagged in the pipe. The work has stalled as BP tries two old logger tricks: changing the angle of the pipe to let the saw get through and, if that doesn't work, bringing the saw to the surface to replace the blade.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

"The saw blade is getting stuck to the sides of the riser pipe," said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen at press conference Wednesday morning in Houma, La. "As anyone who's used a saw knows, every once in a while it'll bind up."

Up until the saw jam, the undersea logging operation had been going well, Allen said. Overnight, a deep-sea ROV made a rough cut of another piece of the riser pipe to clear the way for the money cut.

The smoothness of the final cut will determine whether BP can put a tight-sealing "top cap" on the riser package or will have to go with a looser "top hat" that would allow more oil to escape. Once the final cut is made, the oil flow could increase by as much as 20 percent (hopefully temporarily), according to a NOAA study group. Already, between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels of oil are leaking into the Gulf every day, according to the best government estimates.

The BP live video feed of the sawing operation fits into a growing fascination that Americans have with saws and their subjects. At least three logging shows – "Ax Men," "American Loggers," and "Swamp Loggers" – are currently playing on the History Channel and Discovery Channel.

Reporters Wednesday wondered what would happen if BP fails to cut the riser pipe. In answering, Allen displayed the kind of stubbornness shared by many lumberjacks. "I don't think the issue is whether or not we can make the second cut," he said.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil spill

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