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Gulf oil spill: BP worried about its own bid to capture more oil

The Coast Guard told BP to ramp up its collection efforts in the Gulf oil spill more quickly. BP detailed its plan late Sunday, but it also expressed doubts about success and safety.

By Staff writer / June 14, 2010

The Discoverer Enterprise drill ship (with flare) collects oil from the Gulf oil spill. More ships are on the way to help BP increase its oil-collecting capacity, though BP officials are worried about the area becoming too crowded.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Newscom

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In response to prodding by the Coast Guard, BP will attempt to more than double its collection of oil during the next two weeks.

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To do this, it said, it will employ procedures that could fail and flout industry practices for safety. If successful, however, the maneuvers could collect more than 2 million gallons of oil daily – up from abut 630,000 gallons currently.

Unofficial estimates of how much oil might be leaking out of the well at the moment range from 1 million to 1.5 million gallons. Scientists are working on an official estimate.

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Ultimately, BP wants to bring in a second tanker that will collect 1 million gallons of oil a day. For the moment, only the Discoverer Enterprise is collecting oil, and it has already reached its daily capacity. But that second ship is still a month away, and the Obama administration pressed BP on Friday to come up with an interim solution.

BP's new plan

BP laid out that solution in a letter Sunday. Beginning this week, it will attach a pipe to the choke line – a part of the blowout preventer used in the failed “top kill” effort earlier this month. The pipe is intended to siphon more oil to the surface, where it will be burned off aboard a smaller ship, the Q4000.

BP hopes to siphon and burn more oil when another ship arrives later this month and connects to the kill line – another part of the blowout preventer used in “top kill.” Those two ships would give BP a total siphon-and-burn capacity of 1 million to 1.5 million gallons a day, the letter suggests.

Added to the current capacity of the Discoverer Enterprise, BP would be poised to capture more than 2 million gallons by the end of the month.

But in the letter, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles warned of several factors that may prevent the operations from working at full capacity. The “junk” fired into the blowout preventer during “top kill” could clog the choke and kill lines. Moreover, those lines were not intended for continuous use. Over time, they could erode.

BP cites risks

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