How BP wants to start over in bid to contain Gulf oil spill
Even before tropical storm Alex came on the scene, BP wanted to revamp how it collects oil from the leaking well at the center of the Gulf oil spill. Those plans could take shape this week.
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For now, it appears as if Alex will pass far west of the Gulf oil spill. But even before Alex developed, the end of June and the beginning of July was shaping up to be a crucial moment in BP’s bid to collect all the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
During the next two to three weeks, BP will make major changes at and above the well. It will bring in a host of new ships to replace those currently on site and radically change the underwater architecture that has captured 15,000 to 25,000 barrels of oil (630,000 to 1 million gallons) daily during much of the past month.
In the process, the company will make it easier for ships to connect to and disconnect from its network of subsea pipes in the event of a hurricane.
Here is a snapshot of what is happening now and how that is expected to change during the next few weeks.
What is going on now
Currently, two ships are collecting about 25,000 barrels of oil a day combined.
The first is the Discoverer Enterprise, which can process – in other words, separate from the water and natural gas also captured – about 15,000 barrels of oil a day. This oil is being sent to shore on tankers, and BP is donating revenues from the oil to a Gulf wildlife fund.
The second ship is the Q4000, which can only burn the oil it collects. It is currently burning about 10,000 barrels of oil a day.
Each of these ships collects oil flowing through the failed blowout preventer on the sea floor in a different way, which is important for what comes next.
The Discoverer Enterprise is connected to the containment cap, which is fitted atop the stump of the riser pipe that led to the Deepwater Horizon before the rig sank.
The Q4000 is connected to a valve on the side of the blowout preventer – the choke line, which was used to pump in drilling mud during the failed “top kill” operation.
Both ships, however, are connected to the blowout preventer via fixed riser pipes that would have to be disconnected when ships went to shore during a hurricane.