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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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BP’s primary goal in the weeks ahead is to replace these fixed riser pipes with flexible riser pipes that would remain connected to the well during a hurricane, their mouths floating about 300 feet below the surface.

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Ships returning after a hurricane could more easily connect to a floating riser pipe just below the surface than with the various blowout preventer valves a mile down.

The first flexible riser pipe is almost finished. It will be attached to a second valve on the side of the blowout preventer known as the kill line. A new ship called the Helix Producer will connect to this flexible riser.

The Helix Producer can process about 25,000 barrels of oil a day. It is expected to come online Tuesday.

On Wednesday, BP and the Coast Guard are expected to decide whether to greenlight a project that would remove the containment cap and replace it with a larger cap connected to two flexible riser pipes.

The replacement cap, called an overshot tool, would not sit atop the stump of the original riser pipe, but would bolt directly to the blowout preventer, perhaps creating a better seal.

With two flexible riser pipes, the tool would also allow for two ships to connect to it, potentially doubling capacity. Media reports suggest that the two ships would be the Discoverer Enterprise and the Toisa Pisces.

Several tankers, including the Loch Rannoch, would ferry the processed oil to shore.

This system, if given the go-ahead Wednesday, would be in place by mid-July.

Around the same time, BP plans to replace the Q4000 and its fixed riser pipe with the Clear Leader and a new flexible riser pipe to the choke line.

In total, the new system would be able to process about 80,000 barrels daily.

This system to collect oil at the well is separate from the efforts to skim the oil slick on the surface. In those efforts, the A Whale supertanker is on its way to the Gulf. The supertanker could skim 500,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water from the surface of the Gulf daily.

IN PICTURES: Response to the oil spill on the Gulf Coast