Oil Spill Containment Plans Delayed by Hurricane Alex

giant 12-foot waves from Hurricane Alex postponed oil cleanup efforts in the Gulf
giant 12-foot waves from Hurricane Alex postponed oil cleanup efforts in the Gulf

BP's (BP) plans to improve its oil spill containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico may be delayed up to a week as giant 12-foot waves from Hurricane Alex postponed the addition of a third containment system to siphon off oil and gas from the energy company's damaged Deepwater Horizon well on Wednesday.

The "lower marine riser package" containment cap installed on June 3, which takes oil and gas to the Discoverer Enterprise drill ship, and a second system, which has taken oil and gas to the Q4000 vessel since June 16, continue to capture anywhere from 20,000 to 28,000 barrels of oil per day as the hurricane passes southwest of the spill.

Third Vessel Linkup Postponed

A third vessel, the Helix Producer, was supposed to link up to what the company describes as a floating riser containment system today, but because of the threat to the crew's safety posed by the hurricane, the ship has been kept a safe distance from the oil spill site.

"The floating riser system is complete and ready to go," says BP spokesman Mark Pregler, "It's just that the rough seas are preventing us from bringing the ship in." It could be July 6 or 7 before the Helix Producer is hooked up to draw oil from the well.

Earlier in June, BP executives said they had hoped to contain as much as 90% of the oil spewing from the damaged well in the Gulf by the end of June or middle of July.

"I'd like to see us capture 90-plus percent of this flow," Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer of exploration and production, told CNN during a June 4 interview, just after the first "Top Hat" containment system was installed over the well's broken blowout preventer the day before. "I think that's possible with this design."

Oil Capture Could Increase to 53,000 BPD

Pregler said the floating riser system provides a faster and easier way for ships to attach and detach from pipelines coming from the damaged well. Once the floating riser is operational, recovery from the well could increase anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 barrels per day, raising the company's capturing ability as much as 53,000 barrels per day.

The company also has a second floating riser system under construction, and Pregler says it's still on track to be completed in mid-July. Adding the fourth containment system would allow BP to capture an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 barrels per day. Scientists have estimated that anywhere from 40,000 to 125,000 barrels of oil may be spilling into the Gulf each day.

The rough seas have also prevented oil cleanup efforts in the Gulf, as skimmer ships that collect oil off the surface were pulled from service. Efforts to clean beaches were also curtailed as workers evacuated the area to avoid hurricane Alex's high winds and driving rain.