Golf-ball sized balls of tar reach Dauphin Island; officials suspect they are from gu

This is a discussion on Golf-ball sized balls of tar reach Dauphin Island; officials suspect they are from gu within the Off Topic & Humor Discussion forums, part of the The Back Porch category; By The Associated Press May 08, 2010, 10:37PM The novel but risky attempt to use a 100-ton steel-and-concrete box to cover a deepwater oil well ...

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Thread: Golf-ball sized balls of tar reach Dauphin Island; officials suspect they are from gu

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    Golf-ball sized balls of tar reach Dauphin Island; officials suspect they are from gu

    By The Associated Press
    May 08, 2010, 10:37PM
    The novel but risky attempt to use a 100-ton steel-and-concrete box to cover a deepwater oil well gushing toxic crude into the Gulf of Mexico was aborted Saturday, and officials said it would be at least Monday before a decision was made on what next step to take.

    The Associated PressA Navy photographer shoots images of an oil slick from aboard a Coast Guard plane near the rig explosion site of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico Thursday.Meanwhile, there was a renewed sense of urgency as dime- to golfball-sized balls of tar began washing up on Dauphin Island, three miles off the Alabama mainland at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

    About a half dozen tar balls had been collected by Saturday afternoon at Dauphin Island, Coast Guard chief warrant officer Adam Wine said in Mobile. Authorities planned to test the substance but strongly suspected it came from the oil spill.

    In the three weeks since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers, about 210,000 gallons of crude a day has been flowing into the Gulf.


    It was a troubling turn of events, especially since the intrepid efforts to use the containment box had not yet succeeded. There has been a rabid fascination with the effort to use the peaked box the size of a four-story house to place over the ruptured well. It had taken more than 12 hours to slowly lower it to the seafloor, a task that required painstaking precision to accurately position it over the well or it could damage the leaking pipe and make the problem worse.

    It was fraught with doubt and peril since nothing like it had been attempted at such depths with water pressure great enough to crush a submarine. It ended up encountering icy crystals, familiar territory for deepwater drilling.

    The icy buildup on the containment box made it too buoyant and clogged it up, BP's Doug Suttles said. Workers who had carefully lowered the massive box over the leak nearly a mile below the surface had to lift it and move it some 600 feet to the side. If it had worked, authorities had said it would reduce the flow by about 85 percent, buying a bit more time as a three-month effort to drill a relief well goes on simultaneously.

    Steve Rinehart, a BP spokesman in Mobile, Alabama, said late Saturday a second containment device was under construction by Wild Well Control, Inc., in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, the company that built the first one.

    "It's the same general idea and approach. It may be a slightly different size and shape," he said.

    Even as officials pondered their next move, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said she must continue to manage expectations of what the containment box can do.

    "This dome is no silver bullet to stop the leak," she said.

    The spot where Deepwater Horizon rig once was positioned is now teeming with vessels working on containing the well. There are 15 boats and large ships at or near the site -- some being used in an ongoing effort to drill a relief well, another with the crane that lowered the containment device to the seafloor.

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    Looks like the "box" solution to the oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico didn't work.


    After Failure, BP Mulls Gusher Options

    By HARRY R. WEBER and RAY HENRY, Associated Press Writers Harry R. Weber And Ray Henry, Associated Press Writers

    ON THE GULF OF MEXICO A day after icy slush clogged the massive box they hoped would contain an out-of-control oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, BP officials on Sunday said they may try again this time with a smaller box.

    They also were considering several other options to stop the daily rush of at least 200,000 gallons of crude, which began washing up on beaches in thick blobs over the weekend.

    With crippled equipment littering the ocean floor, oil company engineers scrambled to devise a fresh method to cap the ruptured well. Their previous best hope for containing the leak quickly, a four-story containment box, became encrusted with deep-sea crystals Saturday and had to be cast aside.

    Among the plans under consideration:

    Deploying a new, smaller containment box in the hope that it would be less likely to get clogged. Officials said the new box could be in place by midweek.

    "We're going to pursue the first option that's available to us and we think it'll be the top hat," the smaller box, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said.

    Cutting the riser pipe, which extends from the mile-deep well, undersea and using larger piping to bring the gushing oil to a drill ship on the surface, a tactic considered difficult and less desirable because it will increase the flow of oil.

    Shooting mud and concrete directly into the well's blowout preventer, a device that was supposed to shut off the flow of oil after a deadly April 20 oil rig explosion but failed. The technique, known as a "top kill," is supposed to plug up the well and would take two to three weeks.

    Try again using the containment box that failed to work Saturday after finding a way to keep the crystals from building up.

    The engineers appear to be "trying anything people can think of" to stop the leak, said Ed Overton, a LSU professor of environmental studies.

    "Hopefully these are low-risk type of operations," he said. "We don't want to do anything to make it flow more."

    An estimated 3.5 million gallons of oil have spilled since the explosion. At that pace, the spill would surpass the 11 million gallons spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster by next month. BP is drilling a relief well that is considered a permanent fix, but that will take several weeks to complete.

    BP PLC spokesman Mark Proegler said no decisions have been made on what step the company will take next. A decision could come as early as Monday.

    Philip Johnson, a petroleum engineering professor at the University of Alabama, said cutting the riser pipe and slipping a larger pipe over the cut end could conceivably divert the flow of oil to the surface.

    "That's a very tempting option," he said. "The risk is when you cut the pipe, the flow is going to increase. ... That's a scary option, but there's still a reasonable chance they could pull this off."

    Johnson was less optimistic that a smaller containment box would be less susceptible to being clogged by icelike crystals.

    "My suspicion is that it's likely to freeze up anyway," he said. "But I think they should be trying everything they can."

    There was a renewed sense of urgency as dime- to golfball-sized balls of tar washed up Saturday on Dauphin Island, three miles off the Alabama mainland at the mouth of Mobile Bay and much farther east than the thin, rainbow sheens that have arrived sporadically in the Louisiana marshes. Until Saturday none of the thick sludge those indelible images from the Valdez and other spills had reached shore.

    Above the oil leak, waves of dark brown and black sludge crashed into the support ship Joe Griffin. The fumes there were so intense that a crewmember and an AP photographer on board had to wear respirators while on deck.

    A white cattle egret landed on the ship, brownish-colored stains of oil on its face and along its chest, wings and tail.

    The containment box plan, never before tried at such depths, had been designed to siphon up to 85 percent of the leaking oil to a tanker at the surface. It had taken about two weeks to build the box and three days to cart it 50 miles out and slowly lower it to the well.

    Icelike hydrates, a slushy mixture of gas and water, clogged the opening in the top of the peaked box like sand in a funnel, only upside-down.

    BP officials were not giving up hopes that a containment box either the one brought there or another one being built could cover the well. Crews planned Sunday to secure the box about 1,600 feet from the massive leak site, much farther away from where it was placed Saturday, according to a daily activity sheet reviewed by The Associated Press.

    The April 20 blowout was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP's internal investigation. Deep sea oil drillers often encounter pockets of methane crystals as they dig into the earth.

    As the bubble rose, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers, said Robert Bea, a University of California Berkley engineering professor and oil pipeline expert who detailed the interviews exclusively to an AP reporter.

    ___

    Henry reported from Venice, La. Associated Press writers John Curran and Michael Kunzelman in Louisiana, Jay Reeves and Brent Kallestad in Florida, and Sarah Larimer and AP video journalist Rich Matthews in Alabama contributed to this report.
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