"Top Cap" Installed on BP Oil Leak; Effectiveness Remains to Be Seen

By Andrew Moseman | June 4, 2010 9:31 am

Gulf Oil SpillThe top cap is in place. How much oil is it actually capturing, though? The Coast Guard says we won’t know until later in the day, but plenty is still leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.

After failing to cut through the riser with its fancy-sounding diamond-tipped saw, BP yesterday had to settle for cutting the broken riser pipes with what’s been described as a big pair of shears. That method, however, likely produced a rougher cut along the edge, which would hamper the effectiveness of the containment dome BP has now placed on top of its leak.

The government’s point man for the crisis, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said the cap’s installation atop a severed pipe late Thursday was a positive development but it was too early to tell if will work. The funnel-like lid is designed to channel oil for pumping to a surface tanker. “Even if successful, this is only a temporary and partial fix and we must continue our aggressive response operations at the source, on the surface and along the Gulf’s precious coastline,” Allen said in a statement [AP].

This morning Allen offered the very rough estimate of the containment dome’s effectiveness, saying it might be capturing 1,000 barrels of oil per day. If that’s the right number, then it’s practically nothing: The government’s own estimate was increased last week to between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels per day, and BP warned that the flow would increase when it sheared off the pipe in preparation for installing the dome. According to the Christian Science Monitor, it does appear that a jagged cut has hurt the ability to capture oil:

That seemed to be the case early Friday morning, according to the BP “spillcam,” as a plume of oil and gas burst from the side of the top cap and a “dispersant ops” sub injected a kerosene dispersant into the plume via a long rod [Christian Science Monitor].

Back on shore, people are getting desperate. Oil has been found on about 100 miles of U.S. shoreline along the Gulf already, with more to come. In Louisiana, the government has entered “try anything” mode: Governor Bobby Jindal is going ahead with a plan to dredge massive amounts of sand to build 6-feet-tall sand berms that, in theory, could protect about 100 miles of Louisiana shores from the incoming oil.

The project would require dredging an estimated 68 million cubic meters of sand and cost at least $350 million—perhaps three times that figure. “I was stunned,” says Joseph Kelley, a coastal geophysicist at the University of Maine, Orono. “This is a big proposal and not well thought out” [ScienceNOW].

Nevertheless, the feds have now given the thumbs-up for Louisiana to build about half the proposed amount. Says Allen:

“There are a lot of doubts whether this is a valid oil spill–response technique. But we’re not averse to attempting this as a prototype” [ScienceNOW].

With BP’s plans ending consistently in failure, it’s time to consider all ideas on the table. For this one, though, many scientists are relieved that it will be half-sized, at least to start out with. Beyond the question of whether it will even work—given the timetable to build it and the likelihood of storms destroying it, it might not—there’s also the chance that it will harm the Louisiana wetlands even more than doing nothing. If sand is gathered from the marshes and then thrown asunder by storms, the area might lack the sand resource it needs to recover.

Previous posts on the BP oil spill:
80beats: Oil Spill Update: Saw Gets Stuck; Will Oil Still Be Leaking at Christmas?
80beats: With “Top Kill” a Failure, BP Goes Back to the Containment Dome Plan
80beats: This Hurricane Season Looks Rough, And What If One Hits the Oil Spill?
80beats: We Did the Math: BP Oil Spill Is Now Worse Than the Exxon Valdez
80beats: Scientists Say Gulf Spill Is Way Worse Than Estimated. How’d We Get It So Wrong?

Image: BP

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • http://Shepherd'sHomeHardware Catherine A. Harms

    Please note that we in Canada would love to help mop up the oil spilled in the gulf of Mexico.
    Understand that we have an abundance of already harvested and baled peat moss and hay. I know many people that would be willing to harvest bull rushes and ship to the gulf.
    I believe that mopping up the oil, having let it come to the surface is critical. Sooner not later, this has gone on far too long already!

  • dianne

    build a big funnel, put the smaller part of the funnel which should be a fraction smaller then the hole of the leak and have hoses at the top of the funnel sucking in all the oil ,to which thoses hoses other end will put the oil in storage containers.

  • Katharine

    Quite honestly, the oil needs to go somewhere.

    Position a few tankers near it. Bleed the reservoir dry, then cap it.

  • Jennifer

    dianne,

    I believe you may want to take a look at principles of flow rate. Or you are really sharp and are mocking BP’s solutions. In that case HAHA!!

  • Jasen

    Ban off shore oil drilling WORLDWIDE! One incident like this is unacceptable.

  • RAMON

    MONEY !

    HOW INTERESTING ! BE TRUTHFUL NOW—-THE BEER TRUCKS ARE STILL DELIVERING
    TO GRANDE iSLE

    AND

    KEEP PLAYING WITH THE OIL PIPE NIPPLE

    HOPE IT WORKS , OTHERWISE YOU WONT HAVE a NUB TO WORK WITH.

    DRILL A HOLE (HOLES) IN THE SIDE OF THE PIPE , BLOW ON THAT ONE , LESS PRESSURE TO OVERCOME .

    NOW LETS ALL GO WATCH THE BELMONT STAKES

  • trippy lechat

    we have plenty of stored nukes dont we
    why not create a shell that prevent the temp and pressure damaging the device
    make it at least 1 mt mk 43 would be perfect easily fits into the pipe
    drop it down the well a mile or so as not to create residual nuclear leakage from the new isotopes created and unused fissile material
    arent there already 6 or 7 nuclear subs sitting happily on the bottom already
    then push the damn button
    havent we wanted to test one in a while
    this would be putting it to good use
    if you have legal and liability issues
    i will be happy to push the button
    have a nice day

  • Nicholas Perone

    How about figuring the exact circumference of the pipeline, and then build a sleeve just a hair bigger in diameter,and make it long enough that it slides on aprox. 100 ft., seal one end prior to submerging it, take a crane and lower it down there, slide it over the end with some welders down there, and seal it shut!
    Stop the output…………………………

  • http://none Charles

    I have worked in the oil Ind. most of my life. I know the oil leak can be stoped.Using the same method the doctors use to unblock an artry in your heart can work in reverse to stop the leak. You send a series of ballons to near the bottom of the well and inflate then. Then pump cement into the well to cap it off for good. Any Engeneer can build one. Robber Mfg.s can make any kine of blatter you need.

  • j. michael carney

    to capture a runaway oil well 5000ft below the sea . using suction sea mooring anchors designed to sink 50 ft into the sea bed attached to a large 16x70ft open end x one inch thick vessel / four 24in electric valves on top of large vessel. the anchors would be positioned over well head and suck the vessel over well to a depth of 30 ft. after set valves could be piped to surface rig. concreting the inside of wellhead to large vessel up to bottom of bop.the large vessel would be designed with sleeves to hold the anchors so anchors cound go deeper into the sea floor. would look something like the spaceshuttle at launch. sea anchors are used to anchor offshore oil rigs. the vessel looks like the preasurliving quarters of a large sub

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