Crews dealt setback in placing containment dome in Gulf oil spill
By the CNN Wire Staff
May 8, 2010 3:52 p.m. EDT
Crews began lowering containment dome into the Gulf Friday night in the hopes of stemming gushing oil.
Crystals accumulated inside containment dome, rendering it ineffective
Dome moved to side of wellhead while crews work to overcome the challenge, BP CEO says
Effort to place dome over well 5,000 feet underwater never been tried at such depth
Stakes high for coastal residents who make living from fishing as oil keeps washing ashore
Biloxi, Mississippi (CNN) -- The effort to place a containment dome over a gushing wellhead was dealt a setback when a large volume of hydrates -- crystals formed when gas combines with water -- accumulated inside of the vessel, BP's chief operating officer said Saturday.
The dome was moved off to the side of the wellhead and is resting on the seabed while crews work to overcome the challenge, Doug Settles said.
The move to try to cap oil leaking from the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig started early Friday. The technique has never been tried at such a depth and there are no guarantees it will work, said BP, which holds the license for the well.
"It's a technology first," BP CEO Tony Hayward told CNN's David Mattingly Friday. "It works in 3 [hundred] to 400 feet of water. But the pressures and temperatures are very different here. So we cannot be confident that it will work."
The arduous process takes time, Hayward said.
"We are proceeding with a lot of caution to make sure that we don't make what was a clearly bad situation worse," he said. "This needs to be done with a great deal of care and attention."
Casi Calloway, CEO of the environmental group Mobile Baykeeper, said Saturday she hopes the dome operation is successful, but she's not counting on it.
"I'm praying for them to come up with anything," she said. "In the meantime, though, we have to be realistic and we have to be planning, because it's still a minimum of 5,000 barrels pouring out into the Gulf of Mexico until that thing is stopped."
Video: Seafood running scarce Video: Tar balls appear on pristine island Video: The science of oil slicks
Oil reaches Freemason Island
Gulf of Mexico
U.S. Coast Guard
BP hopes to connect the dome to a drill ship over the weekend and to begin sucking oil from the containment dome up to the ship by the beginning of next week, the company's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
"This has not been done before and it will undoubtedly have some complications," he added.
Like BP, the U.S. Coast Guard worked Friday to manage expectations about the success of the operation.
"This is going to take a few days and this is not going to be something instantaneous," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said. "It may or may not work."
On the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard will continue its efforts to disperse and contain the massive oil slick, which has started to reach Louisiana's outer islands. The Coast Guard performed four controlled burns, dropped 28,000 gallons of dispersant chemical and skimmed 8,000 barrels of an oil-water mix on Thursday, said Petty Officer Brandon Blackwell.
Calloway said the use of dispersants is also cause for concern.
"We don't know what's in it, we don't know much about it," she said.
"All it really does is sink the oil to the bottom and kind of get it out of sight. So the public doesn't worry about it as much but the dispersant in itself is toxic," Calloway explained. "We don't know what the half-life of it is, or how it changes the composition of oil ... We don't know how long it stays in the water."
Thursday's burns consumed between 7,000 and 9,000 barrels of oil, Suttles said, and responders conducted another controlled burn Friday, with more burns planned for this weekend. Suttles said that skimming had removed more than 50,000 barrels of oil-water mix so far.
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig caught on fire April 20 and sank two days later about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the southeast coast of Louisiana. Eleven missing workers are presumed dead.
The untapped well is gushing about 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, according to BP and government estimates.
The stakes are high for residents of coastal Louisiana who make their living from fishing in the Gulf. Oil washed ashore Thursday on Louisiana's barrier islands and drifted west past the mouth of the Mississippi River.
"It's killing everybody down here, everybody is more or less getting ulcers worrying about this, and it's something we experienced five years ago with (Hurricane) Katrina," charter boat owner Tom Becker told CNN Saturday. "But we knew it was coming faster than this thing is and we don't know what the long-term effect of what's going to happen with this if it (the oil) does get up here."
On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it has expanded the area closed to fishing to better reflect the spill's location. The restriction, announced Sunday, is being extended until May 17, the agency said.
An ominous pinkish-orange foam mixture of seawater and crude oil streaked across large stretches of water in the northern Gulf and turned up on the shores of the Chandeleur Islands, off southeastern Louisiana.
Hopes are high that the container will collect the oil. If the operation is successful, BP plans to deploy a second, smaller dome to deal with a second leak in the ruptured pipe.