The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Options for Stopping the Leaks

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted May 10, 2010

The Deepwater Horizon's Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico threw another curve ball at engineers who were hoping to stop the leak with a 100-ton containment chamber this weekend.

In the cold blackness 5,000 feet below the water's surface, a crystalline slush of natural gas and icy water clogged the top of the containment chamber, preventing the oil's flow from the leaking riser through pipes to the surface for collection in waiting vessels.

In a news release this morning, BP said it had parked the containment chamber away from the spill area and was considering other options:

  • A second, smaller containment dome is being readied for lowering over the main leak point. This dome is designed to mitigate the formation of the slush, called gas hydrates.
  • A "top kill" effort is likely to be attempted in the next two weeks in conjunction with the deployment of the smaller dome. This involves pumping cement or heavy drilling mud through the blowout preventer (BOP) to block the oil from rising from the well.
  • The relief well is drilling its way toward the Macondo well, but it is expected to take a total of three months to complete.

Reporters who are attending BP briefings and response personnel also say the company has discussed a few other options, including a "junk shot," which involves pumping rubber or other materials in the BOP to clog it, and a "hot tap," in which ROVS would drill a hole in the bent and broken pipe, add a connector and a new pipe, and draw the oil up to the surface. (Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post)

"There's a lot of techniques available to us," said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, "The challenge with all of them is...they haven't been done in 5,000 feet of water." (AP)

On land, tar balls have begun to wash onto Dauphin Island, three miles off the Alabama coast. In Louisiana, officials are hoping to prevent the tar balls from coming onshore by dropping sandbags from helicopters along a four-mile stretch of the coastline.

Check out more of the latest response information from the Joint Unified Command.