BP preparing to switch seabed oil-capture caps

By Kristen Hays

HOUSTON (BestGrowthStock) – BP Plc prepared on Saturday to remove a containment cap atop its gushing Gulf of Mexico oil leak and replace it with a bigger cap and seal that could fully contain the crude, the company said.

BP said in a statement that the process would take four to seven days. In the time between the current cap’s removal and before the new cap is bolted on, crude will gush unchecked from the leak, BP said.

But once the new cap is installed, it could ensure no more crude leaks from the seabed. Oil captured by the cap would be funneled to vessels on the surface.

At the same time, the company was hooking up and testing a third vessel in hopes that it could begin siphoning crude late on Sunday.

The two procedures are part of BP’s overall effort to set up an upgraded oil-capture system with four vessels that can handle up to 80,000 barrels a day and disconnect and move quickly if a hurricane approaches.

Kent Wells, BP’s senior vice president of exploration and production, was slated to explain the complicated processes later on Saturday.

The cap switch is a critical step in increasing BP’s oil-collection capability with a hurricane-ready system until a relief well intercepts the blown-out Macondo well and kills the leak by early to mid-August.

Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the top U.S. official overseeing the oil spill response, approved the cap switch late on Friday.

The current cap is on the jagged remnant of a pipe atop failed blowout preventer equipment. It has a seal that doesn’t capture all the crude, and a live video feet of the seabed shows oil billowing out from under it and from open vents on top.

That remnant will be removed along with the current cap, so the new cap and seal will be bolted on a larger surface with no jagged edges. That is expected to ensure all or most leaking crude is captured, Allen has said.

BP’s current oil containment system involves two vessels, Transocean Ltd’s Discoverer Enterprise drillship, and Helix Energy Solutions’ Q4000 rig.

The Enterprise is connected to the current containment cap by a fixed pipe, and needs at least five days’ lead time to disconnect and get out of a hurricane’s path. Its collected oil is processed and shipped to shore by a tanker.

The Q4000 is connected to a failed blowout preventer at the seabed via a hose and pipe. It cannot process oil, so the rig burns off collected crude.

The combined system can handle up to 28,000 barrels a day of oil. On Friday, the system collected or burned off 24,790 barrels.

BP originally intended to add the third vessel, a rig called the Helix Producer, by June 30 but rough seas caused by Hurricane Alex delayed its hookup. The Producer can handle up to 25,000 barrels a day, and was hooked up to the blowout preventer by a second hose and pipe.

An eight-day window of good weather prompted BP to hook up the Producer this week and begin the cap switch, the company said.

Once the new cap is installed, BP will be able to move toward the 80,000 barrel-per-day collection system later in July. The Producer will stay in place, but another vessel will replace the Q4000. A pair of drillships will be hooked up to the new cap by drillpipes, according to BP’s plan. (Reporting by Kristen Hays, editing by Vicki Allen)

BP preparing to switch seabed oil-capture caps