BP starts work to install new cap on gushing well
BP Plc removed a containment cap from its stricken Gulf of Mexico oil well on Saturday in the first step toward installing a bigger cap to contain all the crude gushing into the sea and fouling the coast.
The maneuver released a torrent of oil that will spew unrestrained into the Gulf for four to seven days -- the time BP says it will take to put in place a bigger cap and seal. Officials say the new cap would capture all the oil leaking from the well and funnel it 1 mile upward to vessels on the water's surface.
The new solution, 82 days into the worst oil spill in U.S. history, would not allow crude to billow out the bottom and the top, as the current cap does, said Kent Wells, senior vice president of exploration and production for BP.
"The difference is one completely seals and the other didn't," Wells said.
Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the U.S. response to the spill, had said the cap switch could be finished by late Sunday or Monday. BP's plan, which Allen approved late Friday, showed a four- to seven-day process.
Wells said the longer stretch allows for unexpected problems. BP has another cap ready to install if the new, bolted-on cap and seal does not work, he said.
A Reuters witness who was viewing the Discoverer Enterprise drillship on Saturday afternoon from the Transocean Development Driller 2, a rig that is drilling one of two relief wells, said the Enterprise was not flaring natural gas and looked quiet.
He said he did not see torrents of oil gushing up.
A live video feed on BP's website showed the removed cap hanging from a line used to lift it from the leak. A different feed showed an underwater robot starting the next phase of the switch.
Wells said BP was doing final hookups and tests of an additional rig that can collect up to 25,000 barrels a day in hopes that it could begin operating on Sunday.
Photo shows oil leaking from BP's Gulf of Mexico well after the oil
containment cap was removed so it could be replaced with a bigger cap,
in the Gulf of Mexico, in this frame grab captured from a BP live video
feed July 10, 2010.
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