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BP May Attempt to Plug Oil Leak With Mud Next Week

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BP May Attempt to Plug Oil Leak With Mud Next Week
The Discoverer Enterprise drillship, at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico. Source: BP Plc via Bloomberg

May 21 (Bloomberg) -- BP Plc said it may attempt to plug an oil leak 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico next week by stuffing it with drilling mud, a procedure that has never been tried that deep.

Three drilling rigs and 16 remote-operated vehicles are being positioned for the attempt, which could come as soon as May 25, Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said at a Louisiana press conference today.

The so-called top kill method calls for mud twice the density of water to be pumped into the well using a Helix Energy Solutions Group Inc. rig, Suttles said. The mud should stop the flow so the well can be sealed with cement, he said.

“This operation has been done in land operations and in shallow water, but it has never been done at these depths,” Suttles said. “That presents unique problems.”

BP is using a tube to divert some of the spill to a drill ship. On average, that system has recovered 2,000 barrels of oil a day since it was started May 16, Suttles said.

BP said yesterday that the recovery rate had reached the equivalent of 5,000 barrels a day, the same rate it has been giving for the spill since April 28. That led to criticism from U.S. Rep. Edward Markey when a video feed he had requested from BP showed oil and gas still leaking into the sea.

“At some points in time, we’ve had rates as high as 5,000 barrels a day,” Suttles said. “We’ve never said it produced 5,000 barrels in a day. At points in time, it produced all gas and no oil.” The 5,000 barrel-a-day rate is still the “best estimate” for the spill, Suttles said.

How Much Is Leaking?

A team of government and academic scientists will calculate how much oil is leaking, Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said yesterday. The report is expected next week, not tomorrow as BP stated this morning, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said at today’s press conference. The report will be peer-reviewed and will not be rushed, she said.

In response to a directive from the Environmental Protection Agency, BP notified the agency last night it had found no alternative to Corexit, the oil dispersant it has been using, that is effective and less toxic, Suttles said.

BP has applied more than 670,000 gallons of Nalco Holding Co.’s Corexit dispersant from ships, aircraft and remote-operated vehicles at the seabed to break up the oil into droplets.

The EPA directed the company May 19 to find a less toxic product because the volume of dispersant used is “unprecedented,” and the damage to sea life may outweigh the benefits. BP is willing to test alternatives in cooperation with the EPA, Suttles said.

Share Activity

BP shares fell 22.1 pence, or 4.2 percent, to 506.7 pence at 4:35 p.m. The stock has dropped 23 percent since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20 and later sank, killing 11 workers and setting off the leak. BP leased the rig from Transocean Ltd.

Helix, based in Houston, rose 43 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $12 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Nalco, based in Naperville, Illinois, rose 60 cents, or 2.7 percent to $22.75.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Polson in New York at jpolson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net.

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