BP Removed Cap on Leaking Gulf Well, Allen Says

BP Plc removed a cap that’s been sending oil from its leaking Gulf of Mexico well to one of two ships on the surface for inspection after an underwater remote-operated vehicle collided with it, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said.

The ROV accidentally closed a vent on the cap, disrupting the system that funnels oil to the drillship Discoverer Enterprise, Allen, the government’s national incident commander, said at a press conference today in Washington. Crude isn’t spilling “unconstrained” because it continues to flow to a drilling rig that is burning it, he said.

The closed vent forced gas into lines used to heat the system to prevent slush-like gas hydrates from plugging the cap, Allen said. Operators noticed liquid gushing from a valve aboard the drillship about 9:45 a.m. New York time, BP said today in a statement. Operators are inspecting the system, Allen said.

“If there are no hydrates in the containment cap, they will attempt to reinstall it and begin producing later on today,” Allen said. “If there are hydrates, they will have to rerun the pipe and that will take a considerable amount longer.”

It is the third time in eight days the drillship has stopped collecting oil from the mile-deep well because of operational or safety concerns. BP intends to connect a third vessel to the well by June 29, providing more capacity, Allen said. BP has said it expects to replace the cap with a sealed fitting next month.

Drillship Collection

The drillship accounted for 62 percent of 27,090 barrels of oil the London-based company collected from the well yesterday, BP said in a statement on its website. The rest was burned aboard a rig, the Q4000.

The drillship may need to begin preparing to evacuate should a hurricane approach the Gulf, Allen said. The rig and the planned third vessel could stay in place longer, he said.

Discoverer Enterprise suspended collection June 15 after a fire blamed on lightning hit its derrick. It was stopped June 19 because of an equipment problem and the threat of lightning.

Two people involved in the spill response died today in separate incidents, Allen said. Neither fatality appeared work-related, he said. One person died at a swimming event and the other was an operator of a “vessel of opportunity,” the Coast Guard’s name for fishing vessels and other private boats used to collect or skim oil from the surface, he said.

Police are investigating the boat operator’s death, Allen said. He didn’t give names or details of the fatalities.

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