3.5 million gallons and counting after failed attempt to stop oil leak in gulf

Posted By: Selma Al-Faqih on May 9, 2010 5:04 pm

As oil spill in the gulf has begun to wash up on beaches, BP scrambles to find a new solution after a failed attempt to stop the leak Saturday.

Ice crystals clogged the massive box that was lowered on top of one of the major leaks in an attempt to contain and re-direct the gushing oil onto a ship.  200,000 gallons a day are still spilling into the water, a mile below the water’s surface, now totaling 3.5 million gallons (Exxon Valdez was 11 million).  New plans under consideration (according to yahoo news) include:

• Using a smaller containment box in the hopes that it won’t get clogged, which officials report could be put into place as early as mid next week.

• Using a larger pipe to get the oil into a ship, by cutting the riser pipe that’s already there.  Considered a risky choice, as it would widen the area of the leak. 

• Using a technique called “top kill” which means forcing mud and concrete into the well’s blowout preventer.  The blowout preventer is the device that failed initially.  It is meant to stop the flow of oil after any explosion.

BP is trying to figure out how to get around the issue of ice-like hydrates, a slushy mixture of gas and water, which ruined the containment attempt by clogging up the 12-inch funnel atop the 4-story box. 

Robert Bea, a UCB engineering professor and oil pipeline expert to told AP reporters that the original explosion on April 20 was caused by a methane gas bubble. The bubble had risen quickly from the well, up the drill column, expanding and breaking through seals and barriers before finally exploding, killing 11 workers.

Caption by Susan K. Runco and William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.

Instrument: ISS – Digital Camera