With “Top Kill” a Failure, BP Goes Back to the Containment Dome Plan
At this point the question “now what?” has reached a sort of repetitive absurdity in the Gulf of Mexico. With BP having failed to stop its oil leak with robots and failed with containment domes and failed with the “top kill” maneuver, the company has decided it’s going to try the dome approach again.
On Monday, engineers positioned submarine robots that will try to shear off a collapsed 21-inch riser pipe with a razorlike wire studded with bits of industrial diamonds. If that is achieved, officials will need at least a couple of days to position a domelike cap over the blowout preventer [The New York Times].
The cap is called the lower marine riser package (LMRP), and—stop me if you’ve heard this one—it’s never been tested at the depth of 5,000 feet, so BP has no idea whether it will work. The previous version of the containment dome had the same goal: establishing a seal on the seal and piping the oil up to a tanker on the surface. But because of buildup on the dome, that first attempt in early May was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, the disastrous numbers just get worse. The oil spill is now the worst in U.S. history and increasing in size by the day. Yesterday wind patterns from the south threatened to carry more oil toward Mississippi and Alabama. The fishing ban has been extended to nearly 62,000 square miles, or about a quarter of the Gulf.
And as more people clamor for President Obama to step in and do more, given BP’s ineptitude, it’s become clear that there’s not a lot he can do.
The public anger and frustration over the spill poses a major domestic challenge for Obama, who has been forced to admit publicly that the U.S. government and military do not have the technology to plug the leaking well and must leave this to BP and its private industry partners [MSNBC].
While Washington can’t stop the oil, one thing they can do is question and investigate the leaders of the companies involved. Today Obama meets with the leaders of the commission he formed two weeks ago to investigate the spill. And Eric Holder, the attorney general, is traveling to meet leaders and government prosecutors in the region, another hint that the Obama Administration is considering a criminal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon incident.
The opening of a criminal investigation or civil action against BP, if either were to happen, would create the unusual situation of the federal government weighing charges against a company that it is simultaneously depending on for the most critical elements of the response to the record oil spill [Washington Post].
Last week’s top kill maneuver failed, BP says, because the pressure of the gushing oil and gas was too intense to overcome with injections of heavy mud. As with that top kill effort, we’re now left with not much to do but hope for the best for BP’s current containment attempt. If it doesn’t work, there might not be another “now what?” other than waiting until drills finish the relief wells in August (supposing their work isn’t interrupted by hurricane season or some other new calamity).
Image: U.S. Coast Guard