‘Top Kill’ Fails to Plug Leak; BP Readies Next Approach

By CLIFFORD KRAUSS and LESLIE KAUFMAN
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/us/30spill.html?hp

HOUSTON — BP said Saturday that its latest attempt to stop the gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was unsuccessful, and the effort, known as a “top kill,” was being scrapped in favor of yet another maneuver to stem the flow spreading into the waters.

The announcement marked the latest setback in the attempt to plug the spill that is polluting gulf waters at an estimated rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.

Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said the next step is called a “lower marine riser package cap” and involves sawing off the riser and placing a device atop it to capture the escaping oil. Equipment has already been deployed on land and on the sea bed, he said.
“We have made the decision to move on to the next option,” Mr. Suttles said. “Repeated pumping, we don’t believe, will likely achieve success.”

The failure of the top kill procedure, which was thought to be the company’s best option for stopping the leak, was announced following a third attempt Friday night at what is termed the “junk shot,” a procedure that involves pumping odds and ends like plastic cubes, knotted rope, and golf balls into the blowout preventer, the five-story safety device atop the well.

Earlier in the day on Saturday, Mr. Suttles had said it was too soon to tell whether the top kill procedure was working, but had appeared doubtful that it was going to be the answer.

“I don’t think the amount of oil coming out has changed,” he said. If this latest attempt is unsuccessful, a relief well is the option experts say is most reliably going to stop the current catastrophe. But could take until August to drill a relief well.

“People want to know which technique is going to work, and I don’t know. It hasn’t been done at these depths and that’s why we’ve had multiple options working parallel.”

Mr. Suttles also used the press conference Saturday afternoon to defend BP’s clean-up efforts, which have come under fierce criticism from local politicians for being too little too late.

“We have been ramping up the activity every single day,” he said referring to the workers that are being brought in to mop up the rust-colored goo that is washing ashore along the coast here. “We and the Coast Guard are bringing in additional resources,” he said.

BP estimates it has nearly 2,000 workers already along the coast according to David Nicholas, BP spokesman. Mr. Suttles said the company was somewhat hampered in its efforts to be aggressive by the delicate nature of the ecosystem. “We don’t want to create more harm in doing the cleanup than the oil creates on its own,” he said.
Nevertheless, he added, BP was not only bringing in more people it was working on ways to get them to more inaccessible areas of the coast. He said they were going to start using tent cities and “flo-tels,” or floating hotels, to house workers closer to hard to reach marsh lands being covered with oil.

Clifford Krauss reported from Houston and Leslie Kaufman from New Orleans. Liz Robbins contributed reporting from New York.

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