GULF OF MEXICO — BP reported some oil was flowing up a pipe today from a cap it wrestled onto its broken Gulf of Mexico well but crude still spewed and it was unclear how much could be captured in the latest bid to tame the nation’s worst oil spill.
President Barack Obama was set to visit the Louisiana coast today, his second trip in a week and the third since the disaster unfolded following an April 20 oil rig explosion.
The government’s point man for the crisis, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said the cap’s installation atop a severed pipe late yesterday was a positive development, but it was too early to tell if it will work. The funnel-like lid is designed to channel oil for pumping to a surface tanker.
“Even if successful, this is only a temporary and partial fix and we must continue our aggressive response operations at the source, on the surface and along the Gulf’s precious coastline,” Allen said in a statement.
BP’s COO Doug Suttles said it would be later in the day before they know how much is being captured.
“There is flow coming up the pipe. Just now, I don’t know the exact rate,” Suttles said on NBC television.
Robots a mile (1,500 meters) beneath the Gulf positioned the lid over the main pipe on the leaking well last night. Live video footage, though, showed that the oil seemed unimpeded.
To put the cap in place, BP had to slice off the pipe with giant shears after a diamond-edged saw became stuck.
Suttles said some of the oil still pouring out came from vents deliberately placed to keep icelike crystals from forming that could block the funnel. BP will try to close those four vents in succession and reduce the spill, he said.
If the idea fails — like every other attempt to control the six-week-old leak — the best chance is probably a relief well, which is at least two months away. The well has spit out between 21 million gallons and 46 million gallons of oil since a rig exploded on April 20 about 50 miles from the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers. BP was leasing the rig and is responsible to fix and clean up the spill.