The Wonk Room has completed its live blogging from the Gulf Coast.
Efforts to contain the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher with a 100-ton, four-story concrete-and-steel box have failed, BP officials announced. The giant box, known as a cofferdam, was lowered onto the leaking wellhead yesterday, with the intent of pumping the leaking oil up a pipe to the sea surface a mile above. However, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles announced in a press briefing this afternoon that the dome effort failed. After the cofferdam was lowered onto the leak site, a slurry of methane crystals formed on the inside of the dome’s surface, making it bouyant and clogging the outtake at the dome’s roof.
The giant box has been moved 200 meters from the disaster site, and is sitting on the sea bed. BP had anticipated that methane hydrates could form within the pipework from the dome to the surface, but not within the dome itself, especially at such a rapid rate.
Suttles, clearly chastened by this setback, had a much less confident tone about containing the leak than he had at previous press conferences, such as the one attended on Tuesday by the Wonk Room when he announced the cofferdam was being shipped out to the disaster site. “It’s very difficult to say whether solutions will work,” he admitted.
The methane hydrates — natural gas that under the extreme pressure and low temperatures of the ocean floor is in a semi-frozen state — have also been implicated in the oil rig explosion, according to rig worker testimony acquired by the Associated Press. The liberal blog FireDogLake was the first media source to discuss the role of hydrates, noting a presentation from November, 2009 by Halliburton, who was responsible for cementing the Deepwater Horizon well, that warned of blowouts caused by hydrate destabilization:
Destabilization of hydrates during cementing and production in deepwater environments is a challenge to the safety and economics.
Suttles also admitted that David Rainey, BP’s VP for Gulf of Mexico exploration, was on the rig celebrating its safety record when it blew up. Although 11 workers were killed, Rainey and the other BP employees on the rig safely escaped the inferno.
Also during the briefing, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry was unusually optimistic about the preparations being made for the oil that is just now reaching the shores of Louisiana, but looms closer to the entire Gulf Coast as each day passes: “We’re ready for it.”
Tar balls are washing up on Alabama’s Dauphin Island.
When asked whether the dome effort had “failed,” the BP official said, “I wouldn’t say it has failed, yet, . . . but it hasn’t worked.”