US

New BP plan to cap oil spill amid controversy

Reuters
2 min

BP engineers planned Thursday to move a new, smaller dome over a ruptured well leaking crude oil from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The plan comes amidst investigations and allegations of mismanaged safety tests and oil industry secrecy.

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The new plan follows problems with a 1.6-tonne dome which BP lowered over the main leak on Friday. The company hoped it would function as a funnel to divert the leaking oil up to a tanker on the surface. But by Sunday the dome had become clogged with ice crystals and could not contain the leak.

Officials hope the smaller structure, which allows warm water and methanol to circulate inside, will not develop the icy crystals.

BP began drilling a relief well on 2 May that could divert the flow until the well is permanently sealed. But even this well may not be ready until August, leaving engineers searching for alternatives.

US President Barack Obama requested at least 129 million dollars (102 million euros) from Congress in emergency funding, and sent top experts to aid BP, including Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu.

"Progress is being made," Chu said. But, he added, the stiuation is not yet under control.

Investigators are still determining causes of the 20 April explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig that killed 11 workers and sent an estimated 800,000 litres of crude oil leaking from a ruptured well, threatening the region's fragile ecosystem.

But plenty of controversies have recently come to light:

  • Congressional hearings pressed BP about flaws in a key safety valve, known as a blowout preventer, meant to stop sudden and dangerous rushes of oil and gas.
  • The Huffington Post reports the government engineer who gave BP approval to drill admitted he never asked for proof the blowout preventer worked properly.
  • Mike Mason, a former oil rig worker, said he observed cheating in tests of blowout preventers at least 100 times on rigs in Alaska over the course of 18 years, including many owned by BP.
  • Under pressure from media and government officials, BP released a photo and video showing the main oil leak from the on Tuesday. A joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity found oil companies lobbied to contain such information in the case of large-scale accidents.

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