BP Stops Top Kill Procedure

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tractors make a road for clean-up crews at Elmer's Island, Louisiana (John Moore/Getty Images)

BP started to implement a "top kill" procedure on Wednesday, with the hopes that it would stop thousands of barrels of oil from leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. The procedure involves pumping thousands of pounds of heavy drilling mud and cement into pipes deep underwater.

The company temporarily halted the procedure around midnight on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press, but expected to continue operations on Thursday night. BP said it wanted to carefully review progress, and that so far, the procedure was going well - but it could still take several more days before the company knows if the plan is working, according to the AP.

It's becoming more critical that BP figure out how to stop the spill. Today, scientists studying oil flow estimates found that the Deepwater Horizon has leaked between 17 and 39 million gallons of oil, making the BP spill far larger than the Exxon Valdez spill, which leaked 11 million gallons of oil.

Up until Wednesday afternoon, BP was running pressure and flow path tests to test the top kill procedure, according to the company's Web site. The energy giant decided to move forward with the procedure Wednesday afternoon. But BP couldn't say when it would know whether the procedure had stopped the leaks, according to The Wall Street Journal.

President Barack Obama said in a statement on Wednesday that there are "no guarantees" that BP's new plan will work. The procedure has never been performed a mile below the Gulf's surface. If it doesn't work, The Journal reports BP will try to remove a damaged pipe from the rig, place a containment cap on a pipe leading to the blowout preventer, and siphon the leaking oil, which is gushing at the rate of thousands of barrels a day, to a ship on the Gulf's surface.

Separately, The New York Times reports that a Congressional panel found on Wednesday that BP may have known the Deepwater Horizon well was going to blow out because gas was bubbling into the well before the explosion. The panel also found that rig workers used seawater instead of heavy mud in the well's pipes which may have increased the chance of an explosion aboard Deepwater Horizon.

Speaking on Thursday afternoon, President Obama called the spill an economic and environmental tragedy "that underscores the need to develop clean and renewable sources of energy." He stressed that BP is being held responsible for the spill, and will pay for the damage it has caused. The president said he would suspended planned drilling explorations off the coast of Alaska, as well as lease sales off the Virginia and Gulf coasts. He also promised additional regulatory measures to end the "cozy relationship" between big oil companies and federal regulators. 

UPDATE SINCE THIS STORY FIRST WAS POSTED: This story has been updated to include President Obama's remarks on the oil spill. It has also been updated to include new information on the timeline of BP's "top kill" procedure.

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