By Steven Mufson and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 5, 2010; 12:54 PM
BP said Wednesday that it has capped one of the three leaks in the pipe from the damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, but the company said that while doing so would simplify the problems on the sea floor it would not alter the rate at which crude oil is spilling into the gulf.
The leak was the one farthest from the wellhead, coming from the end of the drill pipe that had collapsed to the seabed. Using robotic submarines, technicians at the surface were able to saw off the end of the drill pipe and install a valve that shut the flow of oil, said BP spokesman Bill Salvin.
"We feel great about sealing that leak. It is absolutely a success for us, but it's not the ultimate success that we want. Our main goal is to stop the flow completely. This is a piece that gets us a little closer to that," Salvin said.
The largest and most worrisome leak remains uncapped, with oil coming from a pipe known as the riser, about 460 feet from the balky blowout preventer that sits atop the wellhead. That's the leak that will be targeted by the first containment dome that will be lowered 5,000 feet to the seabed. The other continuing leak is from a crack where the riser is kinked about five feet above the blowout preventer, Salvin said.
Coast Guard spokesman Brandon Blackwell said BP's success in stopping the leak was not expected to reduce the volume of oil flowing into the gulf. He compared it to a garden hose with more than one leak. Put your thumb over one leak, and the water will come out stronger from the others.
"The pressure is going to remain the same, just the volume is just going to be redistributed," Blackwell said.
Separately, BP announced that it has given $25 million to each of the states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida to help deal with the spill and its potential impact on sensitive areas. BP said the grants would not affect claims made against the company and were intended to supplement BP's other response spending.
"We are continuing to do all we can to stop the flow of oil from the well and also attack and capture the spilled oil offshore," BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, said in a statement. "However, it is also vital that we work together with government and potentially impacted communities to protect the shoreline from any impact of the spill. We hope these grants will support the effective deployment of pre-prepared response plans in each state."
Blackwell, speaking from the Joint Incident Command Center in Robert, La., said that calm weather in the gulf means authorities could attack the leak more aggressively than they had in days. He said they would use sub-sea dispersant chemicals, drop dispersants from the air, deploy boats to skim oil from the surface and try again to burn patches of oil.
"We've got a lot going on today," Blackwell said. "That's really because of the cooperation of the weather."
State officials in Mississippi and Louisiana, the closest states to the slick, said it had not moved very much in two days. Louisiana officials reported that surveillance flights saw "streamers" of oil entering Chandeleur Sound, which separates the state's coastal marshes from barrier islands. But the oil had not yet touched any of the islands, which are roosting grounds for huge colonies of brown pelicans.
The Coast Guard estimates that the heavy oil still remains five to 10 miles off the Louisiana coast.
In Mississippi, the head of the state's Department of Marine Resources said the oil is still likely 30 miles from his state's coastline, where officials have been putting out miles of protective "containment boom" around marshes and ecologically rich bayous.
"The last two days, it's actually moved a little bit further offshore," said department executive director Bill Walker, who said the reason was a shift in winds. "It's not really moving right now. It's just sort of sitting there. . . . But that will change."