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BP attempts ‘riser insertion,' but fails to contain oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

By Joel Achenbach and Juliet Eilperin
Sunday, May 16, 2010; A06

An attempt to use a mile-long tube to capture most of the oil gushing from a well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico failed on the first try, but technicians were working Saturday night to put the pipe in place, BP officials said.

The "riser insertion" tactic, which gained support from BP engineers only in recent days, is akin to inserting one straw into another straw. The goal is to contain the oil in the main riser pipe before it reaches open water, where natural gas quickly combines with the water to form slushy methane hydrates that have complicated previous attempts to contain the leak.

But the effort ran into mechanical trouble on the first stab, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said. Giving few details, he said there was a problem connecting a 5,000-foot string of pipe to the "tool" being inserted into the damaged pipe. The tool was retrieved by a surface ship and an adjustment was made, Suttles said.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that another BP oil rig, the Atlantis, has operated in the gulf with incomplete and inaccurate engineering documents, a deficiency that prompted one BP official to warn could "lead to catastrophic operator error."

The allegations, made by a whistleblower, were "substantiated" in a report by an independent firm hired by BP.

Also Saturday, BP resumed the spraying at depth of chemical dispersants, which break the oil into smaller pieces.

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