BP cap trapping substantial amounts of oil, gas

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
By David A. Fahrenthold and Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Forty-nine days later, the Gulf of Mexico got a bit of good news.

On Monday, U.S. officials said that a "cap" installed over a leaking oil pipe was capturing more than 460,000 gallons (11,000 barrels) of oil a day. Instead of spilling into the gulf, the oil was funneled up through the pipe to a ship on the surface.

The spill isn't over: Large amounts of oil -- nobody knows how much -- are still billowing out of vents in the cap. But for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, humans seemed to be partly in control of the leaking BP well, instead of the other way around.

"We only define success as when we actually get the oil plugged . . . and we return people's lives back to normal," said Kent Wells, a senior vice president at BP. "But this is an encouraging step. It's progressing along well."

On the same day, there were signs of how much trouble remains -- for the Gulf Coast, for the White House and for the oil industry.

A Coast Guard official said that the BP spill has broken up into something the government had not trained for: numerous tiny spills, which are still outflanking cleanup crews across hundreds of miles of coastline. And President Obama said the government would "ride herd" on BP to make sure it pays claims for lost income filed by Gulf Coast residents.

"This will be contained," Obama said. "It may take some time, and it's going to take a whole lot of effort. There's going to be damage done to the Gulf Coast, and there's going to be economic damages we're going to make sure BP is responsible for and compensates people for."

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly see the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a major environmental disaster and that most want the federal government to pursue criminal charges against BP and its drilling partners.

But the government itself is also in the line of fire, with more Americans giving lower marks to the federal response to the disaster than did so in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina.

Overall, 69 percent of those polled say the government has done a "not so good" or "poor" job handling the spill. And 81 percent give low marks to BP for its response.

On Monday, however, U.S. and BP officials offered the clearest evidence yet that the five-foot-tall steel cap is working. The device, put in place Thursday night, acts like an upside-down funnel, carrying a high-pressure mix of oil, natural gas and seawater up to a ship on the surface.

At the ship, the mixture is separated: The gas is burned off, the water is cleaned and the oil is put into storage tanks. The oil will later be taken to shore and probably sent to a refinery.

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