By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 3, 2010; 7:43 PM
The "blowout preventer" from BP's Macondo well - which infamously failed to prevent this summer's spill - has begun its transition from sub-sea equipment to federal evidence.
The 450-ton device was removed Friday afternoon from the Gulf of Mexico floor and attached to a long section of pipe that will be used to haul it 5,000 feet to the surface, according to a statement from retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, the federal government's point man on the BP oil spill.
Allen said it would take 24 to 36 hours for the device to reach a rig called the Q4000. The removal of the blowout preventer had been delayed because of high waves in the gulf, which would have put extra strain on the pipe; it was carrying about 1 million pounds.
When it is brought to shore, the device will undergo the mechanical equivalent of an autopsy. Federal investigators will take the blowout preventer apart as they try to determine why it failed to shut off the well after the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig April 20.
If the device was poorly maintained - or altered in a way that made it less effective - that could contribute to a finding of "criminal negligence" against BP or one of the contractors working on the rig. The investigation could also find that improperly attached pipes shot up into the device during the blowout, jamming it open.
The BP well has not leaked oil since July 15, when remote-controlled submarines sealed shut a mechanical "cap" that had been installed on top of the blowout preventer. The well was then filled with cement from the top. Because of that, officials said, both the blowout preventer and the cap could be removed without more oil leaking.
Now, federal officials said, they plan to install a new blowout preventer. They also plan to proceed with the long-awaited "bottom kill" next week, sealing off the well thousands of feet below the sea floor.
Also Friday, the federal government reopened 3,114 square miles off the Florida panhandle to fishing, following seafood testing, officials said. Seventeen 17 percent of U.S. gulf waters remain closed, down from 37 percent during the height of the spill.
BP said it has spent $8 billion on the spill, including the costs of cleaning up the oil, capping the well and paying compensation claims. It has also set aside $20 billion for claims in an escrow account, under the supervision of Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg.
And the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement - the successor to the beleaguered Minerals Management Service - said it was launching an investigation into a fire at another offshore facility Thursday.
The fire, at Mariner Energy's Vermilion 380 production platform, caused 13 crew members to jump overboard. Federal officials did not release details Friday about the cause.
All of the crew members were rescued unhurt, and there was no significant oil spill from the damaged platform. A Coast Guard overflight Friday noted only a "light rainbow sheen" on the water, believed to be oily residue washed overboard during fire-fighting.