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May 4th, 2010

BP Tries to Contain Massive Oil Spill After Oil Rig Explosion in Gulf of Mexico

By now, everyone knows about the Transocean Explosion and the resulting casualties.  As oil continues to gush from a broken well on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Coast workers and wildlife supporters fear for the worst.

BP, the company that President Obama deemed at fault for the explosion and subsequent spill is attempting what is being called an engineering marvel — a four-story metal container that will be lowered onto the leaking pipe to try to suck in the flowing oil.  Officials from BP plan to try out their “pollution containment chamber” this week to reduce the underwater gusher by more than 80 percent and provide the first successful effort to control the spill that began April 20 with an explosion and fire on an offshore rig.

So far, an estimated 2.6 million gallons of oil, roughly 60,000 barrels, has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, forming a slick the size of the state of Delaware.  The oil continues to gush at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, and the growing slick could come ashore at any time to destroy sensitive wetlands vital for local fishing.

The gushing well is 5,000 feet under water at the bottom of the ocean, where the immense pressure makes it impossible for humans to work.  So far, unmanned submarines called “remote operation vehicles” have been trying unsuccessfully to fix a defective “blowout preventer” — the failsafe gadget that should have prevented the leak in the first place.

BP has started drilling a relief well that eventually could allow them to close off the broken well currently leaking thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day. However, the relief well will take at least two months to complete and get up and running.

That leaves the pollution containment chamber, a 100-ton, 40-foot-tall rust brown device that workers are still putting together in Port Fourchon, Louisiana.  BP claims their chamber is the largest ever constructed.  The plan is to lower it down to the ocean floor, lock it onto the seabed and let it absorb the oil directly from the well.  These devices have been used successfully before but never in deep water.

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