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BP Readies New Strategy for Stopping Oil Leak

May 31, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Following the failure of the 'top kill' procedure, BP prepared to attempt to slice off a piece of the leaking pipe to cap the blown-out oil well in the Gulf. Margaret Warner gives an update on the ongoing environmental crisis.
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MARGARET WARNER: Up next: the latest on the struggle to stop the oil spill in the Gulf.

Remotely operated robotic vehicles began BP’s latest attempt to cope with the gusher a mile down on the seafloor. Whirring blades sliced away at debris on the wellhead today. Once that is finished, the machines will saw through the leaking 21-inch diameter riser pipe where it meets the damaged blowout preventer.

The riser now lies mangled and bent like a straw. Once that portion is sawed off, a tight-fitting containment device will be lowered over the pipe. The lower machine riser, as it’s called, would then siphon oil to ships above. How much oil is unclear.

BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward:

TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP Group: It’s a production system that, if it’s successful, will produce the majority of the oil to the surface.

MARGARET WARNER: Estimates are, the crippled well is spewing up to 800,000 gallons of oil every day. And experts in and out of government warn, the new lower machine riser procedure could actually increase the flow 20 percent until the containment apparatus is in place.

BP turned to the new stopgap plan after its top-kill effort to plug the well with mud and cement was judged a failure over the weekend.

DOUG SUTTLES, COO, Global Exploration, BP: After three full days of attempting top kill, we have been unable to overcome the flow from the well.

MARGARET WARNER: That news left White House energy and climate adviser and former EPA chief Carol Browner to issue this sobering forecast on Sunday.

CAROL BROWNER, assistant to the president for energy and climate change: I think what the American people need to know that it is possible we will have oil leaking from this well until August, when the relief wells will be finished.

MARGARET WARNER: After 42 days, this is already the worst spill in U.S. history. Some estimates are that more than 40 million gallons have spewed into the Gulf.

Estimates vary widely on how much more oil would leak over the next two-plus months. Government scientists say huge amounts of the oil are spreading below the surface in giant plumes.

But BP’s Hayward disputed that idea on Sunday.

TONY HAYWARD: There’s no evidence of — that the — oil has a specific gravity that’s about half that of water.

MAN: Right.

TONY HAYWARD: It’s very difficult for oil to stay in the column. It wants to go to the surface…

MAN: Right. Right.

TONY HAYWARD: … because of the difference in specific gravity.

MARGARET WARNER: Either way, the prospect of no early end to the spill has many in Louisiana and elsewhere worried for their livelihoods.

KURT LEBOEUF, impacted by oil spill: We can’t make a living. In other words, there’s no money coming in right now. And you can’t catch fish. You can’t sell shrimp. And everybody’s — it’s the trickle-down effect. And it’s — it’s sad.