BP Aims to Double Capture of Leaking Oil by Mid-July

BY Lea Winerman  June 11, 2010 at 3:05 PM EDT

A day after a the federal government doubled its estimate of the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen outlined BP’s plan to raise its capacity to capture and process more of that oil each day over the next month — from 18,000 barrels (756,000 gallons) now to 50,000 barrels (2.1 million gallons) by mid-July.

“We’re still dealing with flow estimate,” Allen said in a press briefing Friday.

The drillship Discoverer Enterprise is now collecting about 15,000 barrels (630,000 gallons) of oil per day through a pipe connected to the containment cap at the wellhead, and officials hope to increase that amount by closing more vents on the cap. But the Discoverer Enterprise’s processing capacity is only about 18,000 barrels per day.

So BP is bringing in more ships and equipment to raise the total capacity to about 50,000 barrels per day by mid-July. That will bring it in line with the government’s new oil leakage estimates of 20,000 to 50,000 barrels per day.

(Although, further complicating matters, the flow rates are uncertain and only reflect the flow before BP cut the riser pipe to install the containment cap on June 3. The rate could be even higher now.)

The Q4000 semi-submersible vessel is already at the scene — it was used in the unsuccessful top kill effort last month — and is being retrofitted to be able to burn off oil and natural gas. At peak capacity, it would be able to burn off up to 10,000 barrels (420,000) of oil per day, bringing the total capacity of keeping oil out of the Gulf up to 28,000 barrels per day, including what’s being captured. That system could start running as soon as next week.

The Coast Guard has asked BP to bring in another processing vessel by the end of June to handle up to 10,000 more barrels per day, which would bring the total daily processing capacity to about 38,000 barrels.

Meanwhile, BP is planning to replace that entire system by mid-July, with a new system that could process up to 50,000 barrels per day. The new system will also be more flexible and would be able to be disconnected to better withstand a hurricane. That system requires another ship, the Loch Rannoch, which BP is relocating from its North Sea operations.

In the press briefing, Allen suggested that knowing the higher flow estimates earlier would not have changed the overall response.

“We brought in the capacity that we had available,” he said.