BP’s Suttles: ‘Top Kill’ Effort Fails to Stop Oil; Leak Meter Restarted

BY newsdesk  May 29, 2010 at 5:21 PM EST

Updated May 30, 9:15 am ET

In a Saturday evening press conference, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles and Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said that the “top kill” effort to stem the Gulf oil spill had failed after three days of attempts.

“We have not been able to stop the flow,” Suttles said. “We have made the decision to move on to the next option,” he said, adding that the move was made in consulation with government officials and others.

The AP has posted this video from the press confence:

About 30,000 barrels of mud were pumped into the damaged pipe as part of the “top kill” attempt.

Suttles said a new containment technique, known as the Lower Marine Riser Package, would be the next option to contain the oil spill, which has been flowing for more than a month. He said the procedure would likely take between four and seven days to complete, but could take longer.

In the new plan, BP would use robot submarines to cut off the damaged riser from which the oil is leaking, and then try to cap it with a containment valve that would funnel escaping oil to a ship on the surface. Suttles and Landry warned that some amount of oil might continue to escape the damaged pipe, because the cap wouldn’t make a complete seal.

Suttles also said that while they were confident in the plan, they could not provide a specific estimate of its chances for success, because it has never been tried before.

Meanwhile, undersea dispserants will also continue to be used to treat oil still escaping the leak.

Parallel work on relief wells, believed to be a more permanent fix to the leak, also continues, Suttles said. That work will last until at least August.

President Obama issued a statement on the decision to end the “top kill” option late Saturday saying that while “we initially received optimistic reports about the procedure, it is now clear that it has not worked.” Several heads of government agencies plan to return to Gulf Coast in the coming week.

Posted 5:55pm ET

On Friday morning, we paused our Gulf leak oil meter based Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen’s comments that the oil flow had at least been temporarily halted.

However on Saturday, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles told reporters that the “top kill” method of pumping in heavy mud and eventually concrete hadn’t stopped the oil leak and that company was considering other techniques to cap the leaking well on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

“I don’t think the amount of oil coming out has changed,” Suttles said at a news conference at Fourchon Beach, La. “Just by watching it, we don’t believe it’s changed.”

The top kill effort began Wednesday, and “to date it hasn’t yet stopped the flow,” Suttles said. “What I don’t know is whether it ultimately will or not.”

Suttles said “that it was too soon to tell whether the procedure was working, adding it was a process of stopping and starting and reevaluating.”

Given Suttles’ comments, we are restarting both of our original Gulf leak oil meters (with and without video), which calculate how much oil may be spilling underwater based on a range of estimates from officials and scientists.

View original ticker. Last updated 6 p.m. ET on May 29.

Since Suttles said the top kill hasn’t stopped the flow, we decided to restart the ticker from the moment we paused it at 8 a.m. on Friday. Since information is not available on how much oil has or has not flowed from the broken oil pipe since the start of the “top kill” procedure, the ticker will continue to provide the broadest range of spill estimates. As soon as we receive more information from BP or government agencies on how much the flow may have been curbed, or any other details, we will continue to update our tickers, which have been embedded or linked to by many news organizations and websites.

The bottom range of the oil leakage rate remains the same as we reported Friday. Several scientists involved with setting the government’s estimate of the oil leak rate are voicing skepticism on whether those estimates are accurate, as we first reported Friday

Other media organizations, including the AP, cited scientists as saying any progress from the top kill effort had been incremental at best.

We await more data from the group of scientists commissioned by the government as well as BP on a top range of how much oil could we are watching flow out into the Gulf.

Steven Wereley, a researcher at Purdue University who is participating in the government panel to estimate the oil leakage rate, told the NewsHour Saturday that it is impossible to tell whether what is coming out of the riser is oil just by looking at the live video.

But, he says, if BP has stopped pumping mud in support of the top kill effort, then what is coming out would include at least some oil, because it would be the pressure from the oil pushing it out. “It could be mud and oil. But there would definitely be some oil.”

Stay tuned to The Rundown for more oil leak developments.

Reporting by Lea Winerman, Maureen Hoch, Dave Gustafson and Hari Sreenivasan.