BP Vault in Place to Cap US Spill

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Al-Jazeera-English

BP Vault in Place to Cap US Spill

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The oil slick has reportedly reached a chain of islands off the Louisiana coast. (Reuters)

Oil
giant BP has successfully lowered a giant concrete-and-steel box over a
ruptured well that has been spilling hundreds of thousands of tonnes of
crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

Underwater robots guided the 100-tonne contraption into place on
Friday, in an unprecedented attempt to cap most of the gushing crude
following an explosion at a deepwater drilling platform.

BP
engineers said workers needed at least 12 hours to let the containment
box settle and become stable before robots can hook up a pipe and hose
to funnel the oil up to a tanker.

The company said it does not expect the container to be fully operational until at least Sunday or Monday.

"It
appears to be going exactly as we hoped," Bill Salvin, a BP spokesman,
told The Associated Press on Friday afternoon, shortly after the
four-story device hit the seafloor.

"Still lots of challenges ahead, but this is very good progress.

"We are essentially taking a four-story building and lowering it
1,500 metres and setting it on the head of a pin," Salvin added.

While similar devices have been used in the past, they have never
been tested at such a depth, and it was not clear whether it would
function properly.

Temporary measure

It is designed as a stop-gap measure to cap the leak in one of three
places while crews continue to drill a relief well to ease the pressure
off the blown-out well at the site, but that could take up to three
months to complete.

The rest of the oil is coming from the blowout preventer at the
well, a heavy piece of machinery designed to prevent such a leak.

The lowering of the containment box - which will be able to capture
up to 85 per cent of the leaking oil - played out slowly 80 kilometres
off the coast of Louisiana.

About 400 metres away is the wreckage of the drilling rig Deepwater
Horizon, which BP was leasing when it exploded on April 20, blowing
open the well and triggering a major environmental crisis.

Eleven workers were killed in the accident at the platform, which sank two days later.

An estimated 800,000 litres of oil have been spewing daily ever
since, in the biggest oil spill in the US since the Exxon Valdez
disaster in Alaska in 1989.

So far about 11 million litres of crude have spilled to sea, sending
oil slicks toward a shoreline of marshes, shipping channels, fishing
grounds and beaches in four US states.

Washing ashore

The operation to contain the spill came as oil sheen was seen
spilling on islands off the coast of the southern US state of
Louisiana, the US coast guard said.

The move to cap the leak took on an added urgency as oil reached
several barrier islands off the Louisiana coast, many of them fragile
animal habitats.

"Teams have confirmed oil on Freemason Island," Petty Officer Connie Terrell of the US coast guard, said on Thursday.

"It is at the south end of the Chandeleur Islands. It is largely sheen with no evidence of medium or heavy oil."

Oil sheen is the shimmering thin layer of crude settled on top of water.

Several birds were spotted diving into the oily, pinkish-brown water, and dead jellyfish washed up on the uninhabited islands.

Meanwhile, a huge oil slick is floating in the Gulf, and residents
of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are anxiously waiting
for landfall.

Seas were calm on Friday, and the US Coast Guard hoped to continue
skimming oil from the ocean surface, burning it at sea and dropping
dispersants from the air to break it up.

Emergency response

John Curry, BP's spokesman, said that three emergency response teams were sent to the island, some 50km offshore, and were deploying inflatable booms to try to protect the prime marsh and wildlife area.

"This is the first confirmation of shoreline impact we have had," he said.

"We are doing everything we can to make sure a major impact doesn't happen."

The Chandeleur Islands form the easternmost point of Louisiana and
are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge - the second oldest
refuge in the US and home to countless endangered shorebirds.

Al Jazeera's Cath Turner, reporting from the Gulf of Mexico, said
that water off the Mississippi coastline was now pinkish-reddish in
colour, having been stained by oil and dispersant.

"The mostly fine weather has helped authorities contain the spill, but there's no telling how long that will last," Turner said.

She said that she had seen casualties of the oil- a bird that had been drifting in the slick for some time and was so weak that it could barely move.

"Its feathers were slippery with oil sheen ... it didn't have long to live."

 

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