One of three leaks from a ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) has been sealed and a containment vessel was en route Wednesday to the spill site. Meanwhile, weather conditions are still favoring the efforts of responders.

Over the weekend responders are expected to lower the subsea oil collection system over the well site. Collection of leaking oil and its removal via drillship connected via pipe to the 100-ton collection device should begin Monday, BP plc COO Doug Suttles told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“This hasn’t been done before. It’s very complex, and it will likely have challenges on the way,” Suttles said.

The collection system will use a specially fabricated container that is 40 feet by 24 feet by 14 feet. One of the challenges responders will deal with is the potential for gas hydrates to block the flow of oil in the system. High pressures one mile below the sea surface and temperatures of about 42 degrees Fahrenheit make the potential for ice blockage significant, BP’s Robert Fryar, senior executive vice president for deepwater Angola, said. Fryer is in Houston assisting responders.

To prevent blockages, warmer water from the sea surface will be pumped below, and methanol also will be used to prevent the formation of ice blockages, Fryar said.

The second challenge of oil collection will be to balance the flow of oil with the processing system aboard the drillship Discoverer Enterprise. “I think it’s going to take us a few days just to stabilize the system,” Fryar said.

BP is the majority owner and operator of the lease where a ruptured well was still hemorrhaging an estimated 5,000 b/d, or about 210,000 gal/day, of crude 5,000 feet below the surface of the GOM on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 following a rig explosion on April 20 (see Daily GPI, May 3).

While one of the leaks has been sealed, the amount of oil leaking from the ruptured well is unchanged, Suttles said. Responders had said Tuesday that they thought the sealing of one of the leaks was imminent as they had attached a section of pipe with a valve to a portion of the well riser (see Daily GPI, May 5).

BP also is working on another tactic to stop the flow of oil called “top kill,” which would entail pumping heavy fluids into the well. A relief well also is being drilled, and remotely operated submarines are still trying to activate the blowout preventer.

As of Wednesday afternoon there were no confirmed reports of oil having reach the shore of any of the coastal states. However, two sightings of oil sheen — near Chandeleur Island, LA, and near Grand Isle, LA — were being monitored.

On Tuesday 80,000 feet of oil containment boom was deployed, bringing the total to more than 100 miles of boom deployed since the response effort began, Suttles said.

Responders have suspended the deployment of oil dispersant below the sea surface while the effectiveness and effects of the tactic are evaluated.

Controlled burns of oil on the sea surface were expected to resume as long as wind conditions allowed.

Charlie Henry, an oil spill expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said Wednesday afternoon that winds were still favorable for responder efforts.

“What we’re seeing right now is the winds right now are pretty light,” he said. “The winds are…going to start to slowly swing back around to the south…That’s going to kind of nudge the oil in a little bit more, but the winds are projected to be only 10 or 15 knots, so it’s not going to move it very far…Right now we’re just seeing kind of calm weather out there, nothing moving real fast…Nothing is changing real fast this week.”

In response to the possibility of the spill affecting the west coast of Florida, representatives from BP, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have met to plan a multi-agency response.

In meetings over the last couple days, the USCG and Florida DEP have spoken with trustees from various national and state wildlife refugee areas, along with every county emergency management office on the West Coast of Florida. The agencies also met with more than 30 members of nongovernmental environmental organizations that included environmental groups Tampa Bay Watch, Save our Seabirds, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, the Sierra Club, etc.

Predictions from NOAA indicate no impact to the western coast of Florida, from Taylor County to Collier County within the next 72 hours, responders said Wednesday morning.

“We are standing up a unified command, consisting of the U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Department of Environmental Protections and BP, to facilitate planning and identify resource requirements to ensure a robust multi-agency response,” said Capt. Tim Close, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, FL. “We are planning for the worst case but hopeful any impact will be substantially less than that, if at all.”

Response planning includes the possibility that the oil spill could reach the Florida Keys.

Meanwhile on Wednesday Moody’s Investors Service revised to “negative” from “stable” the outlook on the “Aa1” senior unsecured ratings of BP and its guaranteed subsidiaries, and the “Aa2” long-term issuer ratings of BP Corp. North America Inc. and BP Finance plc.

“Moody’s action reflects the considerable uncertainty associated with the financial liabilities and clean-up costs that BP may incur as a result of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the explosion on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon drilling rig,” the ratings agency said. “Moody’s notes the comprehensive response effort put in place by BP with the support of the U.S. authorities and in cooperation with some of its industry peers. However, it remains impossible at this stage to assess the full extent of the costs and business impact of this accident on BP’s results.”

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