With its “top hat” oil collection chamber waiting on the sea floor as a standby measure, BP plc on Friday was about to attempt a more promising tactic to siphon some of the oil leaking from its ruptured well 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM).

Friday night the company was planning to use a “riser insertion tool” — a piece of pipe fitted with a rubber sealing device — to reach as far as possible into the well riser and capture leaking oil before it mixes with seawater. A previous attempt to collect oil in a 100-ton, four-story containment dome failed a week earlier when oil and gas mixed with the cold seawater under high pressure and formed natural gas hydrates, which clogged the device (see Daily GPI, May 11; May 10).

BP COO Doug Suttles told reporters on Friday that the insertion tool is a new idea and currently the best bet for minimizing the flow of oil into the GOM, although it is not a fix for the leak itself.

Asked whether it will work Suttles said, “It’s very, very difficult to predict that. Clearly what we believe is it will work. If we didn’t believe it will work we wouldn’t attempt it. Over the next day or two we’ll know if it works.”

Meanwhile it has been widely reported that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate that the leak is spewing 5,000 b/d could be way off the mark. Scientists examining video provided by BP of the leak have calculated that the flow could be as much as about 70,000 b/d.

BP has disputed this, and U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, the federal coordinator of the spill response, when asked about the higher estimates on Friday said whether the flow is 1,000, 5,000 or 15,000 b/d, the mobilization of resources since the accident has always been to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

Lars Herbst, Minerals Management Service regional director for the GOM, told reporters Friday that there would be a new assessment of the flow “here shortly within a day or so.”

Suttles said BP has spent $450 million so far to combat the disaster, which began April 20 when an apparent well blowout caused a fire aboard and the sinking of Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Eleven lives were lost in the accident. BP is the majority owner and the operator of the well in Mississippi Canyon Block 252. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has a minority stake.

The catastrophe has garnered the scrutiny of Congress (see Daily GPI, May 12) as well as regulators in Canada, who are looking for lessons that might be applied to their own offshore operations (see Daily GPI, May 14).

Should the insertion tool not work to capture some of the leaking oil, BP will attempt to collect it in the top hat, which is a much smaller version of the containment dome that failed earlier due to gas hydrate clogging. It is thought the smaller volume of the top hat, plus the addition of pumped-in methanol, will combat hydrate formation. “The issue we’re trying to fight is this hydrate formation,” Suttles said. “The riser insertion tool is the best option to combat that first.”

Meanwhile, relatively little of the giant and growing spill has reached the shores of Gulf Coast states. Responders in Florida were bracing for the worst but said on Friday that nothing was expected to hit land for at least 72 hours. Tar balls have been gathered along the Louisiana coast, though.

Responders have deployed 1.2 million feet of boom to contain the spill, Suttles said Friday, and the goal is to have 3.5 million feet available and deployed as needed. He said the weather was cooperating with containment efforts and was expected to allow for skimming of oil from the sea surface, controlled burns and dispersant deployment over the coming days.

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