NEW ORLEANS — Oil was spewing freely into the Gulf of Mexico as BP crews claimed progress Sunday in the first stages of replacing a leaky cap with a new containment system they hope will finally catch all the crude from the busted well.
There’s no guarantee for such a delicate operation nearly a mile below the water’s surface, officials said, and the permanent fix of plugging the well from the bottom remains slated for mid-August.
“It’s not just going to be, you put the cap on, it’s done. It’s not like putting a cap on a tube of toothpaste,” Coast Guard spokesman Capt. James McPherson said.v
Robotic submarines removed the cap Saturday that had been placed on top of the leak in early June to collect the oil and send it to surface ships for collection or burning. BP aims to have the new, tighter cap in place as early as Monday and that, as of Sunday morning, the work was going according to plan. BP hopes the capping operation will be done within three to six days.
Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said during a Sunday morning news briefing he was pleased with the progress but cautioned that unforeseen bumps could lie ahead.
“We’ve tried to work out as many of the bugs as we can. The challenge will come with something unexpected,” Wells said.
If tests show the new cap can withstand the pressure of the oil and is working, the Gulf region could get its most significant piece of good news since the April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers.
It would be only a temporary solution to the catastrophe. Hope for permanently plugging the leak lies with two relief wells, the first of which should be finished by mid-August.