A potential turning point in the Gulf

A POTENTIAL TURNING POINT IN THE GULF…. We’ve reached a point that no doubt seems familiar — as oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, a new effort is poised to get underway to cap the wellhead and curtail the spill. Previous plans have fallen short, and in some cases, failed altogether.

That said, the new effort, already underway this weekend, comes with high expectations and the prospect of a breakthrough.

The first steps got underway yesterday afternoon, when the containment cap that’s helped capture about half of the gushing oil was removed. The next step is the tricky one, but it offers great promise.

[I]f all goes well, said BP senior vice president Kent Wells, additional ships and a sturdier cap with a tighter seal will be in place in four to seven days. The new system would capture most or even all of the oil leaking from the damaged BP well. Ships would also be able to disconnect from the new system faster in the event of a hurricane and reconnect faster afterward. […]

Although the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico abruptly increased [yesterday], a new ship on the scene, the Helix Producer I, is being hooked up to lines that should enable it to capture 25,000 barrels a day of oil — more than offsetting the capacity lost by the removal of the old cap.

The Helix owners said the ship was connected overnight Friday to a free-standing riser pipe and should be ready to start sucking up oil and gas by Sunday afternoon…. With the extra collection capacity, BP would no longer need to burn oil channeled to the surface.

The massive, new containment mechanism is called the “total sealing cap” and would be installed in pieces over the next several days. If the cap fails, the back-up plan is to install an improved version of the old cap, which is standing by, just in case.

Indeed, while BP’s original engineering plan was deemed inadequate for lack of contingencies, the Obama administration mandated backup plans for the backup plans.

If it works, the new effort — total sealing cap working in conjunction with the Helix Producer I — the has the capacity to collect 80,000 barrels a day, which is more than triple the best day we’ve collected lately. If fully functional, it may even collect all of the gushing oil.

And what of the temporary increase in oil spilling into the Gulf? “To cope with the oil that leaks into the gulf during the cap-swapping procedure, BP has positioned more than 40 large or midsize skimmers near the well site and has 14 teams ready to conduct controlled burns.”

In the meantime, one of the two relief wells is closing in on its target, and is now an estimated 70 feet from its goal.