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Horizon crew tried to activate BOP

A "SWAT team" of US minerals Management Services (MMS) inspectors are checking blowout preventers (BOP) across the Gulf today following reports that the crew of the Deepwater Horizon unsuccessfully tried to activate the BOP before evacuating.

BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said interviews with Transocean workers on the rig revealed crewmembers tried to activate the BOP from the rig's bridge before the fire forced them to evacuate, but the BOP did not close off the well.

Suttles also revealed that BP remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) had hit "subsea access points" that should close the BOP, but that they also failed to trigger the mechanism to shut.

"We don't know why the BOP failed to stop the flow," he said. "Ultimately we will recover the BOP, get it to the surface and find out."

"I'm sure Transocean, who actually owned blowout preventer, will be interested to find out why it didn't work," Suttles said.

An MMS official estimated that the SWAT teams would have all the Gulf's offshore drilling units inspected in the next seven days.

After that, the regulator would turn its attention to production platforms at the order of US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

"We expect industry to be fully compliant with the law," MMS field boss Mike Saucier said at a press conference.

Saucier said the entire MMS inspection staff has been mobilised for the effort.

Policy threats

Meanwhile, the Macondo spill could lead to a temporary ban on offshore drilling, a White House official said today.

When asked if the federal government would consider a pause in offshore drilling, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes replied "Everything is on the table."

Hayes added that he believes the fundamental practices of offshore drilling are safe, but the administration was not limiting its possible policy response to the spill in any way.

Offshore industry bosses have been invited to the White House for a meeting later today to discuss this incident and safety procedures in the Gulf, Gibbs said.

The list of those invited includes BP and Macondo partner Anadarko, US supermajor ExxonMobil, Italian giant Eni and services giant Halliburton, who is understood to have had the cement contract on the Deepwater Horizon.

"When it comes to the safety of offshore personnel and protecting the environment, we want answers as much as anyone and will strive to fully cooperate during this response process," an Anadarko representative told Upstream, adding that Anadarko operations chief Al Walker would attend the meeting.

Congress was briefed on the incident last night.

After the briefing, Representative Henry Waxman called BP's response inadequate, a comment Gibbs declined to address.

Five times larger

Last night the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revised its estimate for the amount of oil leaking from the well to 5000 barrels per day, up from initial estimates of 1000 bpd.

At first both BP and the Coast Guard resisted the revision, but it has since become accepted that the leak is five times larger than first thought.

Suttles later accepted the updated estimate but stressed that any estimates have wide margins of uncertainty.

“What we can actually measure is what we see on the surface,” he said, explaining that there was no way to measure the actual outflow from the well underwater.

Concurrently, the UK supermajor said there is a second breach in the marine riser just above the well's BOP, which means oil is leaking from three sites on the riser.

The additional leak is not a sign that the integrity of the rise is deteriorating and does not foretell an increase in output from the well, Suttles said.

“We don’t think it represents any difference in the sense of the pressure or flow rate,” he said.

Attempts to shut off the flow through the BOP with an ROV have not been successful, Suttles said, but those efforts will continue with six different ROVs working simultaneously.

BP spokesman Daren Beaudo confirmed earlier that the company had contracted three ROV support vessels, each carrying a pair of ROVs; Ocean Intervention III from Oceaneering, Boa Sub C which is on long-term charter to Aker Marine Contractors and Skandi Neptune from Subsea 7.

Bracing for Impact

BP has welcomed an offer of assistance from the US Defence Department to help contain the massive slick, which now threatens the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

The US Navy is reportedly sending additional skimmers and boom to the Gulf Coast.

BP has asked the Defense Department if it had access to better aerial imaging to monitor the spill or better ROV technology.

The slick was within three miles of the Louisiana coast this morning and could hit the Mississippi River delta area later tonight, a NOAA official said today.

The number of vessels working on the spill now has swelled to 76.

Skimmers have so far gathered about 18,000 barrels of oily water, Suttles said, but noted that those operations will likely be forced to stop soon due to bad weather.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency as the spill is projected to hit his state's southern coastline late tomorrow.

A group of Louisiana shrimpers and fishermen have already filed a pair of lawsuits over the spill, which claim BP, Transocean and Halliburton are responsible for damaging the $2.6 billion Louisiana seafood industry.

Fighting the slick

Meanwhile, BP completed the first controlled burn of a small portion of the oil slick heading toward the Mississippi River delta yesterday.

The burn, which consumed about 100 barrels of oil, started at 4:45pm. “The technique clearly worked,” Suttles said.

In the future, Suttles said he thinks that crews could increase the size of the burns to between 500 barrels and 1000 barrels at a time.

Burns require calm seas, however, and right now no further burns are scheduled because of rough weather moving into the Gulf, Suttles said.

Suttles said he was excited about the possibility of piping dispersant under the water to try to break up the oil before it hits the surface.

The new technique has not been tried in the past in the Gulf but Suttles said experts that BP has consulted believe it might be more effective than aerial spraying.

BP has a reel of coiled tubing and dispersants ready to deploy and is waiting government approval.

Suttles hopes to have the system deployed by tonight.

BP has called in experts from rivals ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and Anadarko to the BP command center in Houston to consult on techniques to both close the well and address the spill.

BP is spending more than $6 million per day to contain the spill, which started after an explosion on the Transocean semi-submersible rig Deepwater Horizon last Tuesday.

As the operator of Mississippi Canyon Block 252, BP will pay for the clean-up costs.

Relief well plans

Transocean’s semi-submersible rig Development Driller III was scheduled to spud a relief well tomorrow but Suttles said today it would spud within 48 hours.

Development Driller III was already under contract to BP in Mississippi Canyon Block 778, where it was working on the Thunder Horse South development, according to MMS information.

The well will be spud about half a mile from the Macondo well, in Mississippi Canyon Block 252, and will attempt to intercept the wellbore close to its total depth of 18,000 feet.

Once that is accomplished, heavy fluids will be pumped downhole, followed by cement, to kill the well.

The MMS has already approved the permits submitted for drilling the relief well and is considering permits for a second relief well, Saucier said.

BP has said the well would take two to three months to drill and is expected to cost about $100 million.

Capturing the oil

Meanwhile, the UK supermajor is fabricating components to connect a subsea oil recovery system to Transocean’s drillship Discoverer Enterprise in order to collect oil leaking from Macondo and store it within the rig’s storage tanks.

One structure was already completed at the Wild Well Control yard in Port Fourchon, Louisiana and crews are working on two more, Suttles said today.

Work continues as well on the equipment needed to connect the structure to the Discoverer Enterprise.

The Discoverer Enterprise is capable of receiving 20,000 barrels per day and can store over 125,000 barrels within its hull, Suttles said.

The oil will then be offloaded using the 300,000 barrel Overseas Cascade shuttle tanker, which was recently converted for Brazilian operator Petrobras.

BP expects to deploy this recovery system within two to four weeks. The same system has been used in shallow water, but never in the deep-water Gulf.

“The issue is to make certain it can withstand the pressure of the much deeper water at the side and to be able to sort out the various topsides processing issues,” BP chief financial officer Byron Grote said in an analysts call earlier this week.

11 presumed dead

The Macondo well - a discovery well which was to be temporarily abandoned ahead of later completion as a subsea producer - blew out late last Tuesday evening.

The well had been drilled to 18,000 feet when an explosion rocked the semi-sub before the rig was engulfed in flames. The semisub sank on Thursday morning, extinguishing the blaze.

A senior Transocean executive, Adrian Rose, said the company had not begun to determine if the rig, which was found in 5000 feet of water Saturday, could be salvaged.

Transocean has said the rig was insured for up to $560 million.

The initial cause of the accident is still unknown, although Rose earlier indicated it seems likely the well blew out.

“We don’t know what caused the accident,” he said. When asked if the incident involved a blowout, he replied: "Basically, yes."

Eleven of the 126 crew on board the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the explosion are missing, presumed dead.

Drilling giant Transocean has confirmed nine of its employees are among the missing. Two worked for services outfit Smith International and Schlumberger's M-I Swaco joint venture.

BP holds 65% of the Macondo prospect and operated the well.

US independent Anadarko holds a 25% working interest and Japan's Mitsui holds the remaining 10%.

Coast Guard maps showing the extent of the spill and the location of the Deepwater Horizon, as well as an isometric view of the spill, are available in the related media section to the left of this article.

Tony Hayward speaks to CNN:

The Coast Guard provided this video of efforts by an ROV to trigger the BOP:

RoughneckCity.comhas put together a slideshow of images from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. To watch, click here.