WASHINGTON (CN) – BP technicians successfully cut a key riser pipe with 20-foot-long hydraulic shears, the first step in the latest effort to contain the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the damaged BP well. Adm. Thad Allen called it “a significant step forward” in stopping the leak. “The challenge now is to seat that containment cap over it,” he told reporters Thursday.
Allen, who is commanding the federal response to the worst spill in U.S. history, cautioned that oil may still leak around the cap, because the operation was done using shear cutters, which did not make a clean cut. The cap is designed to funnel oil and gas to the sea surface, where it can be processed on a drillship.
Allen said he hopes crews can start processing captured oil late Thursday. While the dome is being fitted, oil will gush out at a rate of up to 20 percent more than it did before the pipe was severed.
Allen reported that upper edge of the leaking oil is “approaching the southern areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, with some oil being found in Mississippi, and tarballs reported on Dauphin Island.”
The surest method of securing the spill, the drilling of two relief wells, may not be completed until August.
The White House announced Thursday that President Obama will return to the Gulf coast Friday, his third visit to the region since the spill began April 20.