BP oil company has installed a containment cap on a damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to capture leaking oil. Engineers are adjusting the tool to collect as much oil as possible from the well.
BP engineers lowered the cap overnight into place onto the broken oil well 1.5 kilometers under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. The device is fitted with a rubber gasket that engineers hope will create a seal, so crews can siphon the oil and natural gas into a surface ship.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the operation, said crews began collecting oil overnight at a rate of about 1,000 barrels a day. He said they are working to adjust the pressure in the collection tube to capture more.
"By keeping the pressure down and producing the gas and oil, there is less of a need to have the oil seek another way out through the seals," said Admiral Allen. "We're looking for an effective way to deal with the flow."
Allen said crews must find a delicate balance that allows them to collect as much as oil as possible without drawing sea water into the tube. An earlier effort to place a cap over the leaking well failed last month, when sea water clogged the flow of oil.
The latest operation follows a series of failed efforts to cap the oil leak, which started some six weeks ago when a drill rig exploded and sank. Before placing the cap, BP engineers used remote-controlled submarines to cut off a damaged pipe in the well, which experts say was likely to increase the flow of oil about 20 percent.
Admiral Thad Allen said the operation posed a risk, but one that was needed to try to capture the leaking oil.
"We are seeing a lot of oil there, but it should start to diminish as we close the valves and go into production today," he said.
President Barack Obama is visiting Louisiana Friday to meet with local officials as they struggle to combat oil along the gulf coastline. The administration has authorized the deployment of 17,500 National Guard troops from the area to help with clean-up efforts.
Louisiana has been hardest hit by the oil spill, but oil residue also has come ashore in Alabama and Mississippi. Scientists say oil sheen now is approaching the state of Florida.
Admiral Allen says resources are starting to spread thin, as the oil spill spreads further in the gulf.
"As the spill proliferates into smaller spills from south-central Louisiana to Pensacola, Florida, it is going to stress [containment] boom production capability in the country and the availability of skimmer [boats], and we are working hard to do that," said Allen.
Late Thursday, officials said strong winds drove oil into a pelican nesting ground on Queen Bess Island in Louisiana. Animal rescue teams were working to clean 60 birds that were coated in oil. Other groups have been working across the gulf to assist birds, turtles and other sea life affected by the spill.