* BP plans to install cap to funnel oil and gas
* Coast Guard: development "a significant step forward"
(Adds comment from CEO, detail, expert quote)
By Kristen Hays
HOUSTON, June 3 BP's (BP.L) (BP.N) underwater
robots successfully sheared off a gushing oil pipe deep under
the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday and prepared to cap the leaking
well to try to funnel oil to the surface.
"We have cleared the riser from the top of the wellhead,
and the team is working to complete the cleanup operation
before we put the cap on top of the well," BP Chief Executive
Tony Hayward said on Thursday afternoon.
Hayward did not say when the well would be capped but said
the operation's success could be gauged within 12-24 hours,
adding that BP would work to stabilize the flow of oil and gas
over the next two to three days once the well was capped.
Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen,
the top U.S. official overseeing the operation, indicated at a
news conference in Metairie, Louisiana, that BP would lower the
cap onto what is left of the pipe, called a riser, on Thursday
and "start to see if we can move gas and oil up the pipe."
BP did not respond to requests about the different
timelines. The white well cap with the number "4" displayed on
the side could be seen hanging from a pipe in the depths on
BP's live underwater camera feed on Thursday.
Allen announced the pipe had been sheared from a lower
marine riser package atop a failed blowout preventer. He called
it "a significant step forward" in BP's so-far unsuccessful
attempts to plug or contain the six-week-old leak that has
gushed up to 19,000 barrels of oil a day into the basin.
BP turned to huge shears to cut through the pipe as well as
a smaller drillpipe inside to make way for a containment cap
Earlier efforts to use a diamond saw to shear off the pipe
with a clean cut failed, possibly because the drillpipe inside
the riser put up too much resistance, Allen said.
BP's next move is to lower the cap on the jagged remnants
of the pipe in hopes that the seal will contain most of the
leaking oil and gas, Allen said. The cap will be placed over
the leak to funnel oil and gas to a tanker vessel on the
Because BP had to abandon efforts to slice through the pipe
with the diamond-tipped saw, the ensuing cut is more jagged and
irregular than initially planned, which means that BP will not
be able to contain as much oil as it had earlier hoped.
The jagged pipe remnant also juts from the lower marine
riser package, or LMRP, at a 10-degree angle, adding to the
challenge, he said.
"This is an irregular cut," Allen said. "It will be a
little bit more challenging to get the seal around."
BP's underwater strategy has turned to containment after
its "top kill" plan to plug the well failed on Saturday. Oil is
expected to flow from the ruptured well until BP completes a
pair of relief wells, expected to be finished in August.
"They are slightly ahead of schedule right now, but we are
not willing to declare victory" until one or both plug the
leak, Allen said.
Tyler Priest, director of global studies at the University
of Houston's Bauer College of Business and an expert in
offshore oil and gas operations, said the containment cap plan
is a stopgap until BP gets the relief wells drilled, which are
a proven method of intercepting and plugging other wells.
"A lot of these efforts have an element of desperation to
them, motivated by the need to show they are trying to do
something," Priest said. "They are sort of buying time and
reducing the flow until the relief wells get down there" to
stop the leak.
(Reporting by Kristen Hays, editing by Paul Simao)