BP oil spill: Cleanup battle rages on in waters of Gulf of Mexico

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• Underwater robots attempt to thread siphoning tube into pipe to contain leak

May 14, 2010 -- In the ongoing fight to contain the oil gushing from the broken well pipe in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers early this morning used undersea robots to begin threading a 6-inch tube into the 21-inch broken riser pipe. The goal is to siphon oil up to tanker at the surface. Crews will continue to work on the siphoning tube throughout the day and expect to have results by this evening.

Meanwhile, preparations for deployment of the 'top hat' containment dome are still underway. The unit was lowered to the sea floor this week and will be positioned over the riser pipe by undersea robots. It is expected to be operational this weekend.

This will be the second attempt to cap the pipe. The first and larger containment box was unsuccessful, becoming clogged with slushy hydrates formed in the icy water 5,000 feet down.

Scientists and environmentalists have begun to seriously question the 5,000-barrels-per-day figure that has been quoted by BP, government agencies, and the media since the early days of the disaster. With the release of raw, underwater video yesterday showing oil and gas erupting from the broken pipe, some experts believe the actual amount could be four or five times that number. Analysis released by NPR puts the figure at closer to 70,000 barrels per day. The New York Times cited calculations from a UC Berkeley professor who estimated the flow between 20,000 and 100,000 barrels per day.

Yesterday, the Coast Guard issued a statement saying that the oil is not an imminent threat to Alabama, Louisiana and Florida shorelines. The agency points to favorable weather conditions as well as response efforts, including oil skimming, absorbent booms, containment booms, and application of dispersants.

The Associated Press cited information from Hans Graber, director of the University of Miami's Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing, that the spill is now about 3,650 square miles, or the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

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