Special Reports

Effort to sever leaking pipe may increase oil flow, officials say

NEW ORLEANS — BP’s effort to sever a leaking pipe from its well in the Gulf of Mexico could increase flow by 20 percent, and the oil giant has no immediate remedy to stop up the well until August, Obama administration and company officials said Sunday.

The risky maneuver, part of an attempt to place a new cap on the increased gusher and divert the oil through a pipe to the surface could begin today or Tuesday, with a delicate effort to cut the crumbled and leaking riser pipe atop the failed blowout preventer.

Administration and BP officials Sunday sought to shift attention from last week’s failed attempt to choke the runaway well by focusing on expectations that a new cap could divert much of the spilling oil from the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf.

But behind those assurances was the frank admission that the disaster response has fallen back to containment and surface cleanup, not closure, until a relief well reaches the gushing well bore in August and enables engineers to install cement plugs.

“We’re now going to move into a situation where they’re going to attempt to control the oil that’s coming out, move it to a vessel, take it onshore,” White House energy adviser Carol Browner told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Obviously that’s not the preferred scenario. We always knew that the relief well was the permanent way to close this ... Now we move to the third option which is to contain it.”

Browner and BP managing director Bob Dudley said a tighter fit with the cap and use of warm fluids could prevent a repeat of the first containment effort, which was clogged when methane hydrates congealed inside a containment dome, blocking the flow to the surface and making the dome buoyant.

“If it’s a snug fit, then there could be very, very little oil. If they’re not able to get as snug a fit, then there could be more,” Browner said of the new cap. “We’re going to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

Dudley, in his round of appearances Sunday, expressed greater confidence in the new cap. “We feel like the percentages are better that we’ll be able to contain the oil,” he told Fox News. “The question is how much of the oil will we be able to contain and the objective is to try to collect the majority through this vessel.”

At the administration’s insistence, Browner said, BP is drilling a second relief well in case the first one fails to reach the well.