METAIRIE, La. – BP used underwater robots a mile beneath the ocean Thursday to try to put a lid on the Gulf oil gusher.
Live video showed that an inverted funnel-like cap slightly wider than a severed pipe was being maneuvered into place over the oil spewing from a busted well. However, the gushing oil made it difficult to tell if the cap was fitting well.
A rubber seal on the inside will hopefully keep oil from escaping, though engineers acknowledge some crude will still come out.
BP sliced off the main pipe on the leaking oil well with giant shears in the latest bid to curtail the worst oil spill in U.S. history, but the cut was jagged, and a looser-fitting cap will be needed.
The placement of the cap was a positive step to contain the leak, but not a solution, said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man for the disaster.
“Even if successful, this is only a temporary and partial fix and we must continue our aggressive response operations at the source, on the surface and along the Gulf’s precious coastline,” Allen said in a statement.
BP PLC turned to the giant shears after a saw became stuck in the pipe halfway through the job, yet another frustrating delay in the 6-week-old spill.
If the cap can be put on successfully, BP will siphon the oil and gas to a tanker on the surface.
“It’s an important milestone, and in some sense, it’s just the beginning,” BP CEO Tony Hayward said.
This latest attempt is risky because slicing away the section of the 20-inch-wide riser removed a kink in the pipe, and could temporarily increase the flow of oil by as much as 20 percent.
Live video footage showed oil spewing unimpeded from the top of the blowout preventer, but Allen said it was unclear whether the flow had increased.
The damage to the environment was chilling on East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast, where workers found birds coated in thick, black goo.
Between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil has spewed into the Gulf, according to government estimates.