ROBERT, Louisiana (AP) — BP expected a mile-long (1.6-kilometer-long) tube to start siphoning oil from its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico by Saturday night after a setback. If successful, the deepsea experiment would reduce but not end a spill that’s spewed millions of gallons of crude.
Technicians have been working since early Friday to insert the tube into an oil pipe a mile (1.6 kilometers) beneath the surface using robotic submarines. The tube is intended to suck oil up like a straw to a tanker on the surface, while a stopper surrounding it would keep crude from leaking into the sea. Even if it works, a smaller leak that has been estimated to be contributing one-fifth of the spill would remain.
On Friday night, the company pulled the insertion tube back to the surface to readjust its connection to a tanker intended to collect oil at the surface, said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer. The company was working again to insert it and expects to be pumping at least some of the oil to the surface by Saturday night.
Other efforts to fight the spill continued above and below the surface. BP also began spraying chemical dispersants Saturday beneath the sea, a contentious development because it has never been done underwater. Federal regulators had a day earlier approved the underwater use of the chemicals, which act like a detergent to break the oil into small globules and allows it to disperse more quickly into the water or air before it comes ashore.
“We didn’t cross this threshold lightly,” Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said of the dispersants. “This is a tool that will be analyzed and monitored.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who first disclosed the insertion tube setback, said at the news conference that high-level government officials were convening over the weekend to discuss the best way to end the spill.
A day earlier, President Barack Obama assailed oil drillers and his own administration Friday as he ordered extra scrutiny of drilling permits. He condemned the shifting of blame by oil executives and denounced a “cozy relationship” between the companies and the federal government.
Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey near Fort Jackson, Erica Werner, Matthew Daly and Frederic J. Frommer in Washington, Jason Dearen in New Orleans and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.