BP engineers struggled Saturday to insert a 6-inch suction tube into a broken pipe a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in a second attempt to divert oil gushing from the well.
The delicate maneuver by robotic submarines was aborted Friday night when a metal frame enclosing the suction tube shifted, according to BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles. The frame was hoisted back to a surface ship to be adjusted.
The operation resumed Saturday, but Suttles, speaking to reporters at a command post in Robert, La., cautioned that working 5,000 feet below the surface is “a challenge.”
If successful, the tube insertion could capture at most three-quarters of the leaking oil. BP would still have to cap a second leak.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has been wrestling with charges that his agency has been too cozy with the oil industry, flew over threatened wildlife refuges on the Louisiana coast and said at a news conference: “We feel the pain. We are frustrated.”
He noted that Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who traveled to Houston last week with a group of scientists, is leading “the smartest people on the planet” to help with BP’s effort to stem the flow of oil after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion April 20.
Mindful of concerns on Capitol Hill that the petroleum giant might seek to avoid paying for all damages related to the massive spill, the administration on Saturday released a strongly worded letter from Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to BP Chief Executive Anthony Hayward.
The letter requested “immediate public clarification of BP’s true intentions” and warned that the London-based company should not seek to dip into a federal oil spill trust fund established through industry taxes.
Based on BP’s assurances before congressional committees last week, the two Cabinet officials wrote that they understood BP would not invoke a $75 million statutory liability cap to refuse to pay full compensation for the spill. “And BP will not seek reimbursement from the American taxpayers, the United States government or the Oil Spill Liability Trust fund for any amount,” they wrote.
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