Allen: containment cap lifted, two spill workers die

06/23/10 Kate Bradshaw
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The past 24 hours have not been good for the Deepwater Horizon disaster response. In a press briefing today Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said BP has had to remove the cap on the well that was gushing as much as 2.5 million gallons into the Gulf each day. Allen said an underwater robot bumped into the cap causing a hydrate leak into the pipe that brings warm water to prevent freezing.

"Well we had an incident earlier today where they noticed that there was some kind of a gas rising through the vents that carries the warm water down, that prohibits hydrates from forming. Out of abundance of caution, the Discover Enterprise removed the containment cap with the riser cap, and moved away so they could asses the condition. They've indicated that the problem was a remotely operative vehicle that has been around the lower marine riser packets had bumped into one of those vents, allowing the excess well to come out. They actually closed it, thereby creating pressure in it, and the back flow potentially up the water vent. They are checking the containment cap right now. If there are no hydrates in the containment cap, they will attempt to reinstall the containment cap and begin reproducing later on today."

BP said it had collected a record 700 thousand gallons of oil the previous day, and torched another 438 thousand. While streaming video shows oil gushing into the sea uncontrollably, Allen said not all of it is making it out into the Gulf.

"No, it's not unrestricted, because we're still producing, or flaring off ten thousand barrels a day from the Q4 Thousand. We have two different vessels that are producing out there, the Q4 Thousand and the Discover Enterprise. The Discover Enterprise has terminated it's operations while they check and see if there are any hydrates they can reattach. So there is more coming out than there would have been, but it's not a totally unconstrained discharge."

The admiral said that regardless of whether the cap gets replaced right away a new vessel BP plans to bring on line next week is expected to help the company achieve its goal of collecting 53 thousand barrels per day.

"Well we are looking towards potentially next Tuesday, bringing in an additional production vessel online that will get us to the previously briefed 53 thousand barrel a day capacity. That's not withstanding the removal of the containment cap today for the issue that I just talked about."

Allen also said that two oil spill cleanup workers have reportedly died in the past day.

"One was an accident regarding a swimming pool, a swimming event, and the other one was a Vessel of Opportunity operator in Gulf Shores, Mississippi. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families. We know this is a devastating thing to happen, and we understand that the Gulf Shores Police Department is following up on the death of the Vessel of Opportunity operator."

The admiral didn’t have much other information except that officials don’t think the deaths had anything to do with the cleanup.

"It does appear at this time that they're work related; that doesn't mean we don't feel very, very badly about it. Our hearts go out to their families. But I think that they're both under investigation at this point."

Also at today’s briefing was Jordan Barab, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. He gave an overview of the OSHA’s role in the cleanup effort.

"We're on the ground monitoring health and safety conditions. We've been doing air monitoring, air sampling. We've also been on the Vessels of Opportunity again observing health and safety conditions there, and doing air sampling as well."

Barab claimed that so far, air quality at cleanup sites has not been the biggest hazard for spill workers.

"The main problem we've been seeing down there; the main concern we've had for worker health and safety has to do with heat. As you know people are working in very high heat conditions. Very often they're also working with Tyvec suits with chemical protective suits, gloves, which exacerbates the heat problem. We've had a number of incidents that we've had to deal with heat, including some hospitalizations. So we're very concerned about that in conjunction with petite problems in the long hours that people are working."

This afternoon there was more bad news for the oil cleanup effort. Severe weather conditions expected across the southeast Louisiana today halted cleanup and response efforts until the weather systems pass.

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