- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2010

UPDATED:

HAMMOND, La. (AP) — BP PLC says a mile-long tube is drawing most of the oil away from a well that has spewed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP spokesman Mark Proegler said Sunday that the contraption was hooked up successfully to a tanker at the surface as crews gained partial control of the leak for the first time. Mr. Proelger said it was sucking most of the oil from the leak.

The tube was placed carefully into the 21-inch piping at the seafloor by engineers gingerly steering deep-sea robots.

The company has spent three weeks trying to contain the leak that’s been fouling the Gulf, and the latest effort had several setbacks.

Engineers on Saturday failed to connect two pieces of equipment a mile below the water’s surface. BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said one piece of equipment, called the framework, had to be brought to the surface and adjusted to fit with the long tube that connects to a tanker above.

The framework holds a pipe and stopper, and engineers piloting submarine robots are using it to plug the massive leak and send the crude through the pipe to the surface.

“The frame shifted, so they were unable to make that connection” on Saturday, Mr. Suttles said.

Meanwhile, scientists have found huge plumes of oil lurking under the surface of the water in the Gulf of Mexico. At least 210,000 gallons of oil a day has gushed into the Gulf since an oil rig exploded April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven people were killed in the blast.

Researchers from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology said they have detected large oil plumes from just beneath the surface of the sea to more than 4,000 feet deep.

Three or four large plumes have been found, at least one that is 10 miles long and a mile wide, said Samantha Joye, a marine science professor at the University of Georgia.

Researchers Vernon Asper and Arne Dierks said in Web posts that the plumes were “perhaps due to the deep injection of dispersants which BP has stated that they are conducting.”

These researchers were also testing the effects of large amounts of subsea oil on oxygen levels in the water. The oil can deplete oxygen in the water, harming plankton and other tiny creatures that serve as food for a wide variety of sea creatures.

Oxygen levels in some areas have dropped 30 percent and should continue to drop, Ms. Joye said.

“It could take years, possibly decades, for the system to recover from an infusion of this quantity of oil and gas,” she said. “We’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s impossible to fathom the impact.”

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