BP Oil Spill Clean Up

Oil & Gas IQ

Since April 20th BP has been trying to contain the thousands of gallons of oil that are spilling out of the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico, following an explosion that claimed the lives of 11 workers.

Upwardly revised estimates from the US Geological Survey suggest that before the well was capped there were 40,000 barrels a day gushing into the sea, meaning 20 million gallons had entered the Gulf of Mexico by the end of May.

The clean-up operation has already cost $1.6 billion (£1.08 billion), a figure that is set to rise as oil recovery efforts continue to deal with the slick on the surface and BP faces the aftermath.

The consequences could also include a major impact on United States policy about oil production, according to President Barrack Obama.

In an interview with the US website Politco, Obama said: "In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come."

Surface Operations for Oil Recovery

BP has taken a two-pronged approach throughout the oil recovery operation; preventing the spread of the oil on the surface and stemming the flow from the well itself.

In terms of the former, a wide range of containment measures have been employed to try and prevent the oil from reaching the coastline of states such as Alabama and Florida, creating further costs for BP.

The operations to skim oil from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico have so far recovered 475,000 barrels (19.9 million gallons) of oily water.

In addition to this, booms have been deployed off large stretches of coastline. BP said in its most recent update (June 14th) that there is over 470 miles of containment boom and almost 600 miles of sorbont boom in the Gulf.

The company also has pledged to provide $360 million for the purchase of six berms for the Louisiana barrier islands project, which will be delivered in stages, with the first $60 million being donated in June.

Underwater Response

Steps are also being taken to contain the spill at its source, 5,000 ft beneath the Gulf of Mexico.

Initially BP had planned to place a dome over the top of the oil productionwell, however this failed. Following this BP implemented the high-profile operation top kill, where mud and debris was used in an attempt to block the well, which was also unsuccessful.

The company is now working on the lower marine riser package (LMRP), which it claimed on June 14th had collected 127,000 barrels to date. Installed on June 3rd, the LMRP involves placing a containment cap over the spill, which collects oil from the MC252 well and transports it to the Discoverer Enterprise drillship on the surface.

Planned additions to the current LMRP include a riser to take oil and gas from the failed blow-out preventer and a more permanent containment system using floating risers, which is due to be operation in late June or early July.

Drilling is also continuing on the two relief wells which were started in May.


BP has faced some criticism over the oil recoverymethods that it has employed.

Chemical dispersants, which are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Coast Guard, have been used to break up the oil in the water and preliminary tests have shown that they are effective in reducing the levels of oil that reach the surface.

The company was first granted permission to use these on May 10th; however, Reuters reported in late May that the EPA had been in touch with BP to ask it to use alternative dispersants to those which it had previously been deploying.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was quoted by the news agency as telling a congressional hearing: "It appears that BP seems more interested in defending their initial decision (to use Corexit) than analysing possible better options."

Some critics have argued against the use of dispersants, claiming that they cause damage to marine wildlife. The company has pledged to fund a study into the effect that the Deepwater Horizon spill and subsequent clean-up operation have had on the environment.