Gas hydrates thwart first oil spill containment dome -- hopes turn to a second, smaller dome

By Phaedra Friend Troy

The first oil containment dome that was lowered into the Gulf of Mexico late last week has been thwarted by gas hydrates.

The 100-ton oil spill containment system was lowered into the waters Thursday night above the Macondo oil well that has been leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico for some two weeks following an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and its subsequent sinking.

Efforts to install the oil spill containment dome above the largest oil leak were unsuccessful over the weekend. The formation of gas hydrates prevented the placement of the dome above the oil leak.

The formation of gas hydrates occurs naturally on the ocean floor in ultra-deepwaters and Arctic regions. Similar in appearance to water ice, gas hydrates are a crystalline solid made up of gas molecules surrounded by water molecules.

BP reported that the first oil spill containment dome has been “parked away from the spill area” on the sea floor.

Hopes now turn to a second, smaller oil spill containment dome that is currently being developed to be installed over the main leak point. This dome is specially designed to overcome the formation of large volumes of gas hydrates.

The smaller dome will be connected to drillpipe and risers to transfer the oil-water mixture immediately surrounding the leaking well to a drillship above, which will collect and treat the oil.

This technique has never been used in 5,000 feet of water.

Furthermore, experts have been working on the blow out preventer (BOP) in a effort described by BP as “a top kill option” to stop the flow of oil from the well.

Also, the first relief well was spud on May 2. Drilling operations on this well are expected to take 3 months before it is complete.

All three measures will be employed concurrently in an effort to stem the flow of oil into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

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