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Giant underwater dome to tackle oil spill

A giant dome is to be built and submerged in the Gulf of Mexico to contain an oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that caught fire and sank last week.

Oil company and leaser of the rig BP confirmed to NCE that an underwater dome currently being developed by BP engineers will contain the oil spill on the sea bed and funnel it into tanks on the surface. The dome will be ready to be deployed in two to four weeks.

The dome is still in the design stage, said a BP spokesperson, who described the concept as being like a “canopy or umbrella”. The idea is to contain the oil close to the source rather than allowing it to disperse as it rises to the water and create a large slick on the surface.

“It is like an inverted funnel. A pipe comes up to the surface and you catch it where it’s most concentrated.”

BP spokesperson

“It is like an inverted funnel,” he said. “A pipe comes up to the surface and you catch it where it’s most concentrated.

“The complicated bit is pumping it to the surface and dealing with it safely.”

Once the dome is constructed, it will be suspended from a vessel on the surface and lowered into place.

The oil spill was caused when the sinking of the rig caused the 1.5km long riser pipeline – which connects the well on the sea bed to the rig on the surface – to rupture. BP’s spokesperson said there are two fractures in the riser pipe and the dome is intended to cover both openings.

A dome of this type has never been used at these depths before. A similar design was used following Hurricane Katrina, when coastal oil developments were leaking oil from depths of around 30m. The source of the current spill is at a much larger depth of around 1.5km.

It is feared that the oil spill could cause an environmental disaster if it is not contained before it reaches the Louisiana coast. BP and offshore drilling company Transocean are also using remotely operated vehicles to monitor the well, and planning and mobilizing to activate a blowout preventer valve that will seal the well.

The fire and sinking of the rig was caused by an explosion on board during normal operations.

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