Company officials say some oil and gas is being captured from the broken riser at the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
[Update 10:31 pm MDT: Video from Sunday's BP technical briefing below]
There appears to have been a significant breakthrough in controlling the leak from the broken riser at the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, with a device called a "riser insertion tube."
In a technical briefing on Sunday afternoon, day 24 of the response to spill, BP senior vice president Kent Wells confirmed they are now bringing "some oil and gas" to awaiting surface vessels a mile above. After an initial snag with the riser insertion tool on Saturday night, Wells said "we're making big progress with this riser insertion tool."
"In terms of containing the flow, this was a positive step forward," Wells told reporters. But he also emphasized it is not yet clear how much of the oil that was previously pouring from the broken riser pipe the new device is capturing.
After the flow has stabilized, Wells explained, BP will begin to run it into the separating equipment sometime tomorrow or the day after that. Until that time, the amount of oil being captured is "just not measurable."
"It will take a little time," said Wells, noting that the first slurry coming up the pipe to surface vessels is not pure oil and gas.
The materials, a combination of nitrogen, oil, gas and water are currently being pumped into a surge tank, a vessel used to stabilize the flow until what is coming up the pipe is a product that is easier to work with.
"We want to slowly optimize this and try and capture as much oil and gas as possible without taking in a lot of seawater." The less seawater taken in, the more efficiently the boats can process and separate the oil from the water.
Once the flow has been regulated, oil will flow into the Discover Enterprise drillship where it will be processed and oil will be separated from water and gas. The Enterprise can process 15,000 barrels of oil per day and store a total of 139,000 barrels. In addition, a support barge will be deployed with a capacity to store 137,000 barrels of oil.
In a week to ten days BP will likely turn to a "top-kill" procedure which involves pumping thousands of gallons of "kill mud" (a heavy cement mix) into a port on the blowout preventer in hopes of sealing the well permanently.
BP's Wells explained that in a top-kill they would "pump the kill mud directly into the well's choke and kill the line that connects directly into the bottom of the BOP."
"The more kill mud we get down into the well the better," he said.
BP declined to comment on some reports in the media that the oil plume and volume of oil is actually much larger than original estimates, maintaining that the 5,000 bbl/day figure was the still the operating assumption.
BP has also received permission from federal authorities to resume pumping chemical dispersants into the leaking oil underwater, a method it says has proved to be safe and effective in deterring the oil slick.