BP Plc is ahead of schedule on drilling a pair of relief wells to eventually stop its gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, but the top U.S. official overseeing the spill response said on Thursday the company still expects to finish them in August.
Meanwhile BP said that its dual oil-handling system collected 14,750 barrels of oil and burned off another 3,850 barrels on Wednesday.
Both systems should ramp up to a total oil-handling capacity of 28,000 barrels per day early next week, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told reporters.
BP will continue adding and changing systems to further boost oil-handling capacity to 53,000 barrels a day by the end of June and then 80,000 barrels a day by mid-July, Allen said.
"We've already increased production significantly," Allen said.
BP has consistently said the relief wells should be finished by August, or about three months after drilling began -- May 2 for the first, May 16 for the second.
Allen said those wells are "very close" to intercepting the blown-out well far beneath the seabed so heavy drilling fluid, or "mud," and then cement can be pumped in to stop the flow and plug the leak.
"In the next three to four weeks, they will close in and be able to tap into the well itself," he said.
But he stopped short of offering assurances that the well could be plugged before August.
"They're actually ahead of schedule right now but I'm not going to guarantee it will be early. ... We should be very wary about deadlines. Right now they are ahead of schedule," Allen said.
Allen did not specify how long it would take to plug the well with fluids and cement once it is intercepted.
"What it will take is the amount of time to fill the entire wellbore with mud," he said.
Crude continues to leak
This week a team of U.S. scientists increased its estimate of the leak's flow from 35,000 barrels a day to 60,000 barrels a day. The leak has been gushing for two months.
The dual systems follow a string of unsuccessful efforts to stop or slow the leak since it was discovered shortly after Transocean Ltd's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in April, killing 11 workers.
The first system channels oil from a containment cap atop failed blowout preventer equipment at the seabed to a drillship a mile (1.6 km) above at the water's surface. That system has collected a total of 175,150 barrels since it was installed June 3, according to BP figures.
A live video feed of the cap on BP's website shows an undetermined amount of crude continues to gush out from under the cap and out three open vents on top.
The second system is re-using seabed equipment BP installed in May for its failed "top kill" effort to smother and plug the well, BP said. Instead of pumping heavy drilling fluids into the well through hoses connected to the blowout preventer, oil and gas are being drawn out of the well and channeled to a service rig at the surface, the company said.
The oil is being burned off because the rig, the Helix Q4000, has no storage or processing capacity. BP said.
The drillship can process up to 18,000 barrels a day, and the Q4000 can burn off up to 10,000 barrels a day.
ReutersLast Mod: 17 Haziran 2010, 19:31