BP: Oil containment efforts resume after ship fire

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HOUSTON (AP) — A drill ship resumed siphoning off oil gushing from a blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday after a bolt of lightning struck the vessel and ignited a fire that halted containment efforts, the company said.

BP PLC spokesman Bill Salvin told The Associated Press that the drill ship called the Discoverer Enterprise resumed processing oil Tuesday afternoon, about five hours after the fire caused an emergency shutdown. Engineers on the ship have been siphoning about 630,000 gallons of oil a day through a cap on top of the well.

He said there was no damage reported to the containment cap, and the Coast Guard approved BP restarting the system.

“If we believed it was damaged, we would not have restarted the operation,” Salvin said.

Salvin was unsure how long the fire lasted but said it was apparently small and confined to the top of the ship’s derrick.

A crewmember aboard a nearby vessel that specializes in firefighting told the AP that his ship was called in to put out the fire, but by the time they arrived, it was already out.

“This is not an uncommon occurrence of this type and in this type of situation,” Salvin said, adding that the Discoverer Enterprise has a number of safeguards in place to deal with the possibility of a fire and “they all worked as designed.”

The fire was another setback for the embattled company in its nearly two-month struggle to stop the spill.

It happened as President Barack Obama was in Florida as part of a two-day visit to the stricken Gulf Coast and came a day after the British oil giant announced that it hoped to trap as much as roughly 2.2 million gallons of oil daily by the end of June as it deploys additional containment equipment.

Scientists have estimated that anywhere between about 40 million gallons to more than 100 million gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf since a drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. Though the latest cap installed the well has been capturing oil, large quantities are still spilling into the sea.

BP has been beefing up its containment efforts with the hurricane season in mind, building a sturdier system that can withstand the volatile weather that is so common in the Gulf in the summer months.

The Coast Guard has taken BP to task for not having enough redundancies in the system to be able to shift gears in events such as Tuesday’s lightning strike.

The company said it hopes to soon start a second containment system — a burner on a semi-submersible drilling rig that could incinerate up to 420,000 gallons of oil a day. BP had hoped to start the system as early as Tuesday.

The fire occurred in a vent pipe leading from a tank on the Enterprise where processed oil is stored, BP spokesman Robert Wine said.

Louisiana has been hit with several storms and lightning strikes in the past day.


Henry reported from New Orleans.