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BP tries tube to siphon oil

Photo by Gerald Herbert

Photo by Gerald Herbert

Undersea robots tried to thread a small tube into the jagged pipe that is pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico on Friday in BP's latest attempt to cut down on the spill from a blown-out well that has pumped out more than 4 million gallons of crude.

Company engineers were trying to move the 6-inch tube into the leaking 21-inch pipe, known as the riser. The smaller tube will be surrounded by a stopper to keep oil from leaking into the sea. BP said it hoped to know by Friday evening if the tube succeeds in siphoning the oil to a tanker at the surface.

Since an April 20 drilling rig explosion set off the catastrophic spill, BP PLC has tried several ideas to plug the leak that is spewing at least 210,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf a day. The size of the undulating spill was about 3,650 square miles, or the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, said Hans Graber, director of the University of Miami's Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing.

In the fateful hours before the Deepwater Horizon exploded about 50 miles off the Louisiana shore, a safety test was supposedly performed to detect if explosive gas was leaking from the mile-deep well.

While some data were being transmitted to shore for safekeeping right up until the blast, officials from Transocean, the rig owner, told Congress that the last seven hours of its information are missing and that all written logs were lost in the explosion. Earlier tests that suggested explosive gas was leaking were preserved.

The gap poses a mystery for investigators: What decisions were made -- and what warnings might have been ignored?

''There is some delay in the replication of our data, so our operational data, our sequence of events ends at 3 o'clock in the afternoon on the 20th,'' Steven Newman, president and CEO of Transocean Ltd, told a Senate panel. The rig blew up at 10 p.m., killing 11 workers and unleashing the gusher.

Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents several rig workers involved in the accident, questioned whether what he called ''the phantom test'' was even performed.

''I can just tell you that the Halliburton hands were scratching their heads,'' said Buzbee, whose clients include one of the Halliburton crew members responsible for cementing the well to prepare for moving the drilling rig to another site.

Details of a likely blowout scenario emerged this week for the first time from congressional and administrative hearings. They suggest there were both crew mistakes and equipment breakdowns at key points the day of the explosion.

Buzbee said that when Halliburton showed BP PLC and Transocean officials the results of the pressure tests that suggested gas was leaking, the rig workers were put on ''standby.'' BP is the rig operator and leaseholder.

Buzbee said one of his clients told him the ''Transocean and BP company people got their heads together,'' and 40 minutes later gave the green light.

The attorney said the Halliburton crew members were not shown any new test results.