The effort to stop the oil spill beneath the Gulf of Mexico took another step forward today when engineers deftly snipped off the bent pipe 5,000 feet under the water. Now they can attempt to better fit a cap on the remaining, straight length of pipe, in an effort to capture the oil spurting out and bring it to the surface. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said it was "a significant step forward," and that the cap would be in place sometime today. Unfortunately, as with all of the efforts to plug the spill — now the most disastrous in United States history — there are several downsides to this approach. Because a shear was used to cut the pipe instead of a diamond saw (that previously failed), the cut was more jagged and will not create a perfect seal.
According to the Times, this "increases the risk that oil may escape and that the cap itself will become filled with hydrates, icelike crystals of gas and water that form at low temperatures and high pressures." The hydrates could cause the same problem that occurred with the last cap effort, when it was quickly made too buoyant to be effective. BP is running a sort of antifreeze-like fluid into the waiting tube in an effort to avoid this problem. Meanwhile, because of the snip, the tube is now releasing as much as 20 percent more oil than it had been before.
Admiral Says Oil Pipe Is Cut, a Key Step in Halting Leak [NYT]