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NEW ORLEANS — BP said Sunday that it had made progress toward installing a new cap that could contain all of the oil spewing from its out-of-control well in the Gulf of Mexico, and that a flotilla of skimmers was helping to collect the additional oil leaking while the procedure was under way.
Blog posts about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Workers at the surface prepared to deploy a new three-ram capping stack that may eventually capture all the oil from the well.
“We’re pleased at this point at how it’s going,” Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president in charge of the effort, said at a briefing on Sunday afternoon. But he added that the work was not expected to be finished until Wednesday at the earliest.
Live video from the seabed showed a 12-foot-long pipe — a connector of sorts between the top of the well and the new, tighter-fitting cap — being lowered into position, attended by several remotely operated submersibles. If all goes as planned, the new cap will be lowered on top of the pipe and connected with a tight seal.
With the pipe in place, oil could be seen gushing from it, as it had gushed from the top of the well after a looser-fitting cap was removed Saturday.
That cap had been diverting 15,000 barrels of oil a day to a ship on the surface. The new cap should eventually enable BP to contain all of the oil from the well, estimated at up to 60,000 barrels a day; until it is installed, oil will continue to gush unimpeded from the top of the well.
To cope with the additional oil, Mr. Wells said, two more oil-skimming boats were being added to the 46 already near the well site, about 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. Skimmers collected 25,000 barrels of oil and water on Saturday, he said, and 15 controlled burns were conducted. With relatively calm seas, “it was a good day in terms of containing oil at the surface,” Mr. Wells said.
BP has expressed confidence that the new cap will succeed. But given the number of engineering efforts that have failed since oil began gushing after the blowout on April 20, the company has another looser-fitting cap on standby should the installation encounter significant snags.
The new cap, which should eventually not allow any gas or oil to escape, will be used to divert more oil to collection ships that will be brought in over the next two to three weeks, Mr. Wells said.
“We’ll continue to ramp up the capacity so that sometime along the line, whatever the flow is, we’ll capture it all,” he said.
Mr. Wells also said Sunday that a new oil collection system, which would funnel up to 25,000 barrels a day from a pipe below the cap to another ship, would be brought up to full capacity over the next three days.
That may help reduce the amount of oil that is now leaking from the top of the well. Another system, which is diverting 8,000 to 9,000 barrels of oil a day to another vessel, is not affected by the cap work.
Mr. Wells said one surprise was that when a remaining stub of pipe was removed from the top of the well early Sunday in preparation for the cap installation, only one piece of drill pipe was found inside. Earlier video had shown two pieces of drill pipe in the stub — one that should have been there and another that ended up there after the blowout.
“We don’t know where the second piece of pipe has fallen to,” he said.
The new cap has three valves that will be used to restrict the flow of oil and gas to gauge the pressure inside the well. Based on the results, BP will decide how to proceed with other collection efforts.
Mr. Wells said that a relief well that will be used to stop the leak and permanently seal the well was on pace to intercept the blown-out well at the end of the month, and that the procedure to stop the flow of oil by pumping mud into the well, followed by cement, could take several weeks after that.
A version of this article appeared in print on July 12, 2010, on page A11 of the New York edition.