Blowout Preventer May Hold Clues to Oil Spill

The blowout preventer.
It took almost 30 hours but a key piece of evidence in the Gulf oil spill is now out of the ocean and on its way to be examined. The blowout preventer, a massive piece of machinery that failed to stop the gusher, could hold major clues to preventing future oil spills.

Rising slowly from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, a one million pound hunk of yellow metal once attached to an oil well in the Gulf, the blowout preventer that didn't live up to its name. Its recovery could be the Rosetta stone to the worst environmental disaster in American history, reports CBS News correspondent Tony Guida.

"We want to know why it didn't function the way it was supposed to and second, we don't want this to happene again," says Rice University engineering professor George Hirasaki.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

America had its first look at the complex device that could have saved 11 lives aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig and prevented some 200 million gallons of oil from fouling the Gulf of Mexico and hundreds of miles of shoreline.

The blowout preventer was supposed to slice through the drill pipe in an emergency and seal the well. It failed.

"It's possible that the wellhead assembly had two pieces of drill pipe in it rather than a single piece and the blowout preventer wasn't able to shear through both pipes," says Hirasaki.

Lifting the blowout preventer out of the sea was a painstakingly slow process. It took almost 30 hours. When it was complete, Adm. Thad Allen released a statement:

"The damaged blowout preventer is now under the supervision of the Deepwater Horizon criminal investigation team and FBI evidence recovery team."

The oil industry in the Gulf is treading water since the government's moratorium on deepwater drilling. A BP engineer said recovery of the blowout preventer might change that.

"Knowing that we have this [blowout preventer] stack on surface and the investigation moving forward will be better to get the oil industry back up and moving again," says BP Wellsite Leader Marvin Morrison.

It will take several days for the blowout preventer to reach land. It will be taken to a NASA facility near New Orleans. Results of the investigation will be of great interest to the many victims of the oil spill who have filed hundreds of lawsuits because of it.