Oil Flows Freely in Gulf as BP Readies New Cap

BP workers work around the clock to drill two relief wells for the blownout wellhead gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
BP workers work around the clock to drill two relief wells for the blownout wellhead gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
On Saturday, the fight to contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico took one step backward with the hope of making one huge step forward.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Robotic subs removed the well cap so it can be replaced with a more complete seal, CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports. Oil will flow freely for at least two days until the tighter dome is put in place, which could potentially capture all the oil leaking into the ocean.

It was high drama a mile under the sea. The leak just got worse - BP says, only temporarily - with a flurry of major weekend work ahead.

"We're looking to do as much activity as we can," BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells told reporters.

Just a half-mile away the rig named DD2 was drilling one of BP's two relief wells. Its workers anticipated the next major step nearby, hooking up another ship - the Helix producer - to the runaway well with a detachable riser pipe.

Switching the containment caps should take three days. During that time, BP needs the Helix ready to help recover the well's additional gush of oil.

The Helix is in position but not up and running until tomorrow and not fully functional until Tuesday. Until it is, up to another 15,000 barrels will gush into the Gulf until the new cap is on.

Containment is one challenge. Killing the well is the ultimate goal. Like the DD3 a half-mile away, the DD2's 175 workers drill round the clock.

Both wells run parallel to the gusher well. DD3 is two weeks ahead of DD2, now roughly 18,000 feet below the Gulf's surface.

Electromagnetic sensors are searching for the ideal spot to intercept the runaway well. The cut, the most precise step of all, should happen in the next week or so.

Then four pumps will send in heavy mud and cement to kill the well.

Mickey Fruge is BP's leader on DD2. He's confident these relief wells will end this crisis, BP's silver bullet. That's several weeks away at best. Until that happens, like everyone, Fruge wants this spill contained.

"We take it personal because we know we're now familiar with having, polluting the Gulf of Mexico," said Fruge. "Our goal is to stop the oil and get this over with."

For now, the well flows freely, and in the day it should take the helix producer to get to work, 5 million gallons will have poured into the Gulf.

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  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.