Day 43 of Gulf Oil Spill: Countdown to Pipe Cutting, New Dome

On the first day of hurricane season BP prepares to cut the pipe.

ByABC News via logo
May 31, 2010, 7:56 AM

June 1, 2010— -- As early as today a scalpel-sharp saw studded with industrial diamonds will be lowered to a 22-inch riser in an attempt to slice off the main oil pipe so engineers can lower a dome over the spewing oil in the Gulf of Mexico. It's plan seven in BP's growing list of strategies to stop the leak, already the worst ever in the U.S.

A squad of underwater robots are sawing, hacking and grappling in a pre-op for the complex underwater surgery.

Once the pipe has been cut the oil will spew into the Gulf of Mexico unobstructed, enough to fill an average swimming pool every hour.

Then engineers will then lower a dome—the third to be tried at the site of the collapsed rig—over the geyser in an effort to contain and siphon the oil to the surface.

Despite the failure of the previous domes, Carol Browner, assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said this cap is smaller and therefore should have a better chance of success.

"It should be more snuggly fitted to the top, it won't be leaning on the ocean floor and the gooey sand of the ocean floor," Browner said. "Everyone I think is hoping for the best but we continue to plan for the worst."

Some petroleum experts are also hopeful about this strategy.

"My guess is this will be more successful by a large margin than the original insertion pipe…This way they should capture almost all of it," Eric Smith, the associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute, said.

But others have lost all faith in BP's ability to perform this surgery and note that is has never been tried at such depths before.

"This is an uncontrolled science experiment which is unprecedented one mile below the sea," Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said.

The fear is that the cap will not fit and the oil will keep flowing, triggering an environmental domino effect.

"The ecological impact [from] the damage to the little critters that live down in the grassy marshland, they [are] the base of the food chains so that's en ecological impact. The whole face of the coast line could be impacted," Ed Overton, professor emeritus at Louisiana State University School of Coast and Environment, said.