Temporary cap will be removed

NEW ORLEANS — Engineers will soon start the delicate work of detaching the temporary cap that stopped oil from gushing from BP’s blown-out Gulf of Mexico well and the hulking device that failed to prevent the leak – all while trying to avoid more damage to the environment.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man for the spill response, said Friday that engineers will remove the cap starting Monday so they can raise the failed blowout preventer. The blowout preventer is considered a key piece of evidence in determining what caused the April rig explosion that unleashed the gushing oil.

The leak was first contained when engineers were able to place a cap atop BP’s well. Workers then pumped mud and cement in through the top in a so-called “static kill” operation that significantly reduced pressure inside the well.

Officials don’t expect oil to leak into the sea again when the cap is removed, but Allen has ordered BP to be ready to collect any leaking crude just in case.

The Department of Justice and other federal investigators are overseeing the work to remove the blowout preventer, Allen said. The 50-foot, 600,000-pound device – which was designed to prevent such a catastrophe – will be taken out of the water with the well pipe still inside to ensure the pipe doesn’t break apart any more than it already has.

Keeping the blowout preventer intact is important because it’s considered an essential piece of evidence in determining what caused the blast aboard the Deepwater Horizon on April 20. The explosion killed 11 workers.

Work to lift the blowout preventer is extremely difficult and delicate – all happening a mile underwater.

A new blowout preventer will be placed atop the well once the one that failed is raised. After that, the goal is to drill the final 50 feet of a relief well beginning Sept. 7, which will take about four days, Allen said.

The relief well has been called the ultimate solution to plugging the well that blew out. Once the relief well is drilled, engineers will be able to pump in mud and cement to permanently plug the well that gushed oil.