Page last updated at 08:03 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 09:03 UK

A mile under sea, the US oil leak continues to flow


BP has released new footage of oil gushing from the broken pipe that rests nearly a mile under water, contaminating the Gulf of Mexico.

The images show oil pouring from a break in the yellow pipe, and becoming lighter in colour as it mixes with natural gas.

Over the past 21 days, more than four million gallons of oil have been released since the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said that the flow rate looked "pretty much the same as it has always looked".

Meanwhile, a new containment box, a cylinder called a "top hat", was placed on the sea floor near the well leak.

Underwater efforts to cap oil leak

Initially, BP tried to lower a 125-tonne, 18-metre (59 feet) high container dome over the main leak on the sea floor. However, this failed when gas leaking from the pipe mixed with water to form hydrates, ice-like crystals, that blocked up the steel canopy.
Instead, engineers have lowered a smaller device onto the site. Dubbed the Top hat, it will sit over the tear in the pipe and partially stop the leak. To prevent the build up of hydrates, methanol is pumped into the top hat to disperse the water and gas.
The top hat is 1.5m (5 feet) high and 1.2m in diameter. Two special side lines are used to pump methanol into the top hat to displace water and gas leaking from the broken oil pipe. This should prevent the build-up of hydrates. Once in place, oil can be pumped up to the surface.
BP plan to lower the original subsea containment dome over the top hat to provide a better seal over the leaking site and pump oil up to the surface. This time, it will be attached to a pipe that can pump warm water into the dome to prevent the build-up of hydrates.
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