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BP chief backs oil drilling in wake of US disaster

BP chief executive Tony Hayward - 3 April 2010
Tony Hayward said the US regime for oil drilling permits was already rigorous

BP's chief executive has said the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster should not mean the end of deep-water exploration.

But Tony Hayward told the BBC's Today programme that significant changes to the oil industry should arise from what he called a "transforming event".

Thousands of barrels of oil a day have been gushing from a seabed well since a drilling rig exploded on 20 April.

President Barack Obama says there will no longer be a "cosy relationship" between oil firms and US regulators.

He has also hit out at the executives of the oil companies involved for seeking to pass on blame for the disaster.

'Significant changes'

Mr Hayward told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I don't believe it should [result in a ban], in the same way as Apollo 13 did not stop the space programme nor have serious airline accidents from time to time stopped people flying."

But he said changes would have to be made to address the risk of such drilling.

"I think undoubtedly that this will be a transforming event for exploration and production activities in the deep water of the world, in particular the deep water of the United States," he said.

MARDELL'S AMERICA
Mark Mardell
President Barack Obama is doing his best to make sure that the wave of blame that is bound to follow does not lap against the doors of the White House
Mark Mardell
BBC North America editor

"You can't have an incident of this seriousness and not expect significant changes as a consequence. What we need to do is ensure that the changes we make address the risk that has occurred here."

President Obama has stopped all new drilling for the moment and some politicians want that to become permanent.

He is introducing changes to the way the federal government grants permits to drill for oil.

"For too long, for a decade or more, there has been a cosy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill," Mr Obama said on Friday.

But Mr Hayward told the BBC the permit regime in the US was as rigorous as anywhere in the world and such judgements should wait on the full outcome of the investigation into the accident.

Eleven people died when an explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on 20 April.

Owned and operated by Transocean, the rig had been working on behalf of BP at a well site 48 miles (77km) off Louisiana.

Thousands of barrels of oil have been gushing daily into the sea from the well's ruptured riser pipe, nearly a mile (1.6km) below the surface.

Obama: 'No more cosy relationship'

BP engineers are making another attempt to reduce the flow of oil from the blown-out well by using underwater robots to insert a tube into a broken pipe to funnel oil to the surface.

Previous attempts to lower a containment box over the most serious of the leaks have so far failed.

The spill is poised to become the worst environmental disaster in US history.

Some scientists have begun to cast doubt on official estimates of the rate of oil flow, saying the widely repeated figure of 5,000 barrels of oil per day dramatically understates the amount.

Mr Hayward said BP was sticking to its estimate that 1,000-5,000 barrels per day.

Weather forecasts have suggested winds may drive the spill ashore at the weekend.

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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