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Golf balls, new containment dome on deck to stop Gulf oil spill

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So far, oil has washed up in three places: along the Chandeleur Islands, a 50-mile chain that lines Louisiana’s Southeastern coast; on a beach at the mouth of the South Pass, one of the navigable channels of the Mississippi; and Dauphin Island, off the Alabama coast. Oil-slicked waterfowl have been discovered, and dead sea turtles continue to appear along the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts. On Monday, US Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said the oil’s next landfall might be Grand Isle, a barrier island off the Louisiana coast.

Containment efforts were thwarted this weekend after methanol combined with freezing undersea water crystallized in the dome, making it buoyant. While BP engineers are considering ways to address the problem, two more containment efforts are being planned for as early as later this week.

The first is a smaller containment dome BP is calling the “Top Hat.” The four-by-five foot, two-ton dome works in much the same way as its larger version, but according to BP senior executive vice-president Kent Wells, it will do a better job separating water from the gas. Mr. Wells says operating a smaller dome “will be a little more tricky,” but it will “pump methanol in [the well] to stop hydrates from forming. You couldn’t do that in a large vessel, but in a smaller vessel, we believe it will work.” He said engineers are prepared to lower the device by the end of this week.

The following week officials plan to try the “Junk Shot,” a procedure that involves diverting the flow of oil with several blasts of material including golf balls and rubber tire shards, and then cementing over the opening once it is plugged. “There’s a little bit of science in it even though it sounds odd,” Wells said.

At the center of the recovery effort are two relief wells, which are being drilled 40 miles off the Louisiana coast and will be used to pump cement into the leak and seal it. Drilling of the first well started last week and will take 90 days to complete. The drilling of a second well will start next week.

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