It's robots to the rescue in the Gulf of Mexico--or at least that's what British oil giant BP hopes following a disastrous explosion and oil spill at the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig, 130 miles southeast of New Orleans.
Officials have deployed robotic submarines in an effort to contain the spill, which has grown to cover an area measuring some 1,900 square miles. BP quoted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts as saying the spill is "very thin" and on the surface of the ocean.
The agencies have deployed four remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to the wellhead about 5,000 feet below the ocean surface.
They are monitoring the leak, which was discovered Saturday, as well as trying to activate the blowout preventer, a 50-foot-tall, 450-ton mass of valves that can cap the wellhead and stop the oil flow.
The ROVs--which include machines such as the Millennium by oilfield engineering company Oceaneering--have apparently been on the job for several days, but without success. While ROVs have been used by the oil and gas industry for more than 30 years, this particular mission is highly complex due to the great depth of the wellhead, as well as the first of its kind.
"If you can visualize it, it's like robotic arms doing something outside the space station," BP spokesman Ron Rybarczyk was quoted by The Guardian as saying. "It is operating something with a mechanical claw on it that grasps things and turns things and adjusts equipment way down at the floor of the ocean." … Read more