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BP ignored siphon-pipe suggestion, oilspill expert says

May 18, 2010, Steve Gelsi, MarketWatch NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- An offshore-oil consultant suggested that BP PLC use a mile-long pipe to minimize damage from its big leak in the Gulf of Mexico weeks before the company reported some success with the technique. If BP (US:BP) had followed his suggestion sooner, thousands of barrels of oil could have been contained, according to Gerald Graham, an oil-spill specialist with his own firm, Worldocean Consulting Ltd. of Victoria, British Columbia. In an April 29 email, Graham urged the company to deploy "5,000-foot long hoses ... at the points where the leaks are, with a view to siphoning the oil off to the ocean's surface," he wrote. Graham forwarded a copy of the email MarketWatch late Monday. Just a few days ago, BP announced that it came to the same conclusion. The oil major deployed its so-called riser insertion tube over the weekend, and on Tuesday said it's now sucking up about 2,000 barrels a day out of the estimated 5,000 barrel-a-day spill. Graham said he did receive a message from the Deepwater Horizon response team to send his email to Nicole Scillo at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and that he forwarded his note but never heard back. Scillo is listed on NOAA's Web site as an information-technology specialist in the agency's technical-services branch. She did not return a phone call or an email from MarketWatch inquiring about Graham's email. "I never received an acknowledgment of my suggestions, in spite of [BP's] public statements that ideas were welcome from any and all quarters, that each suggestion would be carefully analyzed and evaluated and that the person making the suggestion would be notified as to the outcome of that evaluation," Graham said in an interview. BP spokesman Matt Taylor said the company received a "few inquiries" from people wondering asking whether their ideas were taken up. "The reality is that there have been literally thousands of suggestions, with naturally many people offering similar solutions, including using another pipe to insert in to the leaking riser," he acknowledged. The Deepwater Horizon response center "has done its very best to process suggestions and forward on those that are considered potentially effective to another level of scrutiny," he said.

Taylor added that he did not know why the siphon tube was not tried earlier. "I can assure [Graham] we have had the best engineering minds working on this, and they have been doing what they feel are the best options in the circumstances and in the best sequence." BP initially focused on building a large containment dome for about 10 days after the spill. The dome failed after it got clogged by ice-like crystals that formed once oil and natural gas from the well came into contact with the low temperatures and high pressures at the bottom of the ocean. The company didn't mention the idea of inserting a tube into the leaking pipe until May 12. -30-