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Robotic submarines removed the cap from the gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, beginning a period of at least two days when oil will flow freely into the sea.
It’s the first step in placing a tighter dome that is supposed to funnel more oil to collection ships on the surface a mile above. If all goes according to plan, the tandem of the tighter cap and the surface ships could keep all the oil from polluting the fragile Gulf as soon as Monday.
BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the old cap was removed at 12:37 p.m. CDT on Saturday.
"Over the next four to seven days, depending on how things go, we should get that sealing cap on. That’s our plan," said Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president.
It would be only a temporary solution to the catastrophe unleashed by a drilling rig explosion nearly 12 weeks ago. It won’t plug the busted well and it remains uncertain that it will succeed.
The oil is flowing mostly unabated into the water for about 48 hours — long enough for as much as 5 million gallons to gush out — until the new cap is installed.