NEW ORLEANS — A bolt of lightning struck the ship capturing oil from a blown-out BP well in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, igniting a fire that halted containment efforts in another setback for the embattled company in its nearly two-month struggle to stop the spill, the company said.
The fire was quickly extinguished and no one was injured. BP said it hopes to resume containing oil from the well sometime Tuesday afternoon.
The fire occurred on the Discoverer Enterprise, where engineers are siphoning about 630,000 gallons of oil a day through a cap on top of the well.
“At the moment, there's no capture, no containment going on, but we'll start up the Enterprise when it's safe to do so,” BP spokesman Robert Wine said.
The fire happened as President Barack Obama was in Florida as part of a two-day visit to the stricken Gulf Coast. It also came a day after the British oil giant announced that it hoped to trap as much as roughly 2.2 million gallons of oil daily by the end of June as it deploys additional containment equipment.
BP has been beefing up its containment efforts with the hurricane season in mind, building a sturdier system that can withstand the volatile weather that is so common in the Gulf in the summer months.
The Coast Guard has taken BP to task for not having enough redundancies in the system to be able to shift gears in events such as Tuesday's lightning strike.
Wine said company hopes to soon start a second containment system — a burner on a semi-submersible drilling rig that could incinerate up to 420,000 gallons of oil a day. The company had hoped to start the system as early as Tuesday.
Scientists have estimated that anywhere between about 40 million gallons to more than 100 million gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf since a drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. Though the latest cap installed the well has been capturing oil, large quantities are still spilling into the sea.
The company said it would use robotic submarines to survey the entire containment system, including the cap over the well, for possible damage from the fire. The fire occurred in a vent pipe leading from a tank on the Enterprise where processed oil is stored, Wine said.
Louisiana has been hit with several storms and lightning strikes in the past day.