Superior shears prove to be a cut above in Gulf

Equipment designed and produced in Superior took center stage Thursday as crews used it to cut the damaged oil pipe that's spewing crude oil out of the ocean floor off the coast of Louisiana.

Pipe-cutting shears
The giant shears used Thursday to cut off the top of the blowout preventer at the Deepwater Horizon oil leak site were made by Genesis Equipment of Superior. (Photo courtesy of

Equipment designed and produced in Superior took center stage Thursday as crews used it to cut the damaged oil pipe that's spewing crude oil out of the ocean floor off the coast of Louisiana.

A live webcam feed of the work scene has been running at Genesis Equipment in Superior for most of this week. As oil continued to flow into the water, a set of heavy-duty metal shears manufactured by Genesis were lowered into place.

"All of us have been on pins and needles," said Mats Ceder, Genesis' vice president and general manager.

Usually, the shears are attached to the boom of an excavator, but for the Gulf mission, they were lowered into place by four steel cables stretching a mile below the water's surface.

Ceder said the shears have been used on underwater pipes before but never at such a depth. Yet the equipment performed flawlessly, making its first cut Tuesday night and then completing the job Thursday morning, after a diamond saw made by another company jammed.


While Genesis produced the shears, Ceder credited the operators of the equipment for skillfully maneuvering it into place.

"No. 1, we're glad that our equipment seems to have worked. But we're even happier to be part of plugging this well," said Ceder.

Now comes the hard part: putting a lid on the Gulf oil gusher.

The cuts made by Genesis' giant shears proved effective but left a jagged edge, meaning that a looser fitting cap than initially designed will be needed.

An inverted funnel-like cap slightly wider than the severed pipe will be placed over the spewing oil. A rubber seal on the inside will attempt to keep oil from escaping, though engineers acknowledge some crude will continue to leak.

"We'll have to see when we get the containment cap on it just how effective it is," said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man for the disaster.

If the cap can be put on successfully, BP will siphon the oil and gas to a tanker on the surface.

"It's an important milestone, and in some sense, it's just the beginning," BP CEO Tony Hayward said.


This latest attempt is risky because slicing away the section of the 20-inch-wide riser removed a kink in the pipe, and could temporarily increase the flow of oil by as much as 20 percent.

Live video footage showed oil spewing unimpeded from the top of the blowout preventer, but Allen said it was unclear whether the flow had increased.

"I don't think we'll know until the containment cap is seated on there," he said. "We'll have to wait and see."

Crews will also use methanol to try to prevent icelike crystals from forming on the inside of the cap. At this depth a mile underwater, the near-freezing temperatures can cause a buildup up of hydrates, which foiled the company's attempt to place a 100-ton, four-story dome over the leak about a month ago.

The Deepwater Horizon rig, about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers. An estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons of crude has been spewing into the Gulf daily, and the company has failed so far to plug the busted well.

The damage to the environment was chilling on East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast, where workers found birds coated in thick, black goo. Images shot by an Associated Press photographer show Brown pelicans drenched in thick oil, struggling and flailing in the surf.

Between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil has spewed into the Gulf, according to government estimates.

BP's Hayward promised Thursday that the company would clean up every drop of oil and "restore the shoreline to its original state."


"BP will be here for a very long time. We realize this is just the beginning," he said.

Associated Press reporter Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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