How the Subsea Oil Recovery System Works

In its efforts to minimize the widening oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is deploying a large structure -- essentially a giant concrete funnel -- to capture leaking oil. Here's how it works.

Called the Subsea Oil Recovery System, the 125-ton structure is designed to be placed over the largest source of oil leaking 5,000 feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico. The system collects the leaking oil and pumps it through a funnel and pipe to a tanker at the surface, which stores it and ships the oil to shore.

The structure is a 40-foot tall concrete chimney-like structure that conveys leaking oil to a ship on the surface, the Deepwater Enterprise. Once there, oil is separated from water and stored until the ship can return to shore, where it is offloaded and shipped to an on-shore terminal.

The ship is capable of storing 139,000 barrels of oil, processing it at a rate of 15,000 barrels per day. BP hopes it will be able to collect as much as 85 percent of the oil leaking from the sea floor.

Working in conjunction with contractor Wild Well Controls, BP built the system in Louisiana based on similar designs used during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Containment systems used following the hurricane were in shallow water, however; to deal with the muddy conditions at the bottom of the sea, BP is adding mud flaps to the base of the structure, that should more thoroughly seal off the leak.

BP plans two additional containment structures that it will use to collect gas spilling from the other two remaining leaks.

Last week officials drastically increased their estimate of the size of the spill, from 1,000 to 5,000 barrels a day. The Department of Homeland Security then declared the spill an incident of "national significance" on Thursday, freeing up resources to tackle the spreading problem.

BP has vowed to pay all necessary clean up costs for the massive oil leak, and the company also plans to drill a relief well near the original source in order to relieve pressure -- something Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the "ultimate solution" to the oil spill. But finalizing that well could take up to three months.