A view of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon on fire. (Photo: US Coast Guard)
Massive oil spill invades the Gulf Coast
Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 03:10 (GMT + 9)
Officials said it could be months before they can stop the flow of the 42,000 gallons of oil a day that is pouring into the Gulf of Mexico out of leaks from the deepwater well drilled by a rig that sank last week off Louisiana. To make matters worse, the cleanup was put on hold for two days due to high seas in the Gulf.
The response team is taking three approaches to stop the leaks: one that could stop them within two days, one that would take months and another that would confine the oil and transport it to the surface instead of stopping the leaks.
British global energy company BP was leasing the drilling platform and is responsible for the oil cleanup under US federal law.
With the help of weather patterns, officials determined that the sheen of oil and water currently spanning 600 sqmi would remain at least 30 mi from shore for the next three days. States along the Gulf Coast are on alert, reports The New York Times.
The leaks were discovered on Saturday in the riser, the 5,000-ft-long pipe that extended from the wellhead to the drilling platform. The riser exploded, sank and detached from the platform and is leaking in two places at the sea floor.
Authorities said the cause of the explosion remains unclear. Meanwhile, 11 crew members are missing and believed dead.
Officials started using remote-controlled vehicles on Sunday in an attempt to turn on the blowout preventer, a 450-tonne valve sitting at the wellhead, 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. This tactic could seal the well in 24-36 hrs if successful.
But Doug Suttles, the chief operating officer for exploration and production at BP, warned that the operation was “highly complex [and] may not be successful.”
Another effort taking place is the drilling of relief wells nearby, which would take two to three months to stop the leaks. This strategy could send heavy mud and concrete into the cavity of oil and gas.
If the blowout preventer does not close off the well, officials will position a large dome directly over the leaks to capture the oil and deliver it to the surface to be collected. Suttles said this has been done before, but only in shallow waters.
Marine life that floats at the surface, like plankton and fish eggs, is the most vulnerable to the oil. An extensive devastation of eggs could affect future fish populations.
Oil spills and other types of environmental destruction in the Gulf of Mexico are exacerbated because they become trapped within the encircling land. These waters drain into the Atlantic Ocean only through a narrow passage between Cuba and the state of Florida.
By Natalia Real