Oil leaking from sunken rig spreads

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Fear rising of Gulf Coast environmental disaster

Crews raced to protect the Gulf of Mexico coastline Monday as a remote sub tried to shut off an underwater oil well that's gushing 42,000 gallons a day from the site of a wrecked drilling platform.

If crews cannot stop the leak quickly, they might need to drill another well to redirect the oil, a laborious process that could take about two months while oil washes up along a broad stretch of shore, from the white-sand beaches of Florida's Panhandle to the swamps of Louisiana.

Left, streaks of oil are shown in this aerial photo taken in the Gulk of Mexico Monday near the coast of Louisana. Right, in this aerial photo taken Monday in the Gulf of Mexico, weathered oil is seen near the coast of Louisana from a leaking pipeline tha

New Orleans -

Crews raced to protect the Gulf of Mexico coastline Monday as a remote sub tried to shut off an underwater oil well that's gushing 42,000 gallons a day from the site of a wrecked drilling platform.

If crews cannot stop the leak quickly, they might need to drill another well to redirect the oil, a laborious process that could take about two months while oil washes up along a broad stretch of shore, from the white-sand beaches of Florida's Panhandle to the swamps of Louisiana.

The oil, which could reach shore in as little as three days, is escaping from two leaks in a drilling pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface. The spill has grown to more than 1,800 square miles, or an area larger than Rhode Island.

Winds and currents can change rapidly and drastically, so officials were hesitant to give any longer forecasts for where the spill will head. Hundreds of miles of coastline in four states are threatened, with waters that are home to dolphins and sea birds. The areas also hold prime fishing grounds and are popular with tourists.

The oil began spewing out of the sea floor after the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank two days later about 40 miles off the Mississippi River delta. Eleven of the 126 workers aboard at the time are missing and presumed dead; the rest escaped. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

As of Monday afternoon, an area 48 miles long and 39 miles wide was covered by oil that leaked from the site of the rig, which was owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP PLC.

Crews used robot submarines to activate valves in hopes of stopping the leaks, but they may not know until Tuesday if that strategy will work. BP also mobilized two rigs to drill a relief well if needed. Such a well could help redirect the oil, though it could also take weeks to complete, especially at that depth.

BP plans to collect leaking oil on the ocean bottom by lowering a large dome to capture the oil and then pumping it through pipes and hoses into a vessel on the surface, said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP Exploration and Production.

It could take up to a month to get the equipment in place.

"That system has been deployed in shallower water, but it has never been deployed at 5,000 feet of water, so we have to be careful," he said.

The spill, moving slowly north and spreading east and west, was about 30 miles from the Chandeleur Islands off the Louisiana coast Tuesday. The Coast Guard said kinks in the pipe were helping stem the flow of oil.

From the air Monday afternoon, the oil spill reached as far as the eye could see. There was little evidence of a major cleanup, with only a handful of vessels near the site of the leak.

The oil sheen was of a shiny light blue colour, translucent and blending with the water, but a distinct edge between the oil slick and the sea could be seen stretching for miles.

George Crozier, oceanographer and executive director at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, said he was studying wind and ocean currents driving the oil.

He said Pensacola, Fla., is probably the eastern edge of the threatened area, though no one really knows what the effects will be.

"We've never seen anything like this magnitude," he said. "The problems are going to be on the beaches themselves. That's where it will be really visible."

Aaron Viles, director for the New Orleans-based environmental group Gulf Restoration Network, said he flew over the spill Sunday and saw what was likely a sperm whale in the oil sheen.

"There are going to be significant marine impacts," he said.

Concern Monday focused on the Chandeleur and Breton barrier islands in Louisiana, where thousands of birds are nesting.

"It's already a fragile system. It would be devastating to see anything happen to that system," said Mark Kulp, a University of New Orleans geologist.

Oil makes it difficult for birds to fly or float on the water's surface. Plant life can also suffer serious harm.

Whales have been spotted near the oil spill, though they did not seem to be in any distress. The spill also threatened oyster beds in Breton Sound on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Harvesters could only watch and wait.

"That's our main oyster-producing area," said John Tesvich, a fourth-generation oyster farmer with Port Sulphur Fisheries Co. His company has about 4,000 acres of oyster grounds that could be affected if the spill worsens.

"Trying to move crops would be totally speculative," Tesvich said. "You wouldn't know where to move a crop. You might be moving a crop to a place that's even worse."

If the oyster grounds are affected, thousands of fishermen, packers, processors might have to curtail operations.

Worse, he said, it's spawning season, and contamination could affect young oysters. But even if the spill is mostly contained, he said oil residue could get sucked in by the oysters.

"You will have off-flavours that would be a concern," Tesvich said.

If the oil continues oozing north, the white-sand beaches in Mississippi, Alabama and west Florida could be fouled, too.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal asked the Coast Guard to use containment booms, which float like a string of fat sausage links to hold back oil until it can be skimmed off the surface.

Crews were trying to keep oil out of the Pass A Loutre wildlife area, a 115,000-acre preserve that is home to alligators, birds and fish near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour said he has spoken with the Coast Guard mission commander, Rear Adm. Mary Landry, but was uncertain what to do to protect the state's beaches.

"It's a real difficulty in trying to determine what defences will be effective," he said.

A fleet of boats and containment equipment was working to skim oil from the surface of the Gulf late last week.

But crews had to suspend their efforts because of a weather system that spawned deadly tornadoes in Louisiana and Mississippi and stirred up heavy seas over the weekend.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Connie Terrell said 32 vessels are waiting for conditions to improve to resume the cleanup.

She could not say when they will be back at work, but she said 23,000 feet of containment boom had been deployed, 70,000 more were ready to go when the effort resumes, and another 50,000 feet were on order.

Organizations: BP, Coast Guard, Transocean BP Exploration Dauphin Island Sea Lab University of New Orleans Port Sulphur Fisheries Co.

Geographic location: Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi River Gulf Coast New Orleans Gulf of Mexico Rhode Island Mississippi Chandeleur Islands Pensacola, Fla. Breton Sound

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Peter
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Jon from St. John's, NL ending oil drilling is not ridiculous. Killing ourselves over oils wars, the amount of plastics polluting our planet's forests and lakes and oceans (great pacific garbage patch http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8639769.stm ) and the amount of HC in the air we breath IS ridiculous.

    These 'oil harvesters' are not drilling for the good of mankind, they are doing this for a quick buck. We have lived without oil, we can live without oil, and we should live without much of the oil we currently consume. We need to wean ourselves off it and only use it where absolutely necessary.

  • CB
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Jon, risk is one thing but when that risk is as grave as the oil industry has shown us it can be, we have to take measures to protect all that is precious in our ecosystem. Where would we be if there was an oil spill near our shores? It doesn't just vaporize or disintegrate. Every ounce of it has to be cleaned up.

  • Brainiac
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Turn hibernia into one large wind turbine, it will power every house from st. john's to corner brook.

    Stop driving cars, ride a bike.

  • b
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    Taxpayer from NL writes: Don't worry Danny is finishing off the fishery so we won't have to worry about that when the oil is gone. Last one to leave please turn out the light.

    ============================


    What fishery? It's only a make work project for a bunch of whiners with a sense of entitlement.

  • Taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Don't worry Danny is finishing off the fishery so we won't have to worry about that when the oil is gone. Last one to leave please turn out the light.

  • CB
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Jon, I am sorry for the misunderstanding and should have worded my comment differently. I was referring to the current moratorium concerning the George's Bank area. It is in effect until 2012...that letter was in yesterday's edition.

  • Jon
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Are you first two posters serious? Sure, let's just give up everything that has some risk involved and go back to being hunter/gatherers.

  • Maurice E.
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    And Transport Canada recently had a marine study completed for Placentia Bay and the South Coast which identified the South Coast from Cape Race to the Burin Peminsula to be about the same risk as Placentia Bay itself. Yet Transport Canada's, final report agreed to nothing in the way of new and enhanced accident prevention measures for that area, and virtually nothing in the way of substantive improvements for Palcentia bay itself. But then again, Transport Canada's objectivity cannot be questioned because it hired a company to do the study whose managing director was also a senior executive in an oil exploration company operating in NL.

  • Nasty
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Clearly an event such as seen in the GOM was never expected to happen. When we fail to look at everything we tend to wind up with mud, or in this case oil in our face. The industry is not environmentally safe, and has been proven to be unsafe.

    What will Danny and the oil companies do when the day comes when we are faced with the same or worse? Sit back and use the MISTAKE excuse? Failing to deal with events such like this now will cost us all more when we experience the same catastrophic type of event. Pretty clear we are not prepared for an event such as this, nor will we ever see a proper clean up once we are faced with such an event.

    The time has come to severely limit the offshore rape and pillage mentality. This province is not prepared to deal with a spill and leak like this. And before we permit one more well we need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it can be contained and removed.

  • Jon
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    CB. I do realize that. We do have to take every measure possible to ensure this never happens near our shores. But to suggest ending offshore drilling and imposing a moratorium is just plain ridiculous.

  • Jon
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Brainiac from nl writes: Turn hibernia into one large wind turbine, it will power every house from st. john's to corner brook.


    I hope you are joking. I can't even begin to explain how impossible that would be.

  • CB
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    This is a great argument to keep our moratorium in place and keep the oil drillers out.

  • End offshore
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Just wait for our own little blow out and spill here in our waters. Only a matter of time people, only a matter of time.

  • Peter
    July 01, 2010 - 20:23

    Jon from St. John's, NL ending oil drilling is not ridiculous. Killing ourselves over oils wars, the amount of plastics polluting our planet's forests and lakes and oceans (great pacific garbage patch http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8639769.stm ) and the amount of HC in the air we breath IS ridiculous.

    These 'oil harvesters' are not drilling for the good of mankind, they are doing this for a quick buck. We have lived without oil, we can live without oil, and we should live without much of the oil we currently consume. We need to wean ourselves off it and only use it where absolutely necessary.

  • CB
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    Jon, risk is one thing but when that risk is as grave as the oil industry has shown us it can be, we have to take measures to protect all that is precious in our ecosystem. Where would we be if there was an oil spill near our shores? It doesn't just vaporize or disintegrate. Every ounce of it has to be cleaned up.

  • Brainiac
    July 01, 2010 - 20:17

    Turn hibernia into one large wind turbine, it will power every house from st. john's to corner brook.

    Stop driving cars, ride a bike.

  • b
    July 01, 2010 - 20:14

    Taxpayer from NL writes: Don't worry Danny is finishing off the fishery so we won't have to worry about that when the oil is gone. Last one to leave please turn out the light.

    ============================


    What fishery? It's only a make work project for a bunch of whiners with a sense of entitlement.

  • Taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Don't worry Danny is finishing off the fishery so we won't have to worry about that when the oil is gone. Last one to leave please turn out the light.

  • CB
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Jon, I am sorry for the misunderstanding and should have worded my comment differently. I was referring to the current moratorium concerning the George's Bank area. It is in effect until 2012...that letter was in yesterday's edition.

  • Jon
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    Are you first two posters serious? Sure, let's just give up everything that has some risk involved and go back to being hunter/gatherers.

  • Maurice E.
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    And Transport Canada recently had a marine study completed for Placentia Bay and the South Coast which identified the South Coast from Cape Race to the Burin Peminsula to be about the same risk as Placentia Bay itself. Yet Transport Canada's, final report agreed to nothing in the way of new and enhanced accident prevention measures for that area, and virtually nothing in the way of substantive improvements for Palcentia bay itself. But then again, Transport Canada's objectivity cannot be questioned because it hired a company to do the study whose managing director was also a senior executive in an oil exploration company operating in NL.

  • Nasty
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    Clearly an event such as seen in the GOM was never expected to happen. When we fail to look at everything we tend to wind up with mud, or in this case oil in our face. The industry is not environmentally safe, and has been proven to be unsafe.

    What will Danny and the oil companies do when the day comes when we are faced with the same or worse? Sit back and use the MISTAKE excuse? Failing to deal with events such like this now will cost us all more when we experience the same catastrophic type of event. Pretty clear we are not prepared for an event such as this, nor will we ever see a proper clean up once we are faced with such an event.

    The time has come to severely limit the offshore rape and pillage mentality. This province is not prepared to deal with a spill and leak like this. And before we permit one more well we need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it can be contained and removed.

  • Jon
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    Brainiac from nl writes: Turn hibernia into one large wind turbine, it will power every house from st. john's to corner brook.


    I hope you are joking. I can't even begin to explain how impossible that would be.

  • Jon
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    CB. I do realize that. We do have to take every measure possible to ensure this never happens near our shores. But to suggest ending offshore drilling and imposing a moratorium is just plain ridiculous.

  • CB
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    This is a great argument to keep our moratorium in place and keep the oil drillers out.

  • End offshore
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Just wait for our own little blow out and spill here in our waters. Only a matter of time people, only a matter of time.