Fears grow over oil spill off US coast
The Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster will develop into one of the worst spills in US history if the well is not sealed, the coast guard officer leading the response warned.
New Orleans, Louisiana: The Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster will develop into one of the worst spills in US history if the well is not sealed, the coast guard officer leading the response warned.
BP, which leases the Deepwater Horizon platform, has been operating four robotic submarines some 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) down on the seabed to try to cap two leaks in the riser pipe that connected the rig to the wellhead.
But the best efforts of the British energy giant have yielded no progress so far, and engineers are frantically constructing a giant dome that could be placed over the leaks as a back-up plan to try and stop the oil spreading.
Time is running out as a huge slick with a 600-mile (965-kilometer) circumference has moved within 21 miles of the ecologically fragile Louisiana coast despite favorable winds.
The US authorities said they were considering a controlled burn of oil captured in inflatable containment booms floating in the gulf to protect the shorelines of Louisiana and other southern states.
"I am going to say right up front: the BP efforts to secure the blowout preventer have not yet been successful," Rear Admiral Mary Landry told a press conference, referring to a 450-tonne machine that could seal the well.
Asked to compare the accident to the notorious 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster, Landry declined but said: "If we don`t secure the well, yes, this will be one of the most significant oil spills in US history."
The US government promised a "comprehensive and through investigation" into the deadly explosion that sank the platform and pledged "every resource" to help stave off an environmental disaster.
The rig, which BP leases from Houston-based contractor Transocean, went down last Thursday 130 miles southeast of New Orleans, still burning off crude two days after a blast that killed 11 workers.
The widow of one of the dead crew members has filed a lawsuit accusing the companies that operated the rig -- BP, Transocean and US oil services behemoth Halliburton -- of negligence.
The blast created a slick that could reach Louisiana`s wetlands -- which are a paradise for rare waterfowl and other wildlife -- within days if the winds change.
"It is the closest it`s been to shore through this response," said Landry.
BP has sent a flotilla of 49 skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery boats to mop up the spill, but their efforts were hampered at the weekend by strong winds and high seas.
A rig is on stand-by to start drilling two relief wells that could diverting the oil flow to new pipes and storage vessels.
But BP officials say the relief wells will take up to three months to drill, and with oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 42,000 gallons a day, the dome is seen as a better interim bet.