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BP Hopes to Contain Main Oil Leak in Gulf Soon

BP oil company officials say they hope to have in place by the end of the week a massive structure designed to stop the principal underwater oil leak that is fouling the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil company says the 98-ton structure would collect the oil from the largest of the three leaks and send it through a pipe to the surface where it can be collected on a barge.

The company says it has never attempted such a containment at a depth of more than 1,500 meters, and cannot guarantee that the effort will be successful.

Meanwhile, lighter winds and calmer waters have aided efforts to contain the oil spill that continues to threaten the southern U.S. coastline with severe environmental damage.

Officials say the favorable weather could slow the spread of the slick and make containment efforts more effective.

The U.S Coast Guard says 170 vessels, and nearly 7,500 personnel are involved in the cleanup efforts, with an additional 2,000 volunteers assisting. It says more than 148,000 meters of boom have been deployed in an effort to block oil from reaching the shore.

The Harte Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies reports the spill is threatening to damage the region's $1.6 billion in annual economic activity, including commercial fishing, sport fishing and tourism.

The oil rig exploded April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven workers were killed.

BP says it will pay for all the cleanup costs from the ruptured oil well. The company says it will pay compensation for legitimate claims for property damage and commercial losses stemming from the accident.

BP also says efforts to seal the leak include construction of a relief well that could take about three months to drill.

Chemical dispersants are also being pumped down to the source of the leak in an effort to keep the oil from flowing to the surface. So far, more 590,000 liters of dispersant have been applied to the spill.

U.S. President Barack Obama visited Louisiana on Sunday and laid the blame for the leak on BP. President Obama has promised that the U.S. government will do "whatever it takes, for as long as it takes" to clean up the spill.

Government officials say the oil slick is creeping toward the Mississippi and Louisiana shores. It closed in on the marshlands of Louisiana last week.

Some U.S. senators also have introduced legislation to increase the amount of money big oil companies can be forced to pay for economic damages stemming from catastrophic spills. The law currently caps liability limits at $75 million, but the proposal would increase the figure to $10 billion.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.