Oil skimming boats are expected to begin returning to the Gulf of Mexico as rough weather conditions from Hurricane Alex subside.Officials say the storm has cost clean-up crews several days of lost work.
Weather experts said the remnants of Hurricane Alex were dissipating Friday in northern Mexico, where it produced heavy rain and some flooding.
U.S. Coast Guard officials said conditions were much less severe hundreds of kilometers to the east, at the site of the leaking undersea oil well. But they said the storm had forced skimmer boats and other operations to halt work for several days.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said officials hoped to allow crews back out on the water soon to resume their work. He also said they planned to begin military overflights along delicate marsh areas on the U.S. coastline. "We will take a look at not only the boom protecting the marsh areas, but any extent of oil in the marsh areas. To the extent we locate oil and there is no longer a boom there, we will attempt to put down a snare boom which will basically act as an absorbent," he said.
Admiral Allen says the hurricane also has hurt plans to expand the containment system used to siphon oil from the damaged oil well into surface vessels. BP oil company has sent the Helix oil producer to the site, which would enable crews to double containment efforts up to 53,000 barrels of oil a day.
Admiral Allen says the support vessels needed to hook up the Helix to the well were called in to port for the hurricane. "The Helix Producer is out there now, what we need are support vessels and the sea state to finish the connection. We hope to do that in the next 48 hours," he said.
He says, without the delay in connecting the Helix, recovery crews could have captured an additional 150,000 barrels of oil.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials are closely monitoring weather in the Gulf of Mexico for the possible formation of another storm. Experts say there is a low-pressure area off the coast of Florida which has a small chance of developing into a tropical storm.
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