News / USA

Long-Term Effects Feared After Gulf of Mexico Oil Rig Explosion

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of the Gulf of Mexico on 25 Apr 2010. With the Mississippi Delta on the left, the silvery swirling oil slick from the 20 Apr explosion and sinking of Deepwater Horizon drilling platform is highly visible
NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of the Gulf of Mexico on 25 Apr 2010. With the Mississippi Delta on the left, the silvery swirling oil slick from the 20 Apr explosion and sinking of Deepwater Horizon drilling platform is highly visible
TEXT SIZE - +

When the Transocean, Ltd. oil drilling rig exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana last week, it set off a chain of events that could have long-term economic and environmental effects on several southern U.S. states.  It also could affect President Barack Obama's plans to increase off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling platform sat about 70 kilometers off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.  Last week, for reasons that still are yet to been determined - the rig exploded and sank.  Most workers escaped the rig, but 11 are missing and presumed dead.

Oil from the rig has been leaking ever since and covers some 4,800 square kilometers of the Gulf of Mexico.

The sunken platform's owner, Geneva-based oil services company Transocean, Ltd., and its operator, London-based BP, have been trying to contain the spill so that it will not damage fisheries and beaches along the Gulf Coast.

Ron Rybarczyk is a spokesman for the Joint Information Center in Louisiana.  He says cleanup crews are using remote controlled robots to try to activate a device called a blowout preventer some 1,500 meters below the surface.  But so far, they do not know whether it is working.  

"The remote operating vehicle is trying to activate fully that blowout preventer," he said.  "We don't know if it is partially activated and engaged or not activated and engaged at all.  But we are trying to get it fully engaged to prevent any more oil from coming out of that well head," said Rybarczyk.

The blowout preventer is a complex valve that looks like two fire hydrants stacked on top of one another.  It can open and close well and it is considered critical to the safety of a rig and its crew.  But oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico.

Crews also are applying chemicals to the oil slick to help it evaporate and disperse more quickly.  But harsh weather has hampered efforts by skimmers and other vessels from reaching the site.

Doug Helton is with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.  

"Early on the weekend [of April 24-25], we had pretty severe weather with thunderstorms in the coastal waters and other severe weather that made it [difficult," said Helton]  "We had to pull the response vessels off the water because it was too rough and too dangerous," he said.

The oil that is leaking is light sweet crude.  It is almost like diesel fuel as opposed to thick, heavy crude.  

Ron Rybarczyk says that most of the oil on the surface tends to be a very thin layer.

"If you can imagine putting a little bit of oil in a cup of water or a bathtub or when we see rainbow type sheen in a parking lot after a rain - it doesn't take much oil to cause a sheen that spreads a long way. So the fact that 97 percent of the surface area of this plume is sheen is a very positive thing," said Rybarczyk.

An oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could have a devastating impact on the shrimping and fishing industries in Louisiana and neighboring states.

John Sackton is editor and publisher of seafood.com, an industry news Web site.  He says that if the oil reaches Louisiana's shrimp beds, it could have far-reaching economic consequences.

"The short-term effect is that it is not possible to fish for shrimp in waters that are polluted by oil," he said.  "The oil gets into the product and also it fouls the nets.  So any place where there is visible oil, they would have to shut down fishing.  The second problem is a longer-term problem as to whether there is anything that is toxic in the water that is going to impact shrimp survival," said Sackton.

Doug Helton of NOAA says weather could drive the oil to fragile shrimp beds, but that it could also lessen its impact.

"Oil will move and spread with winds.  So we are carefully tracking the winds and forecasting the winds so we can understand how that oil is going to move and spread," he said.  "The weather also has the effect of helping to disburse and break up the oil.  So strong winds and choppy seas are hard for cleanup operations, but they also help to disburse and break up the oil," Helton said.

One factor working to contain the spill is that the tube that stretched from the Deepwater Horizon to the ocean floor collapsed when the rig sank.  The bends and kinks in the tube are slowing the flow of oil and giving cleanup crews more time to work.

BP has proposed lowering a large dome to capture the oil and then pumping it to the surface.  There are also plans to drill a relief well nearby to reduce the pressure.  But both plans could take several weeks to implement.  

Louisiana recently opened some of its Gulf waters to shrimp fishing.  Most of the shrimp season is later in the year.  But with the industry earning more than $117 million in Louisiana alone last year, stopping the flow of oil before it reaches the coastline is critical.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid