BP oil company is sawing off a damaged undersea pipe in the latest effort to cap an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Residue from the spill is spreading in the Gulf, where it hit the state of Mississippi's coastline for the first time.
BP engineers are using remote-controlled submarines to perform the difficult job of sawing off the damaged riser pipe at the site of the leaking oil well. The pipe bent and fell to the sea floor when the Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded and sank in April.
BP officials hope the current effort will enable them to capture most of the oil leaking from the well about 1.5 kilometers under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the operations in the gulf, said submarines completed one cut on the pipe. He said teams were working to make a second cut that will enable them to place a seal on the leak. "The goal is later on today to finish that cut and then put on the containment device on the top of the well head and start containing the oil and bring it to the surface."
An earlier attempt to siphon oil into a surface ship failed, but BP representatives say they are optimistic the current method will not encounter the same problems.
Meanwhile, teams are continuing to track oil which has washed up on about 200 kilometers of coastline in Louisiana. Oil residue also has been spotted for the first time in the state of Mississippi, and a new wave of tar balls washed up in Alabama.
Admiral Allen says they have been sending skimmer boats to the coast of those states to intercept tar balls and oil before the land is damaged any further.
"We are also re-deploying boom to support Alabama and Mississippi," he said. "This has required a lot of tactical moving of boom in the last seven to 10 days, as first Louisiana was impacted, and now the threat is shifting to Mississippi and Alabama."
Several teams of scientists have set sail in recent weeks to study the path of oil on the surface of the gulf and underwater. Some researchers say they fear that huge plumes of oil have formed under the surface, where it is nearly impossible to track.
Jane Lubchenco is head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is coordinating the work of several science teams. She says it is a slow process to collect and analyze data from various sites in the gulf to develop a complete picture of the problem.
"It is really important to collect samples of the water, discrete samples at different depths of the water column, take those back to shore at the end of the cruise and have them analyzed in a laboratory setting," said Lubchenco.
NOAA scientists also are tracking an oil slick in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which they say is approaching Florida. For weeks, Florida officials have said they fear that oil impact on state beaches could seriously damage the tourism industry and the state's economy.