News / USA

US Oil Spill Moves West, Gulf of Mexico Leak Remains Uncapped

This visible image of the Gulf oil slick was taken on May 9, 2010
This visible image of the Gulf oil slick was taken on May 9, 2010

U.S. officials say an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is drifting west as emergency crews struggle to stop the flow from an underwater well.  Teams are preparing new techniques to cap the leak.

U.S. officials said last week they feared the oil slick could move east, threatening beaches in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.  But the latest weather data show the slick is moving in the opposite direction, toward western parts of Louisiana and the state of Texas.

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry says clean-up teams have been deployed to those areas, including Grand Isle in Louisiana.

"The latest trajectories indicate landfall may also occur on Grand Isle," said Admiral Landry. "And we have already moved to put booms to protect this area.  We have teams out there to minimize the impact.  That has always been our goal to minimize the impact of the spill."

In recent days, the oil slick has reached parts of Chandeleur Island in Louisiana, which is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife.  Hundreds of tar balls have washed ashore on nearby Dauphin Island, Alabama, where clean-up crews were deployed over the weekend.

Engineers for the BP oil company say they are pursuing several techniques to stop the leak, which started after an oil rig exploded and sank last month.  The latest effort involved placing a huge concrete and steel box on the sea floor to siphon oil into a surface ship.  Company representatives say the move failed because ice-like crystals blocked the flow into the pipeline.

BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, says the company hopes to deploy a smaller dome later this week to stop the flow.

"We continue to pursue multiple paths," said Doug Suttles. "This is a very challenging environment to operate in, and we'll continue to pursue every option available to us until such time we bring this thing under control and stop the flow."

Suttles says methods to disperse oil in the water appear to be effective at limiting the visible signs of the oil.  He says clean-up crews have burned more than two million liters of oil on the water's surface, and ships have skimmed nearly 16 million liters of oily water.

On Tuesday, U.S. officials are set to open public hearings in New Orleans to investigate what caused the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drill rig, and the leak that followed.  BP has defended against speculation that the rig did not have the necessary back-up systems to contain a leak.

Lars Herbst, regional director of the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which oversees oil exploration on the continental shelf, says that so far there is no evidence that the drill ship, operated by Transocean, Ltd., was at fault.

"In fact, it did have all of the backup systems you would normally find," said Lars Herbst. "The accident investigation panel will be critical at looking into each one of those systems and determining why they didn't function as they should have."

Also on Tuesday, the head of BP's U.S. operations is set to appear before two Senate committees in Washington.  Some lawmakers say the leak shows the need for tighter regulation of off-shore oil operations.  

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