Emergency crews in the Gulf of Mexico are deploying containment booms along the U.S. coastline as a massive oil slick from a damaged deepwater well approaches land. Experts say the slick might reach Mississippi River delta portions of the state of Louisiana by late Thursday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, says the sandy shores of the Louisiana delta lie directly in the path of the expanding oil slick as it moves west. Meteorologists say winds have been constant for several days, pushing the slick from the site of the damaged Horizon Deepwater oil rig. The rig exploded and sank last Friday, injuring several workers and leaving 11 others missing and presumed dead.
Charlie Henry, a science coordinator with NOAA, says Louisiana state officials have been deploying thousands of meters of booms along the coast to minimize the potential damage if the oil washes ashore.
"We have been planning for the unfortunate fact that this might happen," said Charlie Henry. "And the state [of Louisiana] has been responding and putting booms in for the last five days. It is not something that just happened yesterday."
British Petroleum, which operated the damaged rig, say it has deployed nearly 55,000 meters of booms in the Gulf of Mexico to prevent the slick from reaching shore. Marine experts say the slick could affect parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas as well as Louisiana - including valuable fishing grounds and protected ecosystems.
BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, says emergency crews are continuing to struggle with a massive valve atop the underwater oil well that failed to close after the accident. He says the best way to control the disaster is to stop the flow of oil from the well, which is 1.5 kilometers below the surface.
"I don't know whether I'll be able to stop it today or whether it will take a relief well," said Doug Suttles. "And what I don't want to occur is for this oil to continue to reach the surface of the sea."
Experts say the well is leaking nearly 800,000 liters of oil per day, adding to the already massive slick.
BP says it is pursuing several measures to contain the oil, such as funneling it into a tanker ship and dropping chemicals in the water to break down the slick. They also have attempted to burn the oil atop the water, and officials say they will try this again as the weather permits.