Gulf oil spill turning ‘unbelievably bad'
WASHINGTON – With a quick solution ominously uncertain, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is on track to become an unprecedented economic and
environmental disaster with millions of gallons of oil destroying an ecosystem as well as a way of life.
BP America said Monday that it would take another 75 days to finish one of two relief wells it’s drilling to shut down the flow.
By then, if the spill doesn’t worsen and the relief well stops the leak, some 20 million gallons of oil will be swirling in the Gulf, nearly double
the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.
Unlike the Alaska spill, which coated a rock-strewn bay, BP’s oil will cling to a spongelike coast, entering the pores of mangrove forests and
sea-grass beds and the breeding grounds for crabs, shrimp and oysters.
Already some of the richest fishing grounds of the Gulf are off-limits, idling thousands of commercial fishermen.
Some restaurants in New Orleans and elsewhere are either out of homegrown oysters or are down to less than a week’s supply.
In Mississippi, charter boats and hotels are reporting declines in business.
“It’s going to be unbelievably bad,” said Jeremy Jackson, a professor of oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla,
Calif. “This is a problem that won’t go away for a decade.”
Ryan LaFontaine, a spokesman for the city of Gulfport, Miss., said Gulf leaders were in almost constant contact with federal and BP officials,
including a daily conference call with people at the White House. LaFontaine said no one had much advice.
“The best protection right now, aside from booms and underwater fencing or everybody linking hands along the beach and trying to blow the oil back
out, is to get this thing shut off,” LaFontaine said. “Just stop it. That’s the protection we need.”
The Gulf’s coastal sea-grass beds and mangroves are full of burrowing animals that make millions of holes. Oil works its way out of the holes
eventually and then storms flush it back into the water, creating what amounts to a new spill.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., an opponent of offshore drilling, said it would be his “worst nightmare” if the oil flowed for nearly three months more
until the relief well was complete.
“It’s going to cover up the Gulf Coast and the wind is eventually going to keep it going south, and it’s going to get into the Loop Current,”
Another concern is the possibility that the spill will get much worse. If the wellhead gave way entirely, the amount of oil would increase greatly,
said Larry McKinney, the executive director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi.
When storms blow up – hurricane season begins June 1 – the oil will be driven into the marshes and “then the problem will build up more and
more, because you just can’t stop it,” McKinney said.
• Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore leasing, will be split in two. The agency
has been viewed as being too cozy with the industry it regulates.
• After floating for hours in life boats after the disaster, platform workers were greeted by officials onshore asking them to sign statements that
they had no “first-hand or personal knowledge” of the incident, their attorneys said Tuesday.
“These men are told they have to sign these statements or they can’t go home,” said Tony Buzbee, a Houston-based attorney for 10 Transocean
• The rig site continued to discharge about 210,000 gallons a day.
• An oil containment box known as a “top hat” was being brought to the site. Undersea robots were to position it over the gusher by Thursday.
The new device is much smaller than one that failed over the weekend.
• Top executives from three companies involved in the disaster faced a barrage of questions on Capitol Hill. And there was lots of fingperpointing
among executives at BP America, which owned the well; Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig; and Halliburton, a contractor on the rig.
News Tribune news services
Disaster: Crude leak could persist through Summer