posted on Jul, 22 2010 @ 06:42 PM
world. Watch "Rescue: Saving the Gulf" at 8 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday on CNN.
New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) -- Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Thursday that a cap placed over the damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico will
remain sealed even if a tropical storm forces vessels monitoring the area to evacuate. A sealed cap means no oil is escaping.
Allen, who is leading the federal response to the spill, said sensors and extensive monitoring have allowed observers to "rule out any indications
there might be a leak." His confidence in the integrity of the well "improved dramatically" within the past few days after he examined data, he
Allen said there would be a "decision point" on whether to evacuate the area about 9 p.m. ET Thursday, possibly forcing the rig digging a relief
well to halt and delay work on the well for at least 10 days.
He added that the rigs digging the relief wells are large and slow, and need a longer window of time to fully disconnect and evade the storm. However,
the cap currently sealing the well will remain closed, keeping oil from flowing out.
While the well remains shut in, BP will continue to do extensive monitoring of the well bore. If the storm prompts the evacuation of the vessels
controlling the monitoring, the well will remain shut in until the vessels can return.
Gulf Coast Oil Spill
Kent Wells, senior vice president of BP, called it an "important decision."
BP is also considering a tactic called "static kill" that could help seal the broken well. The process involves pumping mud into the well to force
oil back into the reservoir below.
Wells said BP has gotten approval from Allen to begin preparing for the process, but the company will still need to seek the government's final
approval before actually carrying out a "static kill."
The operation would follow the installation of casing in the well, Allen said Wednesday. However, that process is on hold.
Earlier, Vice President Joe Biden, who visited the Gulf region Thursday for the first time since June 29, said more than 25,000 square miles of
federal waters, mainly in the southeast portion of the Gulf of Mexico, will reopen to commercial fishing.
"What we're talking about here is almost one-third of the entire closed areas ... will be open. And we're going to continue to work to see that the
rest of it is open ... as soon as we can guarantee that the fish coming out of those waters are edible and safe," Biden said.
During his trip to Theodore, Alabama, the vice president met with several fishermen and addressed concerns they expressed about being able to live as
their families have for generations.
"The stuff that hurts the most is the stuff that changes people's way of life," Biden said. "The president and I understand that cleaning up is
not the same as recovery."
Meanwhile, officials at the Unified Area Command center say they continue to track the tropical weather and remain in constant communication with the
National Hurricane Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is ultimately
responsible for the safety of the more than 40,000 people currently assisting in recovery and response efforts in the Gulf region.
"The protection of the equipment and crew is paramount to ensure maximum ability to respond to any new challenges a storm may pose to the enormous
mission," Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, the federal on-scene coordinator, said in a news release Thursday.
"We are repositioning assets away from low-lying areas to higher-ground staging areas to protect our ability to respond to the dynamic requirements
of the incident," Zukunft said.
Tropical Storm Bonnie showed significant signs of intensification during the overnight hours, with thunderstorm activity increasing, CNN meteorologist
Sean Morris said. Several forecast models show that the system is likely to move into the Gulf.
The National Hurricane Center issued tropical storm warnings and watches for portions of the Bahamas and Florida.
Severe weather could also cause an environmental setback. If the tropical weather system makes its way to the Gulf Coast marshlands, it could diminish
or erase encouraging signs of recovery from the BP oil spill, according to a scientist who spearheaded the first major examination of the Louisiana
"Early marsh regrowth could easily be taken away with high winds and waves," said Tom Bianchi, a Texas A&M oceanography professor who has spent his
career researching marshes.
Bianchi, who used to live in New Orleans and lost his old home to Hurricane Katrina, said he felt an obligation to find out the status of the coastal
wetlands in his former home state.
"I had to return. I had to hope, and I was, honestly, shocked that we saw signs of new life," he said. "The marshes are badly, badly damaged, but
we found some regeneration."
Bianchi and researchers from several other universities studied the wetlands off Grand Isle, Louisiana, by boat over the past week, funded by a
$114,000 emergency grant from the National Science Foundation. Several days of inspecting the swampy home of mussels, crabs, sea grass and microbial
creatures yielded good news for a precious part of the region's food chain, Bianchi said.