BP Plc, owner of the Gulf of Mexico Macondo well that has been spewing oil 5,000 feet below the water’s surface since April 20, outlined a battery of techniques it will use to attempt to stem the leak.
Plans include chemical injections, containment domes and new pressure equipment, Bob Fryar, senior vice president of BP’s operations in Angola, said yesterday in Houston. U.S. President Barack Obama visited Louisiana yesterday and said the government would protect the natural resources of the region and rebuild the area. He said the U.S. had coordinated a “relentless response” to a “potentially unprecedented” disaster.
Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard commandant overseeing efforts to control and clean up the spill, described the dark, mile-deep region where the oil is leaking as “inner space” that can only be tackled using remotely controlled devices.
“What we’re doing is closer to Apollo 13 than the Exxon Valdez,” Allen said, referring to the 1989 tanker spill that dumped 260,000 barrels of oil off Alaska.
BP, based in London, said it has no way of knowing how much oil is leaking because it can’t get data from the well. It hasn’t been able to use the so-called blowout preventer, which may have become corroded with sand. Pressure is being applied to the apparatus to seal the leak, Fryar said. BP may also try to “snap on” a second blowout-preventer stack, he said.
Domes on Leaks
The first of two domes to contain the crude at the sea floor will be put on one of three leaks in six to eight days, BP said. The second dome will take eight to 12 days. A valve, which the company said may be in place in 24 hours, will be tried on the most significant leak.
“I reiterated my commitment to the White House today that BP will do anything and everything we can to stop the leak, attack the spill off shore, and protect the shorelines of the Gulf Coast,” BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward, who arrived in the Gulf area late May 1 to oversee containment efforts, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Admiral Allen said federal agencies are preparing for a sustained effort as BP technicians try to figure out how to stop the leaks. Allen said in an interview he is seeking to improve communications and supply chains for distributing equipment and chemicals used to disperse the oil. “I am looking over the horizon.”
The spill has grown so large, Allen said, that he is concerned there may be a shortage of booms, such as those used on the open sea to help contain the slick.
The spill is 9 miles (14 kilometers) off the coast of southeastern Louisiana, Obama said at a press conference in Venice. BP said the weather forecast shows the slick won’t move over the next three days.
Obama, who was briefed on BP’s efforts to cap the well, met with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal after getting off Air Force One. The Coast Guard has said it has been unable to get an accurate estimate of how much oil is leaking and is preparing for a worst-case scenario.
More than 2,000 people have been deployed to protect the shoreline and coastal wildlife, according to a statement from the multiagency Joint Information Center coordinating the federal response.
A so-called relief well is due to be completed in about 90 days, Michael Abendhoff, a company spokesman, said yesterday in a phone interview from Robert, Louisiana.
The oil spill followed an April 20 explosion on a drilling rig leased by BP. The rig, owned by Transocean Ltd., sank two days later. Obama has ordered that no new offshore drilling leases be issued until a “thorough review” of the incident is completed.
The attorneys-general from Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana met yesterday in Mobile, Alabama, to discuss legal options and strategies. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said the uncertainty of the oil slick’s size is the biggest concern.
Alabama Attorney General Troy King said the fund created after the Exxon Valdez tanker spill may need changes to meet the damages from the current incident in the Gulf.
BP has released 156,012 gallons of dispersant so far to break up the oil, said Bill Salvin, a BP spokesman. The company hasn’t been able to fully assess the efficiency of the method, Abendhoff said. BP was unable to spray dispersants yesterday because of weather conditions, said Steve Rinehart, another spokesman.
Strong winds and 7-to-10-foot waves make it impossible to measure whether the dispersants lowered the volume of oil emerging on the sea surface, Abendhoff said. The response teams opted against conducting flyovers yesterday due to continued foul weather, Rinehart said.
Surface estimates of the size of the slick and skimming efforts were hindered as the Coast Guard ordered boats and aircraft back to port because of stormy weather. Salvin said 23,968 barrels of crude and other material has been picked up by skimming boats.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration previously estimated the well is spewing 5,000 barrels of oil a day. At that rate, the volume of the spill would exceed Alaska’s Exxon Valdez accident by the third week of June.
While BP has begun an investigation into the cause of the explosion and resulting leak, it hasn’t set out a timeline for the project, Rinehart said.
About 6.2 million cubic feet of gas production was halted May 1 as environmental and safety concerns stopped operations at two offshore platforms and prompted one to be evacuated. That’s less than a 10th of 1 percent of U.S. output.
“This is an American Chernobyl,” said Louie Miller, 55, senior representative for the Sierra Club in Mississippi, referring to the explosion at a Ukrainian nuclear reactor in 1986 that killed 56 people, destroyed wildlife and contaminated waterways. Oil “may not be radioactive, but it’s toxic.”
The NOAA yesterday closed commercial and recreational fishing in parts of the Gulf affected by the spill for a minimum of 10 days, effective immediately. The agency said in a statement that it’s working with state governors to evaluate the need to declare fisheries a disaster to get federal aid to fishermen in the area.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals advised residents not to swim or fish in affected waters and to prevent young children, pregnant women and pets from entering contaminated areas.
The impact on wildlife “depends on the tides, weather and other factors beyond our control,” Jay Holcomb, director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, said in a statement. The group has set up bird-rescue centers in Louisiana and Alabama.
Commercial shipping on Mississippi River fairways hasn’t been significantly affected so far, though that may change if cleanup efforts are implemented, Admiral Allen said earlier yesterday. Traffic may be halted in contaminated areas or ships will have to be washed after passing through oily waters.
St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana will employ local fishermen to deploy protective booms after training them on the procedure on May 1, the parish said in a statement.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved a request by Jindal to mobilize as many as 6,000 National Guard troops to add security, medical support, engineers, communications capability and cleanup crews to the oil slick containment effort, spokesman Geoff Morrell said late April 30.