Attempt to Use Dome to Contain Gulf Oil Spill Fails, Potential for Worse-Case Scenario Looms

BP’s effort to use a giant containment dome to stop the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico failed over the weekend. Engineers are now mulling other options to stem the flow of oil from the stricken well.

The oil spill was spawned by the April 20th explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The blast, which killed 11 crew members, stands as the deadliest U.S. offshore rig explosion since 1968. Since the blast, the leaking well has spewed at least 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf every day.

On Saturday, BP’s ‘s chief operating officer, Doug Suttles said the company had to at least temporarily abandon efforts to use the containment dome to cap the spill after ice-like crystals formed and clogged the structure. According to a report from McClatchy Newspapers, there appears to be no certain plan for sealing the well, raising the specter of a worse-case scenario – that the well could continue gushing for the next three months until a relief well can be completed to contain the flow.

According to the Associated Press, at least 3.5 million gallons of crude oil have poured into the Gulf since the April blast. If it continues unabated, the spill will surpass the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster next month.

BP still maintains that getting the containment dome operating is a priority. The Associated Press is reporting that BP is preparing smaller containment dome for the site. It is hoped that the smaller size will prevent the formation of the ice that clogged the first structure.

Engineers are also said to be mulling a plan to cork one of two leaks by stuffing shredded tires, golf balls and other debris into the well’s failed blowout preventer, McClatchy said. But its unclear how seriously that plan is being considered. It does come with some pretty serious risks. Officials at BP have said it could make things worse by damaging whatever part of the blowout preventer was still working.

The oil spill now covers an area in excess of 2,000 square miles. On Friday, it was confirmed that oil had reached Freemason Island, part of the Chandeleur islands. The Chandeleur Islands are a chain of uninhabited barrier islands of the Louisiana coast that are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. They serve as an important migrating point for birds and are a prime marsh and forest wildlife area.

Over the weekend, tar balls began turning up on the beach of Dauphin Island, off of Alabama.

According to the Associated Press, BP has spent $350 million on the spill so far, with no end in sight. The company did not speculate on the final bill, which most analysts expect to run into tens of billions of dollars. BP, which leased Deepwater Horizon from Transocean LTD, is liable for the oil spill, including any economic damages sustained by people or businesses along the Gulf Coast.

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