BP reported some progress in containing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill over the weekend, saying Saturday that its latest fix had captured 10,500 barrels of crude coming from the gushing well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, crude is still pouring into the Gulf, as government scientists have estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil a day, at a minimum, to be leaking from the well.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, when the oil rig exploded, killing 11 crew. Since then, roughly 23 million to 49 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf. The spill has already surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster, and ranks as the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, BP is attempting to increase the amount of oil that is being captured and siphoned to tankers on the ocean’s surface. Technicians are working to slowly close vents on the top of the containment device that are designed to prevent the rapid buildup of ice-like crystals called natural-gas hydrate that could create blockages.
BP CEO Tony Hayward told the BBC that the company hopes a second containment system will be in place by next weekend. Once the cap is fully operational it could capture a maximum of 630,000 gallons of oil a day if it is successful. But the oil leak wonâ€™t be permanently stopped until BP completes one of two relief wells it is drilling nearby. The earliest that will occur is mid-August.
The oil has already fouled stretches of coast in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Tar balls have been reported on beaches along the Florida panhandle, and the slick is just a few miles from shore there. According to a report on MSNBC, officials along the Texas Gulf Coast have also reported that dead birds with oil on them were found for the first time in that state.
All of the states impacted by the spill have a long road ahead of them. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen , overseeing the government’s response to the spill, said over the weekend that even if the well is capped, cleanup efforts will take months.
“This will be well into the fall,” Allen said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday. “This is a siege across the entire Gulf. This spill is holding everybody hostage, not only economically but physically. And it has to be attacked on all fronts.”
Meanwhile, the toll the spill has taken on the region’s wildlife and economy is mounting. According to report on Dallasnews.com, the number of birds picked up by wildlife rescue workers jumped Sunday by nearly 100 from Saturday’s toll. Of the 820 birds found so far, 597 have been dead, and all 223 found alive have been visibly oiled.
Some 88,502 square miles — about 37% of the Gulf waters regulated by the federal government — are off limits to commercial and recreational fishing because of the spill. For the first time, the ban includes an area off southwest Florida.
The tourism and recreation industries in the Gulf could take substantial hits from the oil spill, and already, resorts and hotels along the Gulf are reporting cancellations because of the spill. Over the Memorial Day weekend, some areas along the Florida panhandle reported as much as 70 percent declines in hotel occupancy.