Efforts to drill a relief well meant to put an end to the BP oil spill have been suspended thanks to Tropical Storm Bonnie. However, a containment cap that has shut in the gushing well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico since last week will remain in place throughout the bad weather.
Bonnie, which reached tropical storm strength yesterday, is forecasted to pass over the spill by Saturday. This morning, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Bonnie was affecting portions of the northwestern Bahamas. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the central and northwestern Bahamas and in Florida. The center also warned of possible storm watches later Friday for the northern Gulf Coast.
Late last night, a mandatory evacuation of all ships working above the well was ordered.
“Due to the risk that Tropical Storm Bonnie poses to the safety of the nearly 2,000 people responding to the BP oil spill at the well site, many of the vessels and rigs will be preparing to move out of harm’s way beginning tonight,” Retied Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said in a statement. “This includes the rig drilling the relief well that will ultimately kill the well, as well as other vessels needed for containment. Some of the vessels may be able to remain on site, but we will err on the side of safety.”
According to a report in The Washington Post, vessels will be moved out according to their ability to withstand the conditions. That way, if the forecast becomes more favorable, crews will be able to resume work more quickly. A full evacuation would mean 10 to 12 days of lost time at the site, the Post said.
Prior to this, it had been expected that the first relief well would reach the gusher as early as the end of this month.
Bonnie is also going to postpone a proposed plan to use a “static kill” to try and permanently stop the well. Yesterday, government officials gave BP permission to attempt the operation, which involves flooding the well with drilling mud from the surface.
The containment cap is a mile under water, deep enough that it will not be seriously effected by a storm, Allen said. It has been preventing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day from flowing into the Gulf.
Like Tropical Storm Alex before it, Bonnie could also push more oil ashore, into Louisiana’s marshes and wetlands. It could be more damaging than Alex, however, as Bonnie is expected to make landfall somewhere along the Louisiana coast on Sunday. Alex stayed hundreds of miles offshore.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has already declared a state of emergency. The Coast Guard is also taking steps to make sure a storm surge doesn’t push oil-containment booms onto the shoreline, further damaging the environment.