BP admitted over the weekend that its “top kill” effort to cap the Deepwater Horizon oil well had failed. Even as the oil giant readied another fix, U.S. officials warned that that the spill could last until at least August.
That’s horrible to contemplate. According to USA Today, as much as 800,000 gallons of oil has gushed into the sea each day since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 crewmembers. The well has spilled at least 20 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, making it far larger than the1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.
Meanwhile, the massive oil slick in the Gulf continues to move north. It has already fouled 100 miles of Louisiana coastline. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), winds from the southwest could push the spill up onto the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama this week.
Over the weekend, the NOAA again expanded the area of the Gulf of Mexico that is closed to fishing. The closed area now covers 60,683 square miles, or about 25% of federal waters in the Gulf. The agency said the action was necessary to insure the safety of seafood from the Gulf.
BP is preparing a new, untested fix to try to contain some of the oil from the leaking well. According to a statement issued by the company this morning, “preliminary operations” were being carried out to cut away the existing, damaged riser at the head of the pipe outlet on the sea floor and deploy a cap called a lower marine riser package (LMRP).
“Systems such as the LMRP containment cap have never before been deployed at these depths and conditions, and their efficiency and ability to contain the oil and gas cannot be assured,” the statement said. “It is currently anticipated that attachment of the LMRP cap will be attempted later this week; however, operational delays could impact anticipated timeframes.”
The company continues to drill two relief wells as a permanent solution, but they won’t be finished for several months.
Over the weekend, Carol Browner, the Obama Administration’s top energy advisor warned that the well could continue to leak throughout the summer. “We’re going to hope for the best and prepare for the worst. The worst is that we have oil leaking until August, until these relief wells are done,” she told CBS News.
The prospects that the oil well could continue to gush until August is especially unsettling, considering the Atlantic hurricane season begins today. The NOAA is predicting an unusually active season, with a 70 percent probability of 14 to 23 named storms with 8 expected to become hurricanes.
If a hurricane threatens the area, ships funneling oil from the leaking well may need to seek shelter in a port if a hurricane enters the Gulf of Mexico. Winds and storm surges could disperse the oil over a wider area and push it far inland.