Is it too little too late to save the Gulf?
In a significant step toward containing a massive Gulf of Mexico oil leak, BP crews managed to insert a smaller pipe into the 21-inch wellhead that’s been gushing crude oil. The mile-long tube is now funneling crude oil up to a tanker ship. BP’s Senior Executive Vice President Kent Wells says he is cautiously happy that the plan is showing some signs of success.
Yet even as the company reported the success after weeks of fruitless efforts, scientists warned oil that has already spewed into the Gulf could have dire consequences for the environment. According to reports in the Associated Press, computer models show the oil may have already entered a major current flowing toward the Florida Keys which could ultimately take the oil spill up the East Coast.
Previous attempts to use emergency valves and a 100-ton container had failed to stop the leak that has spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, threatening sea life, commercial fishing and the coastal tourism industry from Louisiana to Florida. BP PLC has also been burning small amounts of floating oil and spraying chemical dispersants above and below the surface.
The tube’s success gave crews partial control of the leak for the first time in more than three weeks. Wells says the next move is to shut down the flow of oil from the well.
The first chance to choke off the flow for good should come in about a week. Engineers plan to shoot heavy mud into the crippled blowout preventer on top of the well, then permanently entomb the leak in concrete. If that doesn’t work, crews also can shoot golf balls and knotted rope into the nooks and crannies of the device to plug it.
The final choice to end the leak is a relief well, but it is more than two months from completion.
Oil has been spewing since the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 people and sinking two days later. It is estimated that as many as 200 thousand gallons of oil a day have been leaking into the Gulf since the accident.