Officials Fear Oil Leak from Sunken Rig Could Damage Gulf Coast Beaches, Barrier Islands and Wetland Habitats
Efforts to clear up an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of last week's explosion and sinking of BP's offshore rig have been suspended because of bad weather, sparking further concern of an environmental disaster. Even though BP is using a robot submarine and dozens of clean-up vessels and aircraft to try to slow and stop the leaking oil, the company estimates that 1,000 barrels (or 42,000 gallons) of oil a day are now polluting the northern Gulf, and the oil is slowly spreading towards the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines.
According to the joint U.S. Government and Oil Industry Task Force, it could take months to stop the leak. Although the oil is not flowing directly from the well, but from the damaged rig pipes, and is therefore being released at a somewhat constrained rate, the effort to stop it will be complex and difficult. If current operations fail, the next option is to drill a relief well — a process that would take at least two to three months. Experts are also looking at the "Katrina Solution." After the 2005 mega-hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast blasting through the same set of oil rigs, a dome or cone-shaped structure to corral the oil before it could make its way to the Gulf Coast was put in place.
The spill now covers about one-fifth of a remote national wildlife refuge near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and another 120 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the ultimate environmental impact is yet to be determined, the goal of the U.S. Coast Guard is to continue securing the source of the subsurface oil emanating from the well, clean the oil on the surface of the water, and keep the response well offshore — therefore trying to eliminate any impact at the coast.