Monday, May 3, 2010

Oil spill disaster is now 'out of control'

President Barack Obama will today visit the Gulf of Mexico coastline threatened by the giant oil spill, as experts warn that the spill from a ruptured oil rig might be growing five times faster than previously estimated.

The oil is gushing from BP's sunken Deepwater Horizon rig at 25,000 barrels a day and could reach 50,000 barrels a day, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Earlier estimates had put the leak at 5,000 barrels a day.

Professor Ian MacDonald, an ocean specialist at Florida State University, said the new estimate suggested that the leak had already spread 9 million gallons of heavy crude oil across the Gulf. This compares with 11 million that leaked from the Exxon Valdez tanker when it hit a reef off Alaska in 1989.

Hans Gruber, a Miami University researcher, said that satellite images of the slick on Friday showed that it was three time bigger than estimated, covering an area of 3,500 sq miles (9,000 sq km), similar in size to Puerto Rico.

At the current estimated rate of leakage, it would take less than eight weeks for the huge spill to surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that deteriorating conditions on the sea bed could result in a flow of 50,000 barrels a day, sufficient to produce one of America’s worst ecological disasters

Experts and officials said that their greatest fear was that a disintegration of pipes close to the rig could produce an “unchecked gusher” that would ravage America’s southern coastline.

High winds and rough seas hampered efforts to prevent the slick from reaching the coastline on Saturday, raising fears that there was no way to protect the fragile wetlands of Louisiana and its neighbouring states.

While the leading edge of the slick appears to be little more than a sheen, Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Governor, warned that the millions of gallons of crude being driven into shore by southeasterly winds formed a potential catastrophe.

"This spill threatens not only our wetlands and our fisheries, but also our way of life," Mr Jindal told reporters. "They originally thought we would see heavier oil hitting us today. They've pushed that back until tomorrow."

Environmentalists said it could take decades for the maze of marshes — more than 40 per cent of America's ecologically fragile wetlands — to recover if waves simply wash the oil over miles of boom set up to protect the coast.

"The surface area is huge," said Mark Floegel, a researcher with Greenpeace. "There probably isn't enough boom in the world to protect what needs to be protected."

Commandant Admiral Thad Allen of the US Coast Guard said the adverse weather conditions meant that a major shore impact was inevitable.

"There's enough oil out there, I think it's logical to assume that it will impact the shoreline. The question is when and where," he told reporters.

Meanwhile criticism of BP was intensifying for apparently underestimating the scale of the disaster.

The British oil giant faces questions over how much it knew about previous problems with “blowout preventers”, the giant underwater valves designed to shut down oil flow in the event of accidents.

The valves on the rig failed to work after it exploded on April 20. BP technicians have been unable to activate them even though they appear to be undamaged by the blast.

BP has calculated that it might take up to three months to sink a new well that could cut off the flow of the Deepwater Horizon’s oil.

The worst oil spill affecting US waters was caused by a 1979 blowout aboard the Ixtoc, a Mexican rig that discharged at least 130 million gallons, 600 miles south of the Texas coast. It took nine months to plug the leak.

Now Watch Gas and seafood go up rapidly.

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