BP Oil Well Leaking Five Times Faster Than Estimated
A damaged BP Plc oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is leaking as many as 5,000 barrels of crude a day, five times more than previous estimates as the oil slick drifted the closest yet to shore, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
BP and federal officials have identified a third leak from the well and related piping, said Erik Swanson, a Coast Guard spokesman. The edge of the spill was 16 miles (26 kilometers) from Louisiana at 8 p.m. local time yesterday, David Mosley, a spokesman for the spill response command, said this morning.
At that rate of leakage, by the third week in June it will exceed the 260,000 barrels the Exxon Valdez spilled in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. BP has been unable to shut valves at the top of the well and said a permanent seal may take three months. It plans to begin drilling another well to stop the leak as early as tomorrow.
“If they don’t get that well capped soon, this is potentially a Valdez,” Robert Shipp, chairman of the department of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama said in an interview. Alaska’s habitat, which has productive fisheries, “doesn’t compare with the tourist and the beach economies of the five Gulf states.”
A forecast map posted online last night showed landfall possible by 6 p.m. local time tomorrow near the mouths of the Mississippi River. Heavier oil may appear on the coasts if winds continue out of the southeast, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecaster Charlie Henry said at a press conference yesterday.
“The winds are going to be sustained out of the southeast for days and days and days,” Tom Downs, a meteorologist at Weather 2000 Inc. in New York, said yesterday in an interview. “That will push everything toward the coast.” Southeast winds may build to 40 miles an hour today, he said.
New Orleans Port
The Port of New Orleans, the largest U.S. port by volume, said yesterday it’s “closely monitoring” the spill for potential risks to shipping along the Mississippi River. The port handles as many as 2,000 vessels a year,
The main deepwater channel from the Gulf of Mexico to the river, called the Southwest Pass, remains open, according to a statement on the port’s Web site. The U.S. Coast Guard, which would determine whether to close the river, said today it’s still open.
The explosion and sinking last week of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig about 130 miles (210 kilometers) southeast of New Orleans last week caused a spill about 600 miles in circumference, the Coast Guard said. That’s about twice the land area of Maryland.
BP shares dropped as much as 2.2 percent in London and traded at 613.3 pence, down 1.9 percent, at 2 p.m. local time. The stock has declined about 4.5 percent since the April 20 explosion, valuing the London-based company at 115.2 billion pounds ($175.3 billion).
All marine research vessels in Alabama, Mississippi and on Florida’s Gulf Coast left port yesterday to begin collecting samples of pre-spill conditions so that researchers will have a basis to calculate the spill’s damage, the University of South Alabama’s Shipp said today in an interview.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has begun sampling shrimp, fish and other seafood for evidence of pollution, he said.
BP burned a section of the slick yesterday, testing whether it may be used to reduce potential shoreline damage, Swanson said yesterday. Results will be announced today, Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said at a press conference yesterday.
BP expanded placement of a floating boom designed to block oil slicks to 100,000 feet (30 kilometers) today and has another 500,000 feet available, Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for exploration and production, said yesterday at a press conference.
Louisiana’s marshy coastline extends 15,000 miles, according to its Department of Natural Resources. BP is trying to protect areas most sensitive to oiling from the delta to Mobile Bay, Alabama, he said. BP expects to clean up some oil off the shore, he said.
“It’s probably not possible to collect all the oil offshore,” Suttles said.
Damage to birds in the Pass a Loutre and Delta Wildlife Refuges, both in the projected path of the spill, was “extremely low” after a pipeline spill caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004 because wildlife officials hazed birds away from the oil with noise, Henry said. “We’re hoping for the same outcome,” he said.
Drilling New Well
Currents and tides may change the trajectory as the oil nears shore, he said.
BP expects to begin drilling tomorrow a new well to reach the damaged well and stop the flow. The well will be started a half mile away and stopping the flow through that method may take three months, he said.
BP is spending $6 million a day trying to clean up the spill and stop the leak, according to Suttles.
The explosion and sinking of the rig, owned by Geneva-based Transocean Ltd., left 11 of the 126-member crew dead. The U.S. Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service and the Coast Guard are investigating the cause as they guide the cleanup.
--With assistance from Joe Carroll in Chicago, Kari Lundgren and Alaric Nightingale in London, Yee Kai Pin in Singapore and Aaron Kuriloff in New York. Editors: Tina Davis, Peter Langan
To contact the reporters on this story: Jim Polson in New York at email@example.com; Katarzyna Klimasinska in Robert, Louisiana at firstname.lastname@example.org