Worry that Gulf oil spreading into major currentNEW ORLEANS (AP) — BP said Monday it was siphoning more than one-fifth of the oil that has been spewing into the Gulf for almost a month, but worries escalated that the ooze may reach a major ocean current that could carry it through the Florida Keys and up the East Coast of the U.S.
By: Jason Dearen and Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press Writers, Superior Telegram
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — BP said Monday it was siphoning more than one-fifth of the oil that has been spewing into the Gulf for almost a month, but worries escalated that the ooze may reach a major ocean current that could carry it through the Florida Keys and up the East Coast of the U.S.
BP PLC chief operating officer Doug Suttles said Monday on NBC's "Today" that a mile-long (1.6 kilometer) tube was funneling a little more than 1,000 barrels — 42,000 gallons (nearly 159,000 liters) — of crude a day from a blown well into a tanker ship. The company and the U.S. Coast Guard have estimated about 5,000 barrels — 210,000 gallons (nearly 80,000 liters) — have been spewing out each day. Engineers finally got the contraption working on Sunday after weeks of failed solutions — however, millions of gallons (liters) of oil are already in the Gulf of Mexico.
Crews will slowly ramp up how much oil the tube collects over the next few days. They need to move slowly because they don't want too much frigid seawater entering the pipe, which could combine with gases to form the same ice-like crystals that doomed the previous containment effort.
A researcher told The Associated Press that computer models show the oil may have already seeped into a powerful water stream known as the loop current, which could propel it into the Atlantic Ocean. A boat is being sent later this week to collect samples and learn more.
"This can't be passed off as 'it's not going to be a problem,'" said William Hogarth, dean of the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science. "This is a very sensitive area. We are concerned with what happens in the Florida Keys."
BP PLC engineers remotely guiding robot submersibles had worked since Friday to place the tube into a 21-inch (53-centimeter) pipe nearly a mile below the sea. After several setbacks, it was working, though Suttles acknowledged there was still work to be done to get the device working at full capacity.
BP failed in several previous attempts to stop the leak, trying in vain to activate emergency valves and lowering a 100-ton container that got clogged with icy crystals. They have used chemicals to disperse the oil. Tar balls have been sporadically washing up on beaches in several states, including Mississippi where at least 60 have been found. But so far, oil has not washed ashore in great quantities.
Hogarth said a computer model shows oil has already entered the loop current, while a second shows the oil is 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) from it — still dangerously close. The models are based on weather, ocean current and spill data from the U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other sources.
Hogarth said it's still too early to know what specific amounts of oil will make it to Florida, or what damage it might do to the sensitive Keys or beaches on Florida's Atlantic coast. He said claims by BP that the oil would be less damaging to the Keys after traveling over hundreds of miles from the spill site were not mollifying.
BP had previously said the tube, if successful, was expected to collect most of the oil gushing from the well.
The final choice to end the leak is a relief well, but it is more than two months from completion.
Top officials in President Barack Obama's administration cautioned that the tube "is not a solution."
"We will not rest until BP permanently seals the wellhead, the spill is cleaned up, and the communities and natural resources of the Gulf Coast are restored and made whole," Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a joint statement.
Oil has been spewing since the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 people and sinking two days later.
Steve Shepard, who chairs the Gulf Coast group of the Sierra Club in Mississippi, said the solution by BP to siphon some of the oil is "hopefully the beginning of the end of this leak."
He, like others, is worried that much more than the estimate is leaking and that the long-term damage is hard to measure.
"We have a lot to be worried about," he said. "We are in uncharted territory."