Ships Race to Contain the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

By Andrew Moseman | April 23, 2010 9:31 am

DeepwaterHorizonThe oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico is finally out, as the Deepwater Horizon sank into the sea yesterday and hope for finding 11 missing workers began to fade. The damage assessment for the oil spill, however, has just begun.

Oil from an undersea pocket that was ruptured by the rig, which was leased by the energy company BP, has begun to spread outward. The spill measures 10 miles (16 kilometers) by 10 miles, about four times the area of Manhattan, and is comprised of a “light sheen with a few patches of thicker crude,” U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Cheri Ben-Iesau said today [BusinessWeek]. Whether or not the 700,000 gallons of diesel on board Deepwater Horizon is part of the spill remains unknown. Transocean, the company that owns the rig, admitted that it failed to “to stem the flow of hydrocarbons” before the rig sank.

The biggest concern this morning is that the spill could be headed for the coast of Louisiana, less than 50 miles away, which would maximize the environmental damage. Ed Overton, an LSU environmental sciences professor, said he expects some of the light crude oil to evaporate while much of it turns into a pasty mess called a “chocolate mousse” that ultimately breaks apart into “tar balls,” small chunks of oily residue that can wash ashore. “It’s going to be a god-awful mess for a while,” he said. “I’m not crying doomsday or saying the sky is falling, but that is the potential” [AP]. Once oil hits land it’s far more difficult to clean up; even 21 years after the Exxon Valdez accident, its oil can still be found in Alaska beaches.

100422-G-8093-002-Deepwater HorizonNow the task is to stem the tide. Fearing a potential environmental disaster, BP announced Thursday that it was dispatching a flotilla of more than 30 vessels capable of skimming more than 170,000 barrels of oil a day to protect sea lanes and wildlife in the area of the sunken platform [The New York Times]. According to the AP, BP had put down 6,000 feet of containment boom by last night, with 500,000 more feet en route. The company is also preparing to dig a secondary well to try to plug the ruptured oil deposit with concrete and mud.

The scale of disaster remains to be seen. Energy experts at first estimated a worst-case scenario of more than 300,000 gallons of oil leaking into the sea per day. However, the size of the oil pocket remains unknown. If it’s a small one, the containment would be far easier. And in a bit of hopeful news, the Coast Guard said it found no new leakage yesterday.

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Related Content:
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Images: United States Coast Guard

  • Ben Key

    Once again, the oil companies are failing us, destroying our environments, and as for the Gulf Coast Communities, destroying our livelyhood!

  • James

    6,000 feet of containment boom is nothing when you have a 10 sq. mile spill. BP, like Exxon, was ill preparerd for this size of disaster. How long will this behavior go on? How long will corporations continue to cause rape and pillage? That’s too long!

  • NY Independent

    It is inappropriate to accuse oil companies of raping, pillaging our society, when we depend on the oil companies doing what they are doing.

    There are risks inherent to every business and despite the best regulations and best intentions of the oil companies accidents will happen. We should expect the oil companies to clean up the messes when they happen, but let’s be realistic 500,000 feet of containment will arrive late and won’t be enough, but what do you expect when its a random well 50 miles of the southern coast.

    But if you have a general problem with the existence of oil companies then your efforts are best focused on worldwide mandates to eliminate oil-based energy. Until you are successful at that perhaps you should minimize your hypocrisy and turn off your lights, burn your car and grow a garden.

  • katesisco

    Research shows the northern population of sea otters not recovered like southern population; indications are the mussels they eat are toxic due to the oil residue—–an astonishing 2 decades after the event.
    Shrimpers were able for the first time in years to profit on shrimping, the good aftermath of Katrina if there is one, and now this will kill all future shrimping.

  • Barry

    Hey James:

    You want to end the oil drilling?
    1. Walk, do not ride anything including a bike. It comes from petroleum.
    2. No lights
    3. No paint
    4. No computer, cell phone, chairs, tables, dsihwasher, etc etc.

    Get a tent, oh wait, that is made from oil as well. Hmmm. Then you cannot exits………..end of story.

    And I live on the Gulf Coast. I hate it, I am worried if not scared. But I am not a hipocrite.

  • Jon

    This isn’t a well in the middle of nowhere. It is one of a very few rigs capable of drilling in 10,000 foot waters. That being said, there are risks and dangers inherent in that business. My thoughts go out the the 11 missing workers.

  • http://pt johnny

    Hey n.y. independant how much oil stock in your portfolio, Asshole

  • Jeff

    Geez….Johnny why do you have to be so rude???

  • joe

    well i have a camp in new iberia louisiana… cypermort point….i have five boats,,oil=not good…thanxs get the shut off valuve working and hurry

  • Ryan

    well all i have to say is i hope all this gets better

  • john schneider

    Refer to a company in Canada that is not politically/economically tied to B.P. executives and local Gulf politicians (Nalco Inc.)

    The company has some creative products including a coagulant to cause the oil to mass up harmlessly in solid blobs.

    The company site is

    I am going to do an interview with the company in an effort to understand the actual nature of this disaster and practical solutions.

    John Schneider

  • http://e-bayseller#pcrr1610 Robert

    Keep BP in public eye. Great comic criticisms of BP. Laugh & hate BP. Gulf Coast BP Oil Spill T-Shirts selling at LOSS for $.99 EACH – Advanced search in e-bay under pcrr1610. 4 varieties. People appear to no longer be interested in this disaster. Profits cannot be shared with Gulf recovery now that they need to be sold at a loss.


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