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Oil Spill Grows to Twice the Size of Maryland Due to Lack of Safety Controls

Gulf Oil Slick April 2010 (NASA Photo)- Click image to enlarge

A massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may hit Louisiana’ shore by the end of this week. CBC News reports:

The oil spill is expected to begin moving into the Pass a L’Outre Wildlife Management Area at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Thursday, before coming ashore at Chandeleur Sound on Friday and Breton Sound on Saturday, [Bobby] Jindal (Louisiana Gov.) said.

Five times more oil than originally estimated is flowing in to the Gulf, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Since there is no remote control shut off, the company is also using a chemical dispersant and intends to cap the well but that may take four weeks to put in place resulting in 150,000 gallons spilled in to the Gulf. Adam Gabbatt of the Guardian writes:

The Wall Street Journal reported that the oil well lacked a remote-control shutoff switch required by some other major producers, including Norway and Brazil. BP was at the forefront of recent lobbying of the US government against stronger safety controls for offshore drilling.

Jim Polson and Katarzyna Klimasinska of BusinessWeek report:

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.

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.

Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead from the blown-out well.

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, has declared the spill “of national significance” meaning government resources like the military can be mobilized to stop the oil’s spread. A 500 meter security zone around the spill will be in place for the next 3 days. BusinessWeek reports why:

Vessels going through the oil spill can further disperse and expand the slick, said Basil Karatzas, managing director at ship sale and purchase broker Compass Maritime Services in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Oil is flammable and it’s “definitely dangerous for navigating through.”

The spill has put the $1.8 billion seafood industry on alert in Louisiana. Aaron Kuriloff and Jim Polson of BusinessWeek write:

Foote said marshes may suffer long-term damage from the oil spill. The Louisiana coast includes 3 million acres of wetlands that serve as a nursery for game fish such as speckled trout and red drum and are currently nurturing the brown shrimp crop to be harvested by the state’s fishing fleet.

Those species include shrimp, oysters, crab, menhaden and game fish that have made Louisiana a destination for seafood lovers, commercial harvesters and anglers, said Mark Schexnayder, regional coastal adviser for Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Center. The marshes also are home to 5 million migratory birds, along with alligators, turtles and other species.

Voisin said significant quantities of oil reaching land might force closures of oyster beds in some areas or hurt the shrimp harvest, which generates about $962 million in annual retail sales, according to the state.

Despite big oil being to blame for this spill, there exists  a symbiotic relationship between fishermen and oil companies. Richard Fausset of the LA Times writes:

Even though the oil industry was to blame for their trouble, it was difficult to find a fisherman resentful of the other big business in this part of Louisiana. Marvel noted that there was a symbiotic relationship between his business and big oil; the rigs and platforms create artificial reefs that make for some of the best fishing in the world.

BP crews have begun control burning parts of the oil spill to remove them from the water and has recovered 16, 311 barrels of oil-water mix, according to its website. Maggie Koerth-Baker of Boing Boing elaborates on the procedure of burning as a control method:

Burning is a last-ditch effort, and probably will only be used in spots where the oil is thickest and difficult to get rid of fast enough any other way. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t just tossing a match out onto the waves. There’s a protocol here, which involves corralling oil inside a fireproof enclosure. The burns are controlled. Each lasts about an hour and gets rid of more than 90 percent of the oil. What’s leftover can be easily skimmed off.

This will be the biggest problem for BP since the Texas City refinery fire in 2005 which killed 15 people. Fausset of the LA Times notes the environmental concerns here too:

The nonprofit environmental group SkyTruth warned that the growing disaster “could soon surpass the sorry benchmark 20 years ago set by the 11 million gallon Exxon Valdez spill.”

However, BP officials claim the oil islight, sweet crude, as opposed to the heavy crude that poured into the waters off Alaska” making it more biodegradable.

Chris McGreal of the Guardian writes about other environmental concerns:

The most immediate threat is to birds, dolphins and turtles in the area and to the Louisiana coast, as strengthening winds push the slick toward the shore.

Environmentalists say the oil is likely to hit the delta and a series of barrier islands that have still not fully recovered from hurricane Katrina six years ago and which are home to more than 400 species. But if the oil continues to spread it could hit Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

US law requires companies to pay for the cleanup of the spill themselves resulting in a devastating loss in profits for BP. Gabbatt of the Guardian writes:

BP said costs for containing the spill were running at $6m (£3.9m) a day, and it would spend a further $100m drilling the relief well. Industry officials say replacing the Deepwater Horizon, which was owned by Transocean Ltd but operated by BP, would cost up to $700m.


  1. Robert Lauten Robert Lauten April 30, 2010

    There needs to be an investigation.

    What legislation allowed BP (British Petroleum) to not have the remote control shutoff switch.

    Did a U.S. bureaucracy give BP an exemption?

    Was this sabotage to prevent US Energy Legislation what would allow for more offshore drilling (and Nuclear Power)?

    This could be Obama’s “Katrina” (The hurricane that hit New Orleans).

  2. lefty lefty June 4, 2010

    Update & pics please.

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