As of Tuesday morning, oil that leaked from the sunken rig site of last weeks explosion was spread over an area about 48 miles long and up to 80 miles wide — larger than the state of Rhode Island. Most of the slick is a thin sheen on the water’s surface, ranging in thickness from a couple of molecules to a layer of paint. About 3% of it is a heavy, pudding-like crude oil.
So far, skimming vessels had collected more than 48,000 gallons of oily water, Coast Guard Petty Officer Erik Swanson said. “Our goal is to fight this thing as far offshore as possible,” he said. The rig was owned by Transocean Ltd. and was working for BP PLC. Crews are using robot submarines to try to activate valves in hopes of stopping the leaks, but the strategy has yet to work.Plans are in the works to potentially burn the oil before it reaches shore.
BP also mobilized two rigs to drill a relief well if needed. Such a well could help redirect the oil, though it could also take weeks to complete, especially at that depth. The spill has the potential to be a major disaster if left unchecked, although at its current flow rate would take over 260 days to rival the Exxon Valdez disaster, which discharged some 11 million gallons into Alaska’s Price William Sound.