VENICE, La. – A flotilla of nearly 200 boats tackled a massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday, taking advantage of calmer weather to intensify the fight to reduce the spill and limit its impact on the U.S. shoreline.
So far only oil sheen’s have reached into some coastal waters in the southeastern U.S., and the oil’s slow progress despite an uncapped seafloor gusher was allowing crews and volunteers to lay boom in front of shorelines. That effort was stymied by choppy seas into the weekend.
Energy giant BP, under heavy pressure in Washington, struggled to plug a gushing undersea leak that threatened to wreak havoc on Gulf Coast fishing and tourism and reshape the U.S. political debate on offshore drilling.
BP spent Monday preparing possible solutions to stem oil leaks from an undersea well off the Louisiana coast. Work crews were building a containment dome, a 4-story, 70-ton structure that the company plans to lower into place over one of the three leaks to catch the escaping oil and allow it to be pumped to the surface.
If successful, they say, the “pollution containment chamber” could reduce the underwater gusher by more than 80 percent and provide the first success in industry and government efforts to control the spill that began April 20 with an explosion and fire on an offshore rig.
On Monday the company had planned to install a shutoff valve at the site of one of the leaks, but the seas were too rough, delaying that effort. Heavy winds damaged miles of floating booms laid out in coastal waters to protect the shoreline from the spreading oil spill, which appeared to be drifting toward the Alabama and Florida coasts and the Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana’s southern tip.
Calmer seas today after days of high winds aided one of the biggest oil containment operations ever attempted. Boats were laying down and repairing miles of boom lines strung along Gulf shores to try to fend off and contain a drifting slick estimated to be at least 130 miles by 70 miles in size.
So far, an estimated 2.6 million gallons of oil, roughly 60,000 barrels, has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, forming a slick the size of the state of Delaware.