PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. – Waves of gooey tar balls washed onto the white sands of northwestern Florida as BP engineers adjusted the new cap over the gusher, trying to siphon crude to a tanker on the surface and reduce the amount of oil spewing into th
e Gulf. The oil debris came ashore on Pensacola Beach, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore which advertises “the world’s whitest beaches.” Florida, the so-called Sunshine State with a $60 billion-a-year tourism industry, has been bracing this week for the projected arrival of the spilled oil, which has already hit the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to the west.
BP said it was “quite encouraged” that a huge containment cap placed over a gushing underwater well was working as intended. US Coast Guard chief Admiral Thad Allen said rough estimates showed that 1,000 barrels a day were being captured. This is only a small part of the 12,000-19,000 barrels a day believed to be leaking and BP says it could take 48 hours to know if the system is working.
Admiral Allen stressed that he could not give any certain figures on the amount being funneled. “Sometime later [today] we’ll probably be able to get an approximation of how much oil we are capturing,” he said. Admiral Allen said that the amount should increase as BP shut off vents to capture more of the oil. He added: “Progress is being made, but we need to caution against over-optimism.”
BP remained optimistic but again warned that the containment cap had never been positioned on a ruptured well head a mile below the ocean’s surface. In a statement, the British oil giant said the system’s ability to contain oil or its continued operation “cannot be assured.” After mixed success with cutting off the damaged pipe, BP positioned a cap over the ruptured well head, though the company was uncertain whether the cap’s seal would be snug enough to prevent oil from leaking out.
Ongoing problems containing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to cancel an upcoming trip to Indonesia and Australia, reflecting the political risks involved for a White House that has been on the defensive over its handling of the crisis. As President Barack Obama headed back to the Gulf region Friday for an update on the nation’s worst oil spill. It’s the third trip to Louisiana for Obama since BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the Gulf on April 20. He will arrive to encouraging news that BP has been able to place a containment cap over the broken riser pipe atop the wellhead that sits on the sea floor, some 1.6 kilometres underwater.