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Tropical storm threatens BP oil slick clean-up
Gulf of Mexico, Jun 27 (Agencies):
Published on 27 Jun. 2010 11:19 PM IST
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A tropical storm is heading for the Gulf of Mexico, potentially forcing BP to abandon clean-up operations for at least two weeks and threatening to push millions of gallons of oil and toxic dispersant onshore.
The weather system, the first named storm of the 2010 Atlantic Basin hurricane season, could prompt the activation of contingency plans that would see thousands of vessels involved in the nine-week effort to contain the spill sent back to port, efforts to plug the well suspended and the containment cap shut off, depending on its path.
The cap is currently filtering more than 20,000 barrels (840,000 gallons) of oil a day - around one third of the maximum estimated leak, according to government figures - from the well’s broken riser pipe into surface tankers while the rest gushes directly into the sea.
The threat of 40-knot winds would force the tankers, the Q4000 and the Discoverer Enterprise, to disconnect and withdraw for safety reasons, leaving the oil flowing at full velocity and unabated.
Admiral Thad Allen of the US Coast Guard, the federal incident commander, is working with BP and the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Florida, to keep the weather system under constant assessment as it moves from the western Caribbean into the Gulf this weekend.
“We’re watching.very closely right now,” Adm Allen said, adding that if a storm was to hit the vicinity of BP’s leaking Macondo well, it would have “a very negative effect.”
The storm is expected to cross Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday into the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters say that its route thereafter is uncertain.
“It will represent a serious threat to the Gulf. particularly to clean-up operations to the ever increasing oil slick,” predicted Jim Rouiller, a senior meteorologist with Planalytics, a weather intelligence firm in Pennsylvania.
If Alex passes to the west of the slick, it could drive the oil onto beaches along the Gulf coast, and up to 30 miles inland, through marshes and waterways. If it cuts east of the oil, it will drive it away from the shore.
Offering one bright spot, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that the wave action could also weather the oil and accelerate the process by which bacteria break down and disperse it.
BP has so far spent $2.3 billion responding to the spill. Around 37,000 personnel are involved in efforts to protect or clean the shoreline and wildlife, and more than 6,500 vessels are working in the area, including skimmers, tugs, barges, the containment ships, robotic submarines and offshore drilling units, along with dozens of aircraft.
The US vice president, Joe Biden, is due to visit the unified area command headquarters in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Tuesday.
He will also head to north-west Florida - known as the Florida Panhandle - where beaches have in recent days been stained by tides of oil and where a 950lb pygmy sperm whale stranded itself and died on Wednesday evening.
Veterinary pathologists at the University of Florida are now studying the 12ft whale’s corpse to establish whether it may have been killed by exposure to the oil and chemical dispersants that have been used to break up the slick.
Dr Michael Walsh, associate director of aquatic animal health at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said: “Infections and toxins are going to be the big killers of these animals.”

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