Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gale force winds could leave Gulf oil gushing for 2 weeks

MIAMI — Gale-force winds days away from the Gulf of Mexico spill site could force at-sea workers to abandon their oil-collection efforts for two weeks, the head of the national response effort said Friday.

That timetable would conservatively unleash a half-million barrels of oil back in the sea — twice the Exxon Valdez spill. Using upper-end federal estimates of the leak, 840,000 barrels would gush out. That's 35 million gallons.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen described the cut-and-run plan in a conference call to reporters Friday morning in which he said, "Realistically, out of an abundance of caution," the Deepwater Horizon well would remain uncapped for "14 days."

A tropical wave in the west-central Caribbean is kicking up thunderstorms from the eastern coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua to Mexico's northeastern Yucatan Peninsula. The depression is likely to become the first tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season —Tropical Storm Alex — and is forecast to reach the southwestern Gulf of Mexico by early Monday.

Crews will need five days before a storm hits — 120 hours — to disconnect vessels and shut down, Allen said. Late Friday, however, operations were continuing, pushing the timetable for completing a shutdown at least to the middle of next week.

The decision to stop work will be made when a storm is predicted to reach gale-force winds — 46 mph. On Friday, maximum sustained winds in the depression were near 35 mph, the Hurricane Center said.

In other developments, BP's effort to drill a relief well through 2½ miles of rock to stop the Gulf spill is on target for completion by mid-August, the oil giant said. But BP's stock tumbled anyway over the mounting costs of the disaster and the company's inability to plug the leak sooner.

Also, a financial disclosure report released Friday shows that the Louisiana judge who struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deep-water drilling in the Gulf has sold many of his energy investments. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman still owns eight energy-related investments, including stock in Exxon Mobil. Among the assets he sold was stock in Transocean, which owned the rig that exploded. The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court Friday to delay Feldman's ruling "to preserve the status quo" during the government's appeal.


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