2010 oil spill in Gulf of Mexico worsens

oil slick reaching rocky shoreline

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010 reached the Louisiana shoreline Friday, and bad weather threatens to push the oil slick into the wetlands. Klearchos Guide to the Galaxy photo.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill 2010, which reached the shoreline Friday, could be one of the worst environmental disasters in history. Thursday cleanup officials determined the oil spill leaking from the wellhead is five times worse than first thought. Following the explosion and sinking of an oil rig 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20 that killed 11 people, an estimated 5,000 barrels — more than 200,000 gallons — a day spews into the sea. Meanwhile, a weekend storm threatens to push the oil spill deep into Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. Local government: Prepare to borrow money for cleanup efforts. The U.S. Coast Guard has summoned the U.S. military for assistance, while petroleum engineers consider worst-case scenarios.

Bad weather drives oil spill to Gulf of Mexico coast

The oil spill on the gulf coast arrived onshore late Thursday, as faint fingers of the oil slick reached the Mississippi River delta, according to the Associated Press. A thicker oil slick farther offshore is being driven landward by choppy seas of 6 to 7 feet and tides several feet above normal. Storms forecast by the National Weather Service in New Orleans will bring strong southeasterly winds ranging from 20 to 25 miles an hour. Thunderstorms, which some fear could ignite the oil slick, were forecast through Monday morning. The Atlanta Business News reports that an animal rescue operation at Fort Jackson, about 70 miles southeast of New Orleans, treated a young northern gannett (a large seabird) found offshore covered in thick, black oil.

Oil slick fire

An oil slick fire to vaporize some of the oil was tested Wednesday. “We burned 100 barrels of oil in 45 minutes” said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer,  in a conference call Thursday with reporters. “The technique clearly worked, so it puts another tool in the tool chest, but it can only be applied when the weather is good, and we can only burn between 500 and 1,000 barrels at a time.” Choppy seas forecast through the weekend will prevent using fire booms — fire resistant materials used to contain the oil — for oil slick fires. Fire booms are used because the oil slick has to be at least 3 millimeters thick in order to ignite, The New York Times reports. The spill is only about 1 or 2 millimeters thick without the booms.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill could get much worse

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill 2010 could dwarf the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., reports that the loss of the wellhead that is restricting the flow of gushing oil could release up to 150,000 barrels — 6 million gallons — a day into the gulf. That estimate was based on production of other deep water oil platforms in the gulf. The Exxon Valdez oil spill totaled 11 million gallons. With the loss of the wellhead, the Gulf spill could end up dumping the equivalent of four Exxon Valdez spills a week. Efforts to completely plug or contain the leaking well are expected to take several months. No information is currently available about whether or not stopping the flow is even possible with the loss of the wellhead.

More bad news for oil spill cleanup

Other problems bode greater disaster for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill 2010. Cleanup officials have determined that the crumpled 5,000 foot long pipe, called the riser, that connected the wellhead to the drilling platform that sank, is the only thing restricting the flow. Oil gushing through the riser is full of sand. The abrasive slurry is under high pressure, effectively sandblasting the walls of the pipe. Officials theorize that this sandblasting caused an additional leak in the riser that increased the estimated flow five fold.

Scramble to hold back oil slick

To hold back the oil spill from the gulf coast, The New York Times reports that about 40,000 feet of boom had been placed around Pass-a-Loutre, the area of the Mississippi River Delta where the oil was expected to touch first. The New York Times also reported that the Navy provided 50 contractors, seven  skimming systems and 66,000 feet of inflatable containment boom. About 210,000 feet of boom had been laid down to protect the shoreline in several places along the Gulf Coast, though experts said that marshlands presented a far more daunting cleaning challenge than sandy beaches.

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