Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico Grows Off

A growing dark slick of oil disfigures the Gulf of Mexico after an oil rig exploded off the Louisiana coast caused by the Transocean Ltd. Deepwater Horizon last Thursday.

The US coast guard discovered the leak on Saturday, two days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP PLC sank off the coast of Louisiana. The rig was destroyed in a ferocious blast last Tuesday, with 11 workers missing and presumed dead.

Images via satellite were released on Sunday and showed the slick had spread by 50 per cent in a day to cover an area of 1550 square kilometres, although officials said on Monday almost all the oil was just a thin veneer on the sea’s surface.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Erik Swanson said as of Tuesday morning, oil that leaked from the rig site was spread over an area about 48 miles (77 kilometers) long and 80 miles (129 kilometers) wide. The borders of the spill were uneven, making it difficult to calculate how many square miles are covered.

“Right now, the weather’s in our favor,” Swanson said, explaining that the wind was blowing the oil away from shore Tuesday.

But Swanson said the winds could shift later in the week and there was concern about oil reaching the shore.

So far, skimming vessels had collected more than 48,000 gallons (182,000 liters) of oily water, Swanson said.

“Our goal is to fight this thing as far offshore as possible,” he said.

Underwater robots have dived to the ocean floor in a new effort to staunch the 159,000 litres of oil being pumped daily into the Gulf of Mexico in America’s worst offshore oil rig spill in 40 years.

The robots will attempt to activate a ”blowout preventer”, a 450-tonne valve on the ocean floor that offers the only quick option for stemming the flow.

However, environmentalists warned of other damage.Controlling the it is partly beyond human control. The wind is currently coming from the north-west, pushing the slick towards the mouth of the gulf and away from danger. Weather forecasts suggest that this should continue. If the wind changes and pushes the slick west towards Texas’s beaches, that might be manageable. It could be removed later by scraping up the top layer of sand. The greatest fear is that the winds turn and drive the oil towards Louisiana’s ecologically rich marshlands. These are home to many species of birds and fish, some endangered that the creatures may have come to swallow it or may have been coated with it that will eventually would lead for a heavier price to pay.

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