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Oil Spill Update

June 24, 2010

By Saad Asad

It has now been a little over two months since the BP oil rig explosion took place. While early optimistic estimates predicted the cleanup could end in late May, it is now apparent that the spill is of much greater magnitude than originally thought. To get a better perspective of how huge this oil spill is, check out this visualization. The Boston Globe, as always, provides fantastic pictures to show the devastation it is wreaking on the animals of the Gulf.

President Barack Obama visited the Gulf Coast again this Friday to chastise BP for paying billions out in dividends and advertising to improve the public image while those affected by the oil spill were having difficulty receiving their claims. He also declared a moratorium on offshore deep oil drilling until a commission had found a way to safely drill this deep. Residents and politicians have criticized this fearing that the moratorium will further hurt the Gulf economy. Currently, BP is trying to slow the release of oil in to the Gulf. Michael Cooper of the NY Times writes:

Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, who is commanding the federal response to the disaster, said earlier in the day that some oil had been collected in a cap that was placed over the leaking well and that it was beginning to be funneled up to a ship on the surface. But he noted that a great deal of oil was still escaping, by design, through vents in the cap. The vents were intended to let some oil out in order to keep cold Gulf water from rushing in and forming icy hydrates that could block the flow of captured oil to the surface.

Until those vents are closed, it will not be clear whether the cap is seated tightly enough on the cut end of the well’s riser pipe to prevent large amounts of oil from continuing to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, Admiral Allen said. He said that current plans call for closing those vents on Friday.

He said that a rough estimate of the rate at which leaking oil was being captured by the cap was 1,000 barrels a day, a small fraction of the estimated 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil a day that is gushing into the Gulf. But he said that as the vents on the cap are progressively closed, more oil should be captured, as long as the seal continues to hold.

Al Jazeera reports the scope of the disaster:

So far more than 200km of Louisiana coast have been contaminated, triggering long-term fears for the region’s already vulnerable coastal wetlands and native wildlife, including lucrative fishing grounds.

Earlier scientists from the University of Miami released a study showing the oil slick’s surface area had expanded to cover 24,435km sq of the Gulf – triple the size of satellite imagery from May 1.

To ultimately stop the oil spill from further gushing in to the Gulf, BP will be drilling two relief wells towards the site of the current well. Then, the relief wells will be pumped with mud and cement to seal up the original well. Unlike previous measures by BP, experts are certain the relief wells will succeed because engineers are comfortable drilling wells like this.

The BBC reports that BP will also pay for the construction of sand barriers off the coast of Louisiana to prevent the oil from harming the state’s vulnerable wetlands.