SERIOUS SPILL FROM SUNKEN US OIL RIG
Oil is leaking from a damaged well feeding a rig that sank off Louisiana on Thursday, in what US officials are calling “a very serious spill”.
The well is estimated to be leaking at a rate of about 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of oil per day.
Although the US coastguard said on Friday that no leak was detected, the latest evidence suggests a spill. Bad weather has hampered efforts to fix it.
Eleven workers are still missing after an explosion and fire on Tuesday.
The Deepwater Horizon had been burning for 36 hours when it sank on Thursday in 5,000 ft (1,500m) of water, despite efforts to control the flames.
It was carrying out exploratory drilling 84km (52 miles) south-east of the Louisiana port of Venice when the blast occurred.
BP has deployed a number of ships and equipment to contain the leak by closing valves on the sunken well.
“A huge number of engineers from ourselves, working with [the government] and across the industry are putting together the best technology and know-how to solve this problem,” BP Exploration and Production Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.
The US Coastguard said it had thought it was dealing only with a surface residual oil spill from the rig.
“In addition to that, is oil emanating from the well. It is a big change from yesterday… This is a very serious spill, absolutely, ” said Rear Adm Mary Landry.
A sheen of oil covering an area of about 20 square miles was visible on the ocean's surface after the explosion and subsequent blaze.
In 2009, BP PLC was fined a record $87m for failing to improve safety conditions following a massive explosion that killed 15 people at its Texas City refinery.
But the US Mineral Management Services found no violations on the Deepwater Horizon rig when it carried out routine inspections in February, March and April this year.
President Barack Obama said on Thursday that the government was providing “all assistance needed” for both the rescue and clean up efforts in the troubled area.
He described the crisis on the BP-leased rig as his administration's “number one priority”.
No cause for the blast has yet been identified.