May 27, 2010 6:17 PM by Melissa Canone
ROBERT, La. (AP) - BP suspended its attempt to choke off the
gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday so crews
could monitor their work and bring in more drilling mud, but the
company said everything was going as planned and the effort was
expected to resume later in the evening.
News that it would be at least 24 more hours before officials
know if the procedure called a "top kill" will work came as dire
new government estimates showed the disaster has easily eclipsed
the Exxon Valdez as the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
As the world waited, President Barack Obama announced major new
restrictions on drilling projects, and the head of the federal
agency that regulates the industry resigned under pressure,
becoming the highest-ranking political casualty of the crisis so
BP started shooting heavy drilling mud into the blown-out well
5,000 feet underwater on Wednesday afternoon, then stopped later
that night to monitor the work and bring in 630,000 more gallons of
mud, said BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles, who insisted
nothing had gone wrong.
"The fact that it's taken more than 24 hours is not a big
surprise," he said. "We'll stay at this until we're successful or
we determine we can't be successful."
He said crews may also shoot assorted junk such as golf balls
and rubber scraps into a piece of equipment known as a blowout
preventer to fill holes.
The top kill try was the latest in a string of attempts to stop
the oil that has been spewing for five weeks, since the Deepwater
Horizon rig exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven
workers were killed in the accident.
If the procedure works, BP will inject cement into the well to
seal it permanently. If it doesn't, the company has a number of
backup plans. Either way, crews will continue to drill two relief
wells, considered the only surefire way to stop the leak.
A top kill has never been attempted before so deep underwater.
The stakes were higher than ever as public frustration over the
spill grew and a team of government scientists said the oil has
been flowing at a rate 2½ to five times higher than what BP and the
Coast Guard initially estimated.
Two teams of scientists calculated the well has been spewing
between 504,000 and more than a million gallons a day. Even using
the most conservative estimate, that means about 18 million gallons
have spilled so far. In the worst-case scenario, 39 million gallons
That larger figure would be nearly four times the size of the
Exxon Valdez disaster, in which a tanker ran aground in Alaska in
1989, spilling nearly 11 million gallons.
"Now we know the true scale of the monster we are fighting in
the Gulf," said Jeremy Symons, vice president of the National
Wildlife Federation. "BP has unleashed an unstoppable force of
BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said the previous estimate of
210,000 gallons a day was based on the best data available at the
time. As for the new figures, he said: "It does not and will not
change the response. We are going all out on our response."
The spill is not the biggest ever in the Gulf. In 1979, a
drilling rig in Mexican waters - the Ixtoc I - blew up, releasing
140 million gallons of oil.
In another troubling discovery, marine scientists said they have
spotted a huge new plume of what they believe to be oil deep
beneath the Gulf, stretching 22 miles from the leaking wellhead
northeast toward Mobile Bay, Ala. They fear it could have resulted
from using chemicals a mile below the surface to break up the oil.
In Washington, Elizabeth Birnbaum stepped down as director of
the Minerals Management Service, a job she had held since last
July. Her agency has been harshly criticized over lax oversight of
drilling and cozy ties with industry.
An internal Interior Department report released earlier this
week found that between 2000 and 2008, agency staff members
accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil
and gas companies and used government computers to view
Polls show the public is souring on the administration's
handling of the catastrophe, and Obama sought to assure Americans
that the government is in control and deflect criticism that his
administration has left BP in charge.
"My job right now is just to make sure everybody in the Gulf
understands: This is what I wake up to in the morning, and this is
what I go to bed at night thinking about. The spill," he said.
Obama said he would put an end to the "scandalously close
relationship" between regulators and the oil companies they
oversee. He also extended a freeze on new deepwater oil drilling
and canceled or delayed proposed lease sales in the waters off
Alaska and Virginia and along the Gulf Coast.
Fishermen, hotel and restaurant owners, politicians and
residents along the 100-mile stretch of Gulf coast affected by the
spill are fed up with BP's failures to stop the spill. Thick oil is
coating birds and delicate wetlands in Louisiana.
"I have anxiety attacks," said Sarah Rigaud, owner of Sarah's
Restaurant in Grand Isle, La., where the beach was closed because
blobs of oil that looked like melted chocolate had washed up on
shore. "Every day I pray that something happens, that it will be
stopped and everybody can get back to normal."
Charlotte Randolph, president of Louisiana's Lafourche Parish,
one of the coastal parishes affected by the spill, said: "I mean,
it's wearing on everybody in this coastal region. You see it in
people's eyes. You see it. We need to stop the flow."
"Tourism is dead. Fishing is dead. We're dying a slow death,"
The Coast Guard approved portions of Louisiana's $350 million
plan to ring its coastline with a wall of sand meant to keep out