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May 5, 2010 10:50 AM by Letitia Walker

One of Three Leaks Capped on Well

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The best short-term solution to bottling up a
disastrous oil spill threatening sealife and livelihoods along the
Gulf Coast should be headed out to sea Wednesday in the form of a
specially built giant concrete-and-steel box designed to siphon the
oil away.
At about midday, a barge will haul the 100-ton contraption 50
miles offshore to a spot where a mile-deep gusher from a blown-out
undersea well has been spewing at least 210,000 gallons of crude a
day into the Gulf for two weeks. BP spokesman John Curry said it
would be deployed on the seabed by Thursday.
It's the latest idea engineers from oil giant BP PLC are trying
after an oil rig the company was operating exploded April 20,
killing 11 workers. It sank two days later.
BP is in charge of the cleanup and President Barack Obama and
many others have said the company also is responsible for the
costs.
BP capped one of three leaks at the well Tuesday night, a step
that will not cut the flow of oil but that BP has said will make it
easier to help with the gusher.
"It doesn't lessen the flow, it just simplifies the number of
leak points they have to address," Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st
Class David Mosley said.
The capped leak was more than 800 feet from the blowout
preventer, which sits over the well head on the seafloor.
Most of the oil is coming from a leak about 460 feet from the
preventer, while a smaller leak is still allowing oil to escape
from a crack where the pipe casing bent about 5 feet from the top
of the preventer.
Meanwhile, the effort to protect Louisiana coastal wetlands was
expected to pick up.
In Plaquemines Parish, officials loaded absorbent boom shortly
after dawn to take out to the mouth of the Mississippi River. The
barge will be used as a distribution point for local fishermen to
lay the boom around sensitive marshes.
Parish President Billy Nungesser said the parish has 24 miles of
the boom. Workers in yellow rain suits scrubbed air boats. At a
nearby marina, local shrimpers planned to use their boats to put
down boom as part of a program BP is running.
In all, about 7,900 people are working to protect the shoreline
and wildlife, and some 170 boats are also helping with the cleanup.
A rainbow sheen of oil has reached land in parts of Louisiana,
but forecasts showed the oil wasn't expected to come ashore for at
least a couple more days.
"It's a gift of a little bit of time. I'm not resting," U.S.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said.
In their worst-case scenario, BP executives told members of a
congressional committee that up to 2.5 million gallons a day could
spill if the leaks worsened, though it would be more like 1.7
million gallons. In an exploration plan filed with the government
in February 2009, BP said it could handle a "worst-case scenario"
it described as a leak of 6.8 million gallons per day from an
uncontrolled blowout.
Containment boxes have never been tried at this depth - about
5,000 feet - because of the extreme water pressure. If all goes
well, the contraption could be fired up early next week to start
funneling the oil into a tanker.
"We don't know for sure" whether the equipment will work, said
BP spokesman Bill Salvin. "What we do know is that we have done
extensive engineering and modeling and we believe this gives us the
best chance to contain the oil, and that's very important to us."
The seas calmed Tuesday, allowing more conventional methods to
contain the spill to get back on track as businesses and residents
kept an eye on the ocean currents, wondering when the sheen washing
ashore in places might turn into a heavier coating of oil. Crews
put out more containment equipment and repaired some booms damaged
in rough weather over the weekend. They also hoped to again try to
burn some of the oil on the water's surface, possibly Wednesday.
Chemical dispersants piped 5,000 feet to the main leak have
significantly reduced the amount of oil coming to the surface, BP
said.
From the air Tuesday, the site of the Deepwater Horizon
explosion looked similar to a week ago except for the appearance of
a massive rig brought in to drill a relief well to shut off the
spewing oil. That will take months.
People along the Gulf Coast have spent weeks living with
uncertainty, wondering where and when the huge slick might come
ashore, ruining their beaches - and their livelihoods.
The anxiety is so acute that some are seeing and smelling oil
where there is none. And even though the dead turtles and jellyfish
washing ashore along the Gulf of Mexico are clean, and scientists
have yet to determine what killed them, many are just sure the flow
of crude unleashed by the explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizon is
the culprit.
The rig was owned by Transocean Ltd. Some of the 115 surviving
workers who were aboard when it exploded are suing that company and
BP PLC. In lawsuits filed Tuesday, three workers say they were kept
floating at sea for more than 10 hours while the rig burned
uncontrollably. They are seeking damages.
Guy Cantwell, a spokesman for rig owner Transocean Ltd.,
defended the company's response, saying 115 workers did get off
alive. Two wrongful death suits also have been filed.
While officials worked on cleanup, the long wait took its toll
on nerves and incomes.
In Gulf Shores, Ala., the real estate firm Brett/Robinson
Vacations sent a note to those renting vacation properties that
they would not be penalized for any spill-related cancellations,
but urged them not to jump the gun.
"There are many questions and many `what ifs' regarding this
event," the message read. "Because changes come about hourly and
30 days is a long way away, we are asking you to wait before
canceling your vacation, especially those of you who are scheduled
to arrive more than 30 days from today."
There are legitimate concerns, experts say. A second bird found
in the slick, a brown pelican, is recovering at a bird rescue
center in Louisiana. National Wildlife Federation president and CEO
Larry Schweiger says there's no way to know how many birds have
been oiled because the slick is so big and so far offshore.
Perdido Key, a barrier island between Pensacola and the Alabama
state line with sugar-white sand studded with condominiums, likely
would be the first place in Florida affect by the oil spill.
Perdido - Spanish for "Lost" - got a sniff Tuesday morning of
what may be in store.
"You could smell the smell of it, real heavy petroleum base,"
said Steve Ownesby, 54, a maintenance man at the Flora-Bama Lounge
abutting the state line on the Florida side.
The air cleared later, but Owensby's 28-year-old daughter,
Stephanie, who tends bar at the lounge, said some visitors have
complained of feeling ill from the fumes.
"It's very sad because I grew up out here," she said. "I
remember growing up seeing the white beaches my whole life. Every
day I've been going to the beach ... a lot of people are out
watching and crying."

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