May 19, 2010 1:54 PM by Melissa Canone

Scientists Waiting Anxiously To See Where Oil Slick Is Heading

WASHINGTON (AP) - Scientists waited anxiously Wednesday to see
where a massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico might be heading as
efforts to contain the spill proved elusive.
Tar balls that had floated ashore in the Florida Keys were not
linked to the spill, the Coast Guard said Wednesday, but that did
little to soothe fears a blown-out well gushing a mile underwater
could spread damage along the coast from Louisiana to Florida.
U.S. and Cuban officials were also holding talks on how to
respond to the spill, a U.S. State Department official said
Wednesday, underscoring worries about the oil reaching a strong
current that could carry it near the Florida Keys and the pristine
white beaches of Cuba's northern coast.
The official was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke to
The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Oil has been spewing since the offshore drilling rig Deepwater
Horizon exploded off the Louisiana coast April 20, killing 11
workers, and sank two days later.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee addressed
the spill at a hearing Wednesday where leading Republicans
including John Mica of Florida sought to pin blame on President
Barack Obama's administration. He cited Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar's acknowledgment Tuesday that his agency could have more
aggressively monitored the offshore drilling industry.
Outlining what he called the "Obama oil spill timeline," Mica
said the administration failed to heed warnings about the need for
more regulation and issued "basically a carte blanche recipe for
disaster" in approving drilling by the Deepwater Horizon, leased
by oil giant BP PLC, and several dozen other wells.
He also said the spill could have been contained more quickly if
the Coast Guard and other agencies had a better plan.
"This went on and on," he said. "I'm not going to point
fingers at BP, the private industry, when it's government's
responsibility to set the standards."
Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-Minn., took issue with the
criticism, saying the drilling was approved early in the Obama
administration, essentially continuing practices from President
George W. Bush's administration, and that decisions were made by
career officials.
"I think it's inflammatory to call it the Obama oil spill, and
wrong," Oberstar said.
Government scientists, meanwhile, were surveying the Gulf to
determine if the oil had entered a powerful current that could take
it to Florida and Cuba and eventually up the East Coast. Questions
remained about just how much oil is spilling from the well.
New underwater video released by BP showed oil and gas erupting
under pressure in large, dark clouds from its crippled blowout
preventer on the ocean floor. The leaks resembled a geyser on land.
BP and the Coast Guard have said about 210,000 gallons of oil a
day is gushing from the well, but professors who have watched the
video and others say they believe the amount is much higher.
BP has tried several unsuccessful methods to contain the oil,
but earlier this week managed to insert a tube into one of the
leaks and says it has been sucking about 42,000 gallons a day to
the surface.
BP is preparing to shoot a mixture known as drilling mud into
the well later this week in a procedure called a "top-kill" that
would take several weeks but, if successful, would stop the flow
altogether. Two relief wells are also being drilled to pump cement
into the well to close it, but that will take months.
Salazar on Tuesday promised an overhaul of federal regulations
and said blame rests with both industry and the government,
particularly his agency's Minerals Management Service.
"We need to clean up that house," Salazar said of the service.


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