Originally posted by Ramon Antonio Vargas - Times Picayune - April 24, 2010
Oil is leaking from an undersea well that the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig drilled about 45 miles southeast of the Mississippi River's mouth, the Coast Guard announced during a press conference Saturday.
The new development reversed course on an encouraging report Friday that no oil was leaking from the well, about 5,000 feet below the Gulf of Mexico's surface.
About 1,000 barrels a day are emanating from the wellhead into the water, said Rear Adm. Mary Landry, the Coast Guard's 8th District commander. A rainbow-colored sheen measuring 4,000 square miles sat about 40 miles off Louisiana's coast at 4:45 p.m. Saturday.
"This is a very serious spill," Landry said. "This has the potential to be a major spill."
Flyovers of the area near where an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon on Tuesday night revealed a sheen different from the one that formed shortly after the incident, Coast Guard Petty Officer Erik Swanson said.
Officials on Saturday used remotely controlled vehicles to survey a riser that once connected the well to a motor on the rig and discovered breaks in it. Landry said officials believe oil started seeping into the water after the Deepwater Horizon sank Thursday.
Complicating matters even more, strong winds, clouds and rain moving through the area since Friday barred the Coast Guard from coordinating any cleanup efforts Saturday, Swanson said. "Waves are 10 feet high out there," he added.
Before discovering the breaks in the riser, 1,052 gallons of oily water mixture had been recovered, and 1,900 gallons of dispersants had been deployed to contain any potential spills. Boom and oil skimmers stood by.
The sunken rig may have as much as 700,000 gallons of diesel on board, and the Deepwater Horizon itself let out an unknown amount of oil.
BP PLC, which is taking the lead in the cleanup, said it activated an extensive oil spill response, including the remotely controlled vehicles that examined the riser and 32 vessels to mop up the spill. The Marine Spill Response Corp., an energy-industry cleanup consortium, added other equipment.
Officials, who are studying ways to stem the leak, said they will deploy even more of those resources once the poor weather settles.
"We have one-third of the world's dispersant resources on standby," Landry said. "Our goal is to fight this oil spill as far away from the coastline as possible."
Aside from potentially becoming a serious oil spill, the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig appears to be the deadliest in 30 years. A search for 11 missing workers believed to be working closest to the blast was called off Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.