May 16, 2010
A plume of oil 10 miles (16km) long, three miles wide and 300ft thick is pouring into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico from the ruptured Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
The plume is one of a number that scientists have found gushing into the sea a mile underwater, increasing concerns that the size of the spill could be thousands of times larger than has been previously calculated, according to The New York Times.
“There’s a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface water,” said Samantha Joye, from the University of Georgia, who is involved in one of the first scientific missions to gather information from the spill. “There’s a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column,” Dr Joye told the newspaper.
After studying footage of the gushing oil scientists on board the research vessel Pelican, which is gathering samples and information about the spill, said that it could be flowing at a rate of 25,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day, or 3.4 million gallons a day. The flow rate is currently calculated at 5,000 barrels a day.
The vast amounts of oil pouring from the rig, which exploded on April 20 killing 11 people, is depleting the oxygen in the immediate area, raising fears that it could kill most of the sea life near the plumes. Oxygen levels have already dropped by 30 per cent near some of the plumes.
“If you keep those kinds of rates up, you could draw the oxygen down to very low levels that are dangerous to animals in a couple of months,” she said. “That is alarming.”
News of the plumes came as the Obama Administration increased pressure on BP with a demand for “immediate public clarification” from Tony Hayward, the chief executive, over the company’s intentions about paying the costs associated with the spill. “The public has a right to a clear understanding of BP’s commitment to redress all the damage that has occurred or that will occur in the future as a result of the spill,” said Ken Salazar, the Interior Secretary.
The company is still struggling to cap the leaking underwater oil well. Last night they were making a second attempt to insert a mile-long catheter into the leaking pipe by remote control, after a previous attempt to stem the flow by clogging a faulty seabed valve with rubbish hit a snag.
Technicians using joysticks are operating robotic submersibles that will attempt to place a 6in (15cm) wide relief pipe into the remains of a 21in pipe that used to connect the wellhead to the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on the surface.
The aim is to use the relief pipe to pump a mix of densely packed items such as golf balls, knotted rope and lumps of plastic into the oil well’s blowout preventer — the giant safety device that failed to work when the rig exploded last month.
An earlier attempt to place a containment dome over the leak was abandoned after the freezing temperatures and high underwater pressure caused a build up of mushy ice that blocked the funnel intended to carry the leaking oil to tankers on the surface of the sea.
The company is drilling a relief well that will eventually seal the leak, but that may take up to three months to complete.
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