The day we have been fearing is upon us, Louisiana governor admits

Saturday, May 22, 2010
By Paul Martin

Jacqui Goddard
May 21, 2010

Heavy oil was seeping into Louisiana’s marshlands yesterday as BP’s own technology contradicted the company’s weeks-long estimate of the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

One month after the explosion that triggered the leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the British oil company revealed that a pipeline that it has inserted into the broken well this week is now filtering off 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of oil a day.

But that constitutes only a partial containment of what is flowing from the well, a spokesman admitted, meaning that the total spillage exceeds the 5,000 barrels-a-day estimate on which BP has been insisting.

Precise figures were still unknown. “Whatever the number, people can see we’re trying to contain the flow and stop the spill,” said Mark Proegler, a BP spokesman.

The environmental effects of the slick, which threatens four states, remained in question as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a federal body, ordered BP to stop using the toxic chemical Corexit to break up the oil at sea.

The EPA has allowed more than 650,000 gallons of Corexit to be poured into the water until now, in spite of protests by independent scientists who warned that it risked turning the Gulf of Mexico into an ecological “dead zone”.

Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, told a congressional hearing on Wednesday evening that control of the clean-up effort should not be left in BP’s hands. “The Gulf of Mexico is a crime scene and the perpetrator cannot be left in charge of assessing the damage,” he said.

A breakthrough may lie in the hands of a Hollywood actor. Where the collective prowess of the oil industry has failed, Kevin Costner believes he may succeed after paying scientists millions of dollars to come up with an ocean-cleaning device — inspired by his 1995 film Waterworld — that could mitigate the environmental catastrophe.

Mr Costner’s $24 million (£17 million) Ocean Therapy machine, developed over 15 years by a team of scientists that includes his brother, Dan, operates like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up contaminated water and separating out the oil using centrifugal force. Clean water is pumped back into the sea and the oil into a tanker.

“It’s very robust . . . takes about 99 per cent of the oil,” said Costner, who became an environmental activist after the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster off Alaska in 1989.

BP has agreed to test six of the machines in open water. Ocean Therapy Solutions, the Louisiana company that makes them, has another 26 available, each capable of cleansing water at a rate of between five and 200 gallons a minute.

Through a special hotline set up to receive ideas from the public, inventors have submitted about 10,000 ideas on how to deal with the spill. BP has rejected claims that it is ignoring good ideas, saying that it is taking a closer look at 700 of them. It will be too late for parts of Louisiana’s wetlands, however, where heavy oil was seeping in yesterday at several locations.

It had already destroyed a 24-mile strip of marshland in Plaquemines Parish, a local official said last night.

“There is no life in that marsh. You won’t clean it up,” Billy Nungesser, head of the parish in southern Louisiana, told cable news channel MSNBC.

Bobby Jindal, the state governor, said after viewing the oil by air and boat: “The day that we’ve been fearing is upon us.”

Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, estimated that everything covered by the oil would be dead within ten days. “They said the black oil wouldn’t come ashore. Well, it is ashore. It’s here to stay and it’s going to keep coming,” he said.

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