The U.S. government is questioning BP’s ability to seal the oil rig leak in the Gulf of Mexico after missing several deadlines to seal the well more than one month after the explosion, although it’s forced to rely on BP and the private oil sector’s technical know-how, reports Reuters.
BP connected a mile-long tube into the broken pipe to start capturing some of the leaking oil about one week ago, but the flow has slowed from 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) three days ago to 1,360 barrels per day, according to Reuters.
BP engineers are expected to try a new method — pumping heavy fluids into the well — late on Tuesday but BP Managing Director Bob Dudley said in the article there was “no certainty” of success because of the unprecedented depths at one mile down in the Gulf of Mexico.
There are reports of heavy oil reaching Louisiana’s marshlands and “oil debris” reaching the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama. The Coast Guard told Reuters that more than 65 miles of Gulf Coast and about 30 acres of marshland have been impacted and less than half of it could be cleaned up quickly.
Many scientists believe the Gulf spill has surpassed the 11 million gallons (41 million liters) spilled by the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker accident in Alaska, and say the oil slick could spread to the Florida Keys, Cuba and the U.S. East Coast.
David Valentine of the University of California-Santa Barbara suggested in an opinion article in the journal Nature that scientists measure the plumes of dissolved methane from the oil spill to calculate the amount of the spill, according to Reuters.
In the meantime, President Barack Obama has formed a bipartisan commission to investigate the disaster and to find ways to prevent a similar oil spill from happening again, naming Democrat Bob Graham, a former U.S. senator and Florida governor, and Republican William Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to lead the probe, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.
Obama said the accident was caused by a breakdown in responsibility on the part of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. The president said he will hold all companies accountable as well as the federal government if the laws are inadequate to prevent an oil spill or weren’t enforced.
Obama has called for a reform of the Minerals Management Service and has halted all new offshore leases.
Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to start working with BP to dredge material from rivers and deltas to build up barrier islands to help protect the coast from oil, according to Bloomberb Businessweek.
Vitter is working with other Gulf Coast legislators to support legislation that doubles the current $75 million liability cap for companies responsible for spills.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently told BP that it has to use a less toxic and more effective dispersant from the list of EPA authorized dispersants. These are chemicals that are used to break up oil into small droplets so that they are more easily degraded, says the EPA.
While the dispersant BP has been using is on the agency’s approved list, BP is using this dispersant in unprecedented volumes and began using it underwater at the source of the leak, which has never been tried before, according to the EPA.
The EPA has released BP’s response and is working with the company to ensure that it is complying with the directive.