NEW ORLEANS, La. - Authorities working on the Deepwater Horizon disaster are considering their options as a tropical storm heads toward the gulf.
Work on the site has already stopped, but it could be two weeks before they could resume the permanent effort to keep well plugged. For now, there is a temporary plug in the relief well in case of abandonment during the storm. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen says their growing confidence in the cap's security has convinced scientists it is safe to leave unmonitored for a few days. He will decide Thursday evening whether the ships will evacuate.
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft said that some boats involved in the oil clean up have been recalled to port. On Zukunft's orders, oil-absorbent booms from marsh areas have been removed to prevent more ecological damage.
Scientists fear the cap could be in danger of rupturing during the storm and are discussing how to monitor it from land. The government's spill chief said the storm could reopen the well, leaving oil gushing back into the sea.
The relief tunnel extends 200 ft. below the seabed and BP still has 100 ft. of diagonal drilling left before the tunnel reaches the well. The plan is to insert a final string of drilling pipe, cement it into place, and give it a week to set before allowing the oil to travel through it.
The well spewed between 94 million and 184 million gallons of oil until the cap was placed over the well and is still considered the largest oil spill on U.S. history. The cause of the explosion is still unknown but workers are voicing questions about equipment and safety conditions.
The New York Times reported that several pieces of equipment - including the rams in the failed blowout preventer on the well head - had not been inspected since 2000, despite guidelines calling for inspection every three to five years. Transocean said most of the equipment was minor and the blowout preventer was inspected by manufacturer guidelines.
"As part of Transocean's unwavering commitment to safety and rigorous maintenance discipline on all our rigs, we proactively commissioned the safety survey and the rig assessment review," Transocean spokesman Lou Colasuonno said in an e-mail early Thursday. "A fair reading of those detailed third-party reviews indicates clearly that while certain areas could be enhanced, overall rig maintenance met or exceeded regulatory and industry standards and the Deepwater Horizon's safety management was strong and a culture of safety was robust on board the rig."