NEW ORLEANS (AP) - An outer edge of the massive Gulf of Mexico
oil spill has reached a powerful current that could take it to
Florida and beyond, according to government scientists.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said
Wednesday that a small portion of the slick from the blown-out
undersea well had entered the so-called loop current, a stream of
faster moving water that circulates around the Gulf before bending
around Florida and up the Atlantic coast. Its arrival may portend a
wider environmental catastrophe affecting the Florida Keys and
tourist-dotted beaches along that state's east coast.
Even farther south, U.S. officials were talking to Cuba about
how to respond to the spill should it reach the island's northern
coast, a U.S. State Department spokesman said.
Florida's state meteorologist said it will be at least another
seven days before the oil reaches waters west of the Keys, and
state officials sought to reassure visitors that its beaches are
still clean and safe. During a news conference, David Halstead, the
director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, showed
off a picture of a Coppertone bottle on a beach.
"What's the only oil on the beaches? Suntan oil," Halstead
Tar balls found earlier in the Florida Keys were not from the
spill, the Coast Guard said Wednesday. Still, at least 6 million
gallons have already poured into the Gulf off Louisiana since the
April 20 explosion of an offshore oil rig that killed 11 workers
and led to the spill, the worst U.S. environmental disaster in
decades. The Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 11 million gallons in
Alaska in 1989.
Tar balls have washed ashore as far east as Alabama, and
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared Wednesday that heavier oil was
now soiling his state's coastal marshes. Earlier waves of the slick
had begun as a thin sheen before the thicker stuff starting washing
ashore this week.
The governor, inspecting the Mississippi Delta by boat, swept a
fishnet through water, holding up a chocolate-thick ooze. The delta
region is home to rare birds, mammals and a wide variety of marine
life in marshy wildlife refuges and offshore islands.
Billy Nungesser, president of coastal Plaquemines Parish, La.,
said the oil "has laid down a blanket in the marsh that will
destroy every living thing there."
In Washington, environmental groups criticized how BP PLC, the
oil giant that operated the Deepwater Horizon rig, has handled the
response, and urged the government to take to take greater control
of the situation.
"Too much information is now in the hands of BP's many lawyers
and too little is being disclosed to the public," Larry Schweiger,
president of the National Wildlife Federation, told the House
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "The Gulf of Mexico
is a crime scene and the perpetrator cannot be left in charge of
assessing the damage."
BP has received thousands of ideas from the public on how to
stop the oil gusher, but some inventors are complaining that their
efforts are being ignored.
Oil-eating bacteria, bombs and a device that resembles a giant
shower curtain are among the 10,000 fixes people have proposed to
counter the growing environmental threat. BP is taking a closer
look at 700 of the ideas, but the oil company has yet to use any of
"They're clearly out of ideas, and there's a whole world of
people willing to do this free of charge," said Dwayne Spradlin,
CEO of InnoCentive Inc., which has created an online network of
experts to solve problems.
BP spokesman Mark Salt said the company wants the public's help,
but that considering proposed fixes takes time.
"They're taking bits of ideas from lots of places," Salt said.
"This is not just a PR stunt."
BP succeeded in partially siphoning away the leak over the
weekend, when it hooked up a mile-long tube to the broken pipe,
sending some of the oil to a ship on the surface. And the company
said Wednesday it hopes to begin shooting a mixture known as
drilling mud into the blown-out well by Sunday.
The "top kill" method involves directing heavy mud into
crippled equipment on top of the well, then aiming cement at it to
permanently keep down the oil. Even if it works, it could take
several weeks to complete.
If it fails, BP is considering a "junk shot," which involves
shooting knotted rope, pieces of tires and golf balls into the
blowout preventer. Crews hope they will lodge into the nooks and
crannies of the device to plug it.
About 70 BP workers are taking more suggestions at a tip line
center in Houston. The company plans to test one idea from Kevin
Costner, the "Waterworld" and "Field of Dreams" actor who has
invested more than $24 million on developing a centrifuge that can
be dropped into the slick and separate the water from oil, storing
the petroleum in tanks.
"It's like a big vacuum cleaner," said Costner's business
partner, John Houghtaling II of New Orleans, "These machines are
ready to be employed. The technology is familiar to the industry."
Tracking the unpredictable spill and the complex loop current is
a challenge for scientists, said Charlie Henry, a NOAA
The loop moves based on the shifting winds and other
environmental factors, so even though the oil is leaking
continuously it may be in the current one day, and out the next.
And the slick itself has defied scientists' efforts to track it and
predict its path. Instead, it has repeatedly advanced and
retreated, an ominous, shape-shifting mass in the Gulf, with vast
underwater lobes extending outward.
"The key point is that we watch and study and monitor oil
adjacent to the loop current and we model it to try to get ahead of
it," Henry said. "Nothing is changing quickly and nothing is
changing drastically over the next few days."