On Gulf Coast many doubt BP can stop leak soon

Union leaders, fishermen and environmentalists in the Gulf region said last month they had little hope that BP would be able to stop the oil spill with its various “top kill” schemes, including the placement of domes and the latest “junk shot” operation.

Now they say there is almost no chance that BP can stop the gushing oil by August, when the company says it will complete the drilling of two relief wells.

Experts have already compared the relief well operation to trying to hit a target the size of a dinner plate with a drill two miles into the earth.

“The probability of them hitting it on the very first shot is virtually nil,” said David Rensink, president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, who spent more than 30 years in the oil industry in offshore drilling. “If they get it on the first three or four shots they’d be very lucky.”

For the relief well to succeed, the bore hole must precisely intersect the damaged well. If it misses, BP will have to back off with its drill, seal the hole it just created and start over again. The process could go on for quite a while.

It took two relief wells to stop the world’s worst oil spill off the coast of Mexico in 1979, but it took 10 months of trial and error before the operation was successful. In that spill 140 million gallons of oil poured into the Gulf off the Yucatan peninsula. In the current spill so far, according to government estimates, up to 43 million gallons of oil have poured into the Gulf in a little over a month.

The location of this spill makes its impact on the environment and the economy much more severe than the Mexican disaster. Just to the south of the spill lies an essential spawning ground for the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna and sperm whales. To the east and west lie coral reefs and the coastal fisheries of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. To the north are Louisiana’s coastal marshes.

More than 125 miles of Louisiana coastline already have been hit with oil. “The creatures that inhabit these waters are dying and we are also getting killed,” said Jake Robin, a lifelong oyster fisherman in Ycloskey, La. “A whole way of life is finished. It’s the end of a world we know, love and depend upon.”

Another cause for concern is hurricane season which began today and is predicted to be very active.

Robert “Tiger” Hammond, president of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, who has lived his entire life in the bayou, noted that if a hurricane arrives, drilling of the relief wells would have to be suspended, making the process take even longer. “Not to mention the oil that could be washed up all over this region because of the storm,” he said.

Three of the worst storms ever to hit the Gulf region – Betsy in 1965, Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005 – all tore directly through the area into which the oil is now gushing.

BP’s inability to deal with the situation is causing President Obama to explore numerous options. Earlier, the administration had to compel BP to drill two relief wells; the company had only wanted to drill one. There were reports last night and this morning that the president was meeting for the first time today with the co-chairmen of an independent commission investigating the spill. A senior administration official told The Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that the meeting was scheduled for the White House.

Attorney General Eric Holder visited the Gulf Coast today to meet with state attorneys general. Senators have asked the Justice Department to determine whether any laws were broken by BP or anyone else in the spill. 

Photo: Coast Guard Ensign Adam Mosley, a marine biology undergraduate, logs sample data from oiled water in the Gulf of Mexico, May 27. The samples and field data Mosley collects help environmental scientists determine the effectiveness of dispersants used to break down the oil. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Pinneo




John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.