Gulf oil cleanup better led by industry: military

The oil industry is better equipped to deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico than the U.S. military, a top military official has said.
Oil floats in the water near the source of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana, on Friday. ((Jae C. Hong/Associated Press))

The oil industry is better equipped to deal with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico than the U.S. military, a top military official has said.

Military officials have looked at what they have available, but "the best technology in the world, with respect to that, exists in the oil industry," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said Monday.

He was responding to suggestions the military should take the lead in spill's cleanup.

A decision on the military leading the response would come from U.S. President Barack Obama, he said.

With BP making yet another attempt to stem the flow from a blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico — this time only to contain the leak, not stop it — signs point to August before any real end is in sight.

BP's next containment effort, a Lower Marine Riser Package, or LMRP, involves an assortment of undersea robot manoeuvres that would redirect the oil up and out of the water it is poisoning.

BP's next effort

A welder works on the fabrication of one component of the Lower Marine Riser Package, or LMRP, at the Wild Well Control yard at the Port of Fourchon, La. ((BP))
The first step in BP's latest effort is the intricate removal of a damaged riser that brought oil to the surface of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

The riser will be cut at the top of the crippled blowout preventer, creating a flat surface that a new containment valve, the LMRP, can seal against.  The valve would force the oil into a new pipe that would bring it up to a ship.

The seal, however, would not prevent all oil from escaping. A government official said Sunday the effort could result in a temporary 20 per cent increase in the flow. BP has said it didn't expect a significant increase in flow from the cutting and capping plan.

If the containment valve fails, BP may try installing a new blowout preventer on top of the existing one.

In the end, however, a relief well would ease the pressure on the runaway gusher in favour of a controlled pumping — essentially what the Deepwater Horizon was trying to do in the first place. But that will take at least two months.

The spill is already the worst in American history — worse, even, than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. It has already released between 68 million and 151 million litres of oil into the Gulf, according to government estimates.

Using government figures, if the leak continues at its current pace and is stopped on Aug. 1, 193 million to 401 million litres will have spilled.

Hurricane season starts Tuesday

In Louisiana, where oil from the spill has seeped into marshlands and begun washing up on shore, beaches were closed to swimming and fishing on what would normally be a busy start to the summer season.

A man runs along the beach with his dog as workers gather to clean up oil residue in Grand Isle, La., on Sunday. ((Jae C. Hong/Associated Press))

Memorial Day visitors to the beach at Grand Isle, La., were also warned to stay away from oil cleanup crews.

Elsewhere, fishermen were idled during what has previously been a busy season, and floating hotels are being set up to house workers who will try to mop up the crude seeping into marshes.

Crude-coated birds have become a frequent sight in such areas.

On top of that, hurricane season begins Tuesday. It brings the horrifying possibility of wind-whipped, oil-soaked waves and water spinning ashore and coating areas much farther inland.

Coastal tent cities are about to rise to house the workers and contractors minimizing the damage, while barge-like floating hotels for a total of about 800 workers are being readied at three locations off Louisiana.

Sand banks and barriers are also being built.

The consensus around the Gulf Coast is turning more apoplectic and apocalyptic. This is, people are starting to say, a generational event — tragic to this generation, potentially crippling to the next.

"I was just sitting here thinking our way of life is over. It's the end, the apocalypse," said fisherman Tom Young of Plaquemines Parish on the coast.

"The oil spill is part of prophecy," said Rev. Theodore Turner, 57, at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Boothville, near where oil first washed ashore.

Fishermen make up about a third of his congregation.

"The Bible prophesized hardships," Turner said. "If we believe the word of God is true — and we do — we also know that in addition to prophesying hardships he promised to take care of us."