Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana, United States (AHN) – BP’s announcement this week that its latest effort failed to stop the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana is creating alarm in Mexico that its ecosystem will be damaged when water currents shift in the fall.
The oil company said it would try a new method to plug the leaking well within days but admitted the spill could continue into August.
“This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we have ever faced in this country,” White House energy adviser Carol Browner said Sunday on CBS’s “Face The Nation.” “We are prepared for the worst.”
Mexico’s National Ecology Institute says the normal shifting of water currents that occurs every fall is likely to bring some of the leaked oil to its shores near Veracruz in October.
Along the way, the oil would pollute shrimp, sardines and tuna sought by Mexican fishermen. The oil also threatens endangered species of sea turtles, such as the hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback.
BP plans to replace the current leaking wellhead this week with a new one to cap the flow of oil. However, the company will give no guarantee of success and says the effort could make the leak 20 percent worse if it fails.
BP managing director Bob Dudley said in a Fox News interview that the new capping method was more likely to reduce the oil leak than stop it. It raised “the question of how much of the oil” could be stopped, he said.
In a worst case scenario, BP says the leak could continue into August while it drills a new shaft lower into the existing one to divert the flow of oil spewing from the ocean floor.
Veracruz Governor Fidel Herrera Beltran ordered Mexico’s State Civil Protection Committee to monitor 70 nautical miles along its northern coast as the oil slick approaches from the site of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources says the oil slick could damage reefs that support the country’s fishing industry.
The oil slick is accumulating about 437 miles from Mexico.
Scientists also are warning that hurricanes could turn the relatively stationary oil slick into a rolling surf, possibly spreading far beyond the Louisiana coast to Texas, Mexico and elsewhere. Hurricane season starts Tuesday.
Most of the environmental monitoring so far has focused on slicks along the water’s surface. New evidence emerged in recent days that an underwater plume of oil stretches for at least 22 miles.
BP officials deny the existence of an extensive underwater plume. They say any subsurface oil is merely making its way to the top because oil is lighter than water.
Some members of Congress are demanding another explanation from the oil company.
Democratic Rep. Edward Markey sent a letter Monday to BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward demanding documentation that the company has no evidence of an underwater plume.
Markey is chairman of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee.
He said earlier that, “If the word ‘criminal’ should be used in terms of an environmental crime against our country, what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico is going to qualify.”
BP was working on its next effort to stop the leak Monday using what it called a Lower Marine Riser Package.
The system involves using a robot to cut away part of the leaking pipe and to put a cap on it.
Company officials say the extreme pressure of the leaking oil creates dangers of failure, but that they have few other alternatives.
They are trying to recap the well after admitting failure Sunday with their “top kill” approach.
The maneuver involved pumping golf balls, old tires and knotted rope into the pipes, then sealing them in place with thick mud and cement.
Instead, the extreme pressure of the well blew the “junk shot” out of the pipes but let the oil continue to flow.