‘Serious spill’ from US oil rig

Oil is leaking
from a damaged well feeding a rig that sank off Louisiana on Thursday, in what
US officials are calling “a very serious spill”.

The well is
estimated to be leaking at a rate of about 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of
oil per day.

Although the
US coastguard said on Friday that no leak was detected, the latest evidence
suggests a spill. Bad weather has hampered efforts to fix it.

Eleven workers
are still missing after an explosion and fire on Tuesday.

The Deepwater
Horizon had been burning for 36 hours when it sank on Thursday in 5,000 ft
(1,500m) of water, despite efforts to control the flames.

It was
carrying out exploratory drilling 84km (52 miles) south-east of the Louisiana
port of Venice when the blast occurred.

BP has
deployed a number of ships and equipment to contain the leak by closing valves
on the sunken well.

“A huge
number of engineers from ourselves, working with [the government] and across
the industry are putting together the best technology and know-how to solve
this problem,” BP Exploration and Production Chief Operating Officer Doug
Suttles was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

Oil sheen

The US
Coastguard said it had thought it was dealing only with a surface residual oil
spill from the rig.

“In
addition to that, is oil emanating from the well. It is a big change from
yesterday… This is a very serious spill, absolutely, ” said Rear Adm Mary
Landry.

A sheen of oil
covering an area of about 20 square miles was visible on the ocean’s surface
after the explosion and subsequent blaze.

In 2009, BP
PLC was fined a record $87m for failing to improve safety conditions following
a massive explosion that killed 15 people at its Texas City refinery.

But the US
Mineral Management Services found no violations on the Deepwater Horizon rig
when it carried out routine inspections in February, March and April this year.

President
Barack Obama said on Thursday that the government was providing “all
assistance needed” for both the rescue and clean up efforts in the
troubled area.

He described
the crisis on the BP-leased rig as his administration’s “number one
priority”.

No cause for
the blast has yet been identified.

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