NEW ORLEANS – Crews hurried to get back to work on plugging BP’s leaky oil well Saturday after Tropical Storm Bonnie fizzled, and engineers hoped for a window of clear weather long enough to stop the gusher for good.
But with peak hurricane season starting in early August, chances are the next big storm is right on Bonnie’s heels.
“We’re going to be playing a cat-and-mouse game for the remainder of the hurricane season,” retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Saturday. Sure enough, another disturbance already was brewing in the Caribbean, although forecasters said it wasn’t likely to strengthen into a tropical storm.
In the past 10 years, an average of five named storms have hit the Gulf each hurricane season. This year, two have struck already – Bonnie and Hurricane Alex at the end of June, which delayed cleanup of BP’s massive oil spill for a week even though it didn’t get closer than 500 miles to the well.
“Usually you don’t see the first hurricane statistically until Aug. 10,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “The 2010 hurricane season is running just ahead of a typical pace.”
Bonnie fell apart Saturday before it even reached the Louisiana coast. By then, worries about the storm had pushed back efforts to solidly seal the well by at least a week, said Allen, the government’s point man on the spill and a veteran of the Coast Guard’s rescue mission after Hurricane Katrina.
Completion now looks possible by mid-August, but Allen said he wouldn’t hesitate to order another evacuation based on forecasts similar to the ones for Bonnie, which halted work on Wednesday.
“We have no choice but to start well ahead of time if we think the storm track is going to bring gale force winds, which are 39 mph or above, anywhere close to well site,” Allen said.
Hurricane season ends Nov. 30.
Even though the evacuation turned out to be short-lived, it revealed one important fact: BP and the federal government are increasingly sure that the temporary plug that has mostly contained the oil for eight days will hold.
They didn’t loosen the cap even when they thought they’d lose sight of it during the evacuation, although in the end, the real-time cameras that have given the world a constant view of the ruptured well never stopped rolling.