ON THE GULF OF MEXICO – Black Hawk helicopters peppered Louisiana’s barrier islands with 1-ton sacks of sand Monday to bolster the state’s crucial wetlands against the epic Gulf of Mexico oil spill – 4 million gallons and growing.
At the site of the ruptured well a mile underwater, a remote-controlled submarine shot chemicals into the maw of the massive leak to dilute the flow, further evidence that BP expects the gusher to keep erupting into the Gulf for weeks or more.
Crews using the deep-sea robot attempted to thin the oil – which is rushing up from the seabed at a pace of about 210,000 gallons per day – after getting approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, BP PLC officials said.
Two previous tests were done to determine the potential impact on the environment, and the third round of spraying was to last into early today.
The EPA said the effects of the chemicals were still widely unknown.
BP engineers were casting about after an icelike buildup thwarted their plan to siphon off most of the leak using a 100-ton containment box. They pushed ahead with other potential short-term solutions, including using a smaller box and injecting the leak with junk such as golf balls and pieces of tire to plug it. If it works, the well will be filled with mud and cement and abandoned.
“This is the largest, most comprehensive spill response mounted in the history of the United States and the oil and gas industry,” BP chief executive Tony Hayward said in Houston.
None of those methods has been attempted so deep. Workers were simultaneously drilling a relief well, the solution considered most permanent, but that was expected to take up to three months.
At least 4 million gallons were believed to have leaked since an April 20 drilling rig blast killed 11. If the gusher continues unabated, it would surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster – 11 million gallons – as the nation’s worst spill by Father’s Day, June 20.
The new containment device is much smaller, about 4 feet in diameter, 5 feet tall and weighing just under 2 tons, said Doug Suttles, BP PLC chief operating officer. Unlike the bigger box, it will be connected to a drill ship on the surface by a pipe-within-a-pipe when it’s lowered, which will allow crews to pump heated water and methanol immediately to prevent the ice buildup.
In Grand Isle, at the tip of the Louisiana boot, a small army of heavy machinery scurried to fortify a breached section of beach. National Guard helicopters had dropped sandbags on the breach, and later piles of dirt were being pushed together to make a dam, keeping oil from the marshes.
As the sandbags plopped in place, workers farther inland used pumps and other structures to divert fresh water from the Mississippi River into the marshlands, hoping it would help push back the oily saltwater lapping at the coast.