NPR logo Gulf Oil Spill Enters Week Four With No End In Sight

Gulf Oil Spill Enters Week Four With No End In Sight

Is it still possible for anyone to be an optimist about just how long it will take to cap the continuing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico now entering its fourth week?

The failure of BP's dome-containment strategy because of ice crystals that clogged the outlet through which the company had hoped to pipe the escaping oil to tanker ships on the surface has BP now resorting to other options.

And those options couldn't have been seen as having a high probability of success since, if they had, BP would have presumably tried them before the dome.

According to the Associated Press, here's some of what BP is considering:

One technique would use a tube to shoot mud and concrete directly into the well's blowout preventer, a process that could take two to three weeks.

Chief operating officer Doug Suttles said BP was also thinking about putting a smaller containment dome over the massive leak, believing that it would be less vulnerable because it would contain less water. The smaller dome could be ready to deploy Tuesday or Wednesday.

The company was also now debating whether it should cut the riser pipe undersea and use larger piping to bring the gushing oil to a drill ship on the surface. Cutting the pipe would be tough, and was considered the less desirable option, said Suttles, who gave no indication of exactly what the next step would be.

As BP weighed its options on the mainland, waves of dark brown and black sludge crashed into a boat in the area above the leak. The fumes there were so intense that a crewmember of the support ship Joe Griffin and an AP photographer on board had to wear respirators while on deck.

A white cattle egret landed on the ship, brownish-colored stains of oil on its face and along its chest, wings and tail.

Meanwhile, thick blobs of tar washed up on Alabama's white sand beaches, yet another sign the spill was spreading.

As if that's weren't bad enough, no one really knows how much crude oil is being spewed into the gulf's waters.

The AP is reporting that 3.5 million gallons of oil have entered the gulf. PBS' Newshour's oil spill widget below puts the amount at around 4 million gallons.

But the blog says those numbers are far too low.

... The media continues to report that oil is leaking into the Gulf at 5,000 barrels per day. At SkyTruth we estimate the spill rate is closer to 1.1 million gallons (26,500 barrels) per day, based on the size of the slick on satellite images and Coast Guard maps, and thickness estimates derived from visual descriptions of the slick. That puts us at a total spill of 21 million gallons so far.

That would be six times the BP estimate and would make the gulf spill at least twice as bad as 1989's Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound which resulted in a spill of more than 10 million gallons of crude.