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Oil Nears Florida as Effort to Contain Well Hits Snag

Source: WSJ

Posted on 02 Jun 2010

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BP PLC, under increasing pressure to contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, has hit a snag while trying to sever a pipe connected to the well as a six-foot-long oil sheen was found along Florida's Panhandle shoreline Wednesday.

Overnight, the response team was able to "successfully" make the first shear cut of the pipe, U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander for the spill, said at a news conference in Houma, La. But then a specialized saw got stuck while making a second fine cut that's needed before a containment device can be put in place.

"They are working that problem right now. The goal is later on today is to finish that cut and to be able to put a containment device on top of the wellhead," Adm. Allen said.

The containment device is designed to channel oil up to a ship on the surface. BP is pursuing this option after announcing over the weekend that a strategy known as top kill, which appeared promising at first, had failed to plug the leak.

If the response team is unable to dislodge the saw, another saw would have to be used, Adm. Allen said. He added that there's no question that a second cut can be made, but it remains uncertain how precise the cut will be. The smoother the cut is, the better the chance will be that the containment device will be able to capture a greater quantity of oil.

"As soon as the cut is made that separates the remainder of the riser pipe from the lower marine riser package, they will assess the quality of the cut and either move to install the top cap, which is the tighter device, with actually a rubber seal around it, or the top hat, which is a little wide and has less of a seal," he said.

The news of the snag comes as the slick continues to spread and the environmental and economic toll increases.

Adm. Allen said Wednesday that oil has now made landfall on parts of Mississippi and that tar balls were apparent in Alabama.

Winds pushed the massive oil spill closer to Florida's Panhandle shoreline, a summer tourism hotspot.

The oil sheen appeared to be a small breakaway piece from a larger sheen measuring 50 feet by 20 feet that was still 46 miles off the coast of Pensacola on Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokeswoman at the unified command center in Mobile, Ala., that is tracking the spill. he smaller sheen was found "close to the beach if not right on the beach,'' the spokeswoman added.

The Florida Panhandle is in the northwestern part of Florida, a long stretch of white sandy beaches popular with tourists from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Pensacola is located in the western-most part of the Panhandle, bordering Alabama.

It is the first time authorities have reported an oil sheen along Florida's coast following the April explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. But winds from the south could push more oil toward Florida in the coming days.