Oil rig blast prompts environmental concerns

President Obama said today that containing spilt oil from a collapsed rig was the Government’s “number one priority” as the US braced itself for a major environmental disaster.

Crude oil was pouring into the Gulf of Mexico this morning from the site where Deepwater Horizon, a floating platform leased by BP, had burnt for two days after an explosion before finally collapsing yesterday.

Officials said the current spill, which threatened to wash ashore on the Gulf states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, had the potential to be the worst seen in the US since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill, which poured nearly 11 million gallons (42 million litres) of crude into Prince William Sound in Alaska.

In a statement the White House said that President Obama would make sure that the federal government was offering all assistance needed in the rescue effort “as well as in mitigating and responding to the environmental impact”.

Eleven of the 126 people on board the rig at the time of the blast were still missing as the US Coast Guard mounted a desperate search by sea and air. Four others remain in acritical condition.

Officials said that before the explosion there were 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board the rig, which had been drilling 8,000 barrels of oil a day.

“This is considered a major oil spill,” Mike O’Berry, a senior chief petty officer with the US Coast Guard, said.

The Coast Guard said a one mile by five mile slick had settled on the surface about 45 miles offshore as a massive clean-up operation, including specialist ships sent by BP, worked to prevent the oil from reaching the American coast.

Transocean, the Swiss company that owned the rig, tried to cut off the uncontrolled flow of oil using an underwater robot but a spokesperson said last night that it had not been possible “to stem the flow of hydrocarbons prior to the rig sinking”.

The robot, equipped with cameras and remote-controlled arms, was being used to try to activate a device on the seafloor, 5,000ft (1,500m) below the surface, that is designed automatically to close pipes on the seabed.

BP, Transocean and the US Coast Guard were planning to use booms, skimmers and chemicals to control the spreading oil slick.

Adrian Rose, the vice-president of Transocean, said that the rig likely suffered a blowout while drilling through rock at BP’s Macondo prospect, although investigations into the exact cause of the accident are ongoing.
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