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May 10, 2010 1:13 PM by Melissa Canone

Robot Shot Chemical Dispersant Into Oil Leak

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO (AP) - A remote-controlled submarine shot
a chemical dispersant into the maw of a massive undersea oil leak
Monday, further evidence that authorities expect the gusher to keep
erupting into the Gulf of Mexico 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 spokesman Mark Proegler told The Associated Press.
The agency had halted two previous rounds of the dispersant to
test its potential impact on the environment, and approved a third
round of spraying that began early Monday, Proegler said. An EPA
spokeswoman didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.
BP engineers, casting about after an ice buildup thwarted their
plan to siphon off most of the leak using a 100-ton containment
box, pushed ahead with other potential short-term solutions,
including using a smaller box and injecting the leak with junk to
plug it. However, none of these has been tried so deep - about a
mile down. Workers were simultaneously drilling a relief well, the
solution considered most permanent, but that was to take up to
three months.
At least 3.5 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 as the
nation's worst spill by Father's Day.
The engineers appear to be "trying anything people can think
of" to stop the leak, said Ed Overton, a LSU professor of
environmental studies.
Back on land, National Guard helicopters ferried loads of 1-ton
sandbags to plug gaps in barrier islands that have been lapped at
by a sheen of oil. The effort to bolster the islands was meant to
safeguard the area's vulnerable wetlands.
Authorities also planned to use south Louisiana's system of
locks and levees to release water to help keep the worst of the oil
at sea.
"We're trying to save thousands of acres of marsh here in this
area, where the shrimp lay their eggs, where the fin fish lay their
eggs, where the crabs come in and out," said Chett Chiasson,
executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.
"We're trying to save a heritage, a way of life, a culture that we
know here in recreational and commercial fishing."
BP - which is responsible for the cleanup - said Monday the
spill has cost it $350 million so far for immediate response,
containment efforts, commitments to the Gulf Coast states, and
settlements and federal costs. The company did not speculate on the
final bill, which most analysts expect to run into tens of billions
of dollars.
Among plans under consideration for the gusher, BP is looking at
cutting the riser pipe, which extends from the well, undersea and
using larger piping to bring the gushing oil to a drill ship on the
surface, a tactic considered difficult and less desirable because
it will increase the flow of oil.
Above the oil leak, waves of dark brown and black sludge crashed
into the support ship Joe Griffin. The fumes there were so intense
that a crew member and an AP photographer on board had to wear
respirators while on deck.
Oil - be it a surface sheen, globules or balls of tar - has
washed up west of the Mississippi River and as far east as Dauphin
Island, three miles off the Alabama mainland at the mouth of Mobile
Bay.
The containment box plan had been designed to divert up to 85
percent of the leaking oil to a tanker at the surface.
The blowout aboard the rig, which was being leased by BP, was
triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and
shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through
several seals and barriers before exploding, according to
interviews with rig workers conducted during BP's initial, internal
probe. The exact cause remains under investigation.

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