High winds and choppy seas frustrated efforts to hold back the oil spill seeping into Louisiana’s rich fishing grounds on Friday, and the government desperately cast about for new ideas to deal with the nation’s biggest environmental crisis in decades.
President Barack Obama on Friday halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent a repeat of the disaster that was set in motion when an offshore platform exploded and sank 50 miles (80 kilometers) out in the Gulf of Mexico.
As the mile-deep BP well continued to spew an estimated 200,000 gallons (757,060 liters) of crude a day, the seas were too rough and the winds too strong to burn off the oil, suck it up effectively with skimmer vessels, or hold it in check with the miles of orange and yellow inflatable booms strung along the coast.
The floating barriers broke loose in the choppy water, and waves sent oily water lapping over them.
“It just can’t take the wave action,” said Billy Nungesser, president of one of Louisiana’s political districts.
The spill _ a slick more than 130 miles (209 kilometers) long and 70 miles (112 kilometers) wide _ threatens hundreds of species of wildlife, including birds, dolphins and the fish, shrimp, oysters and crabs that make the Gulf Coast one of the nation’s most abundant sources of seafood.
Louisiana closed some fishing grounds and oyster beds because of the risk of oil contamination.
Meanwhile, oil services contractor Halliburton Inc. disputed allegations that its workers might have caused the April 20 accident that killed 11 people.
Lawsuits filed this week, including one by an injured technician on the platform, claims that Halliburton improperly cemented the well. Cementing is a process in which a slurry is used to fill the gap between the drilled hole and the casing, or the pipe that brings oil and gas up out of the ground.
In a statement, Halliburton said workers had finished a cementing operation 20 hours before the rig went up in flames. But the company said it was “premature and irresponsible to speculate” on what caused the disaster.
According to a 2007 study by the federal Minerals Management Service, which examined the 39 rig blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico between 1992 and 2006, cementing was a contributing factor in 18 of the incidents. In all the cases, gas seepage occurred during or after cementing of the well casing, the MMS said.
At least 1.6 million gallons (6.06 million liters) of oil have spilled, according to Coast Guard estimates.
As of Friday, only a sheen of oil from the edges of the slick was washing up at Venice, Louisiana, and other extreme southeastern portions of Louisiana. But several miles out, the normally blue-green gulf waters were dotted with sticky brown beads with the consistency of tar.
High seas were in the forecast through Sunday and could push oil deep into the inlets, ponds, creeks and lakes that line the boot of southeastern Louisiana. With the wind blowing from the south, the mess could reach the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts by Monday.
“These next few days are critical,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned.