It is possible that the oil from a damaged offshore rig may continue leaking into the Gulf of Mexico until August and cause the largest environmental catastrophe in the United States' history. The grim prognosis emerged even as rig owner British Petroleum (BP) admitted that its much-touted "top kill" operation had failed to stem the surge of oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20.
The enormity of the damage that has already occurred combined with the inability of the administration to stop the leak, has led to the possibility that "Oilgate" may have a significant political fallout and irreparably damage the Obama presidency as well.
In a statement BP said, the "top kill" procedure intended to kill the well by injecting heavy drilling fluids through the blow-out preventer (BOP) on the seabed, into the well. However it said that despite pumping over 30,000 barrels of heavy mud in three attempts, and deploying a wide range of different bridging materials, "the operation did not overcome the flow from the well".
While there are several further steps that BP will take to halt the flow of oil, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, leading the effort to curtail the spill, said, "The ultimate solution is going to be to drill a relief well, take the pressure off that well and cap it. That will be sometime in August. We don't want to wait that long."
"Assault on the people"
President Obama echoed some of the frustrations of those affected in states such as Louisiana, when he said that every day that the leak continued was an assault on the people of the Gulf Coast region and their livelihoods.
He added, "It is as enraging as it is heartbreaking, and we will not relent until this leak is contained, until the waters and shores are cleaned up, and until the people unjustly victimised by this manmade disaster are made whole."
On the unsuccessful efforts to stop the leak Mr. Obama said, "While we initially received optimistic reports about the procedure, it is now clear that it has not worked. Rear Admiral Mary Landry today directed BP to launch a new procedure whereby the riser pipe will be cut and a containment structure fitted over the leak."
BP confirmed that it had received government permission to move to the next step in the subsea operations, the deployment of the Lower Marine Riser Package (LMRP) Cap Containment System. This procedure would entail cutting and removing the damaged riser from the top of the failed BOP to leave a cleanly-cut pipe at the top of the BOP's LMRP, BP explained.
The cap designed to connect to a riser of a surface-level drillship, will be placed over the LMRP "with the intention of capturing most of the oil and gas flowing from the well". BP added the LMRP cap would be connected in approximately four days.
"This operation has not been previously carried out in 5,000 feet of water and the successful deployment of the containment system cannot be assured," BP warned.
Since the crisis unfolded, the Obama administration has come under fire from various quarters, including Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, who recently expressed frustration at the delays in containing the damage to his state's coastline, which had seriously endangered its marine life and associated livelihoods.