The massive oil spill that has already washed up on southern Louisiana’s coastline has now spread east to the shores of Mississippi and Alabama, government officials said on Wednesday.
Admiral Thad Allen, who is coordinating the U.S. government’s response, said “first oil contact” had been made on the coastline of Mississippi, while some tar balls and oil sheen had washed up in Alabama.
The moving oil slick has forced responders to rush more people and containment boom to those States to help block the heavy crude from reaching the ever-fragile coastline.
“First Louisiana has been impacted, now the threat is shifting to Mississippi and Alabama,” Adm. Allen told reporters.
News of the spreading oil slick came as oil giant BP ran into some trouble with its latest effort to contain the ruptured well that has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20.
Adm. Allen said BP had successfully managed a first cut of the longer leaking pipe, called the marine riser, over which it planned to place a small cap that would collect and siphon most of the oil to the surface about 1.6 km above.
But the diamond wire saw became stuck in the piping as they attempted to refine the cut in order to get a tighter fit for the containment dome. Engineers, using robotic submarines, were trying to dislodge the saw, or would otherwise have to send down a second saw to finish the job.
Adm. Allen said they still hoped to complete the second cut by the end of Wednesday. The “precision” of the cut would determine just how wide a cap could be placed over the opening, and how much of the gushing oil could be collected.
BP has been trying in vain for weeks to contain the oil spill that has now become the worst in U.S. history. The latest operation was not without risk, as cutting the marine riser could result in the flow of oil out of the well increasing about 20 per cent.
The only hope for permanently closing down the well lies in two relief wells being drilled parallel to the damaged one, but these will not be finished until August.