Critical time at hand in environmental disaster in Gulf of Mexico

The most critical time in the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico is at hand, as BP engineers armed with 50,000 barrels of dense mud and a fleet of robotic submarines are poised to attempt what they call a "top kill" maneuver to plug the gushing well a mile below the surface.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward said Wednesday morning that the company hadn't yet decided whether to go forward with the risky plan, which rather than sealing the well could possibly make the leak worse. “Over the last 12 hours, continuing through the night, we have continued to take pressure readings and establish flow pulse,” Hayward said on NBC's "Today" show. "I will review that with the team and I will take a final decision as to whether or not we should proceed."

BP officials said that the top kill maneuver “has been done successfully in the past, but it hasn't been done at this depth.”

On April 20, an explosion on a deepwater BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, about 52 miles off the Louisiana coast, took the lives of 11 workers. Now a giant gash in the ocean floor has been spewing hundreds of thousands of oil a day. It could be one of the biggest environmental disasters of our lifetime.

Weather experts say now the loop current could carry oil from the spill east and spread it about 450 miles to the Florida Keys, while the Louisiana coastal current could move the oil as far west as central Texas.

The depth of the gushing leaks and the use of more than 580,000 gallons of chemicals to disperse the oil, including unprecedented injections deep in the sea, have helped keep the crude beneath the sea surface. Officials report that more than 390,000 gallons of chemicals are stockpiled. Marine scientists say diffusing and sinking the oil helps protect the surface species and the Gulf Coast shoreline but increases the chance of harming deep-sea life.

Michael Brune, director of the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental organization, said in his blog today: “In the month since the blowout, we have seen just how grossly unprepared the oil industry is for a disaster of this scale. We're now looking at a scenario where response plans include lighting the ocean on fire, pouring potent chemicals into the water, and using trash and human hair to stop the flow of oil. If this is the back up plan, we need to rethink taking the risk in the first place.

“A disaster of this scale can happen anywhere where offshore drilling takes place. We are calling on President Obama to issue a presidential moratorium on offshore drilling. A moratorium would offer solace to coastal communities in places like Florida, Virginia and California, where the oil industry has been pushing to drill.

“But we need more. We need assurance that this won't happen again. We need President Obama to deliver a bold plan to get America off oil over the next two decades. In this age, there is no reason we should be putting our fragile coasts and jobs at risk. We already have the technology to create a clean, 21st century transportation system that will end our addiction to oil.

“We’ve been talking about getting off oil for decades. This disaster is a wake up call. It's time to finally stand up to Big Oil and do what's best for America's children and grandchildren. Enough is enough. It's time to get off oil and on to clean energy.”

Lousiana environmental activist and former Maryknoll priest, Vic Hummert, said: "Oil is very important to the economy of this state. There is no need to tell you as a native of Louisiana how significant fishing and hunting are to survival also. The state bird is now soaked in oil and those rookeries might be snuffed out if something is not done quickly to protect them.

"We are not technical people in the face of an oil spill, but we are familiar with the importance and power behind fasting and prayer."

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here