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Jun
10

Hurricane Alex threatens Mexico, Texas coasts

NEWS
Hurricane Alex threatens Mexico, Texas coasts

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Earth

••• U.S. President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in Texas as Alex strengthened into a hurricane, disrupting oil cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama’s move allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to co-ordinate all disaster relief efforts, a White House statement says.

It came as Alex forced the suspension of oil skimming operations from the disastrous BP spill as visiting Vice President Joe Biden heard complaints about the pace of cleanup efforts in the disaster zone.

Ten weeks after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon platform exploded, setting off the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, Biden was given an earful from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal about the slow response.

Some 413 miles of once-pristine shorelines have been oiled, as well as countless birds and other wildlife, since the rig sank on April 22.

Since then crude has gushed at an alarming rate into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the region’s vital fishing and tourism industries in tatters.
Meanwhile, the State Department announced that the United States will accept offers from 12 foreign countries to help clean up and contain the spill.

Offers of booms have been accepted from Canada, Japan, Mexico and Norway; skimmers have been accepted from France, Japan, Mexico and Norway; and a sweeping arm system has been accepted from the Netherlands, a spokeswoman told AFP.

On his trip to the region, Biden was greeted by protesters holding signs reading ‘oil kills’ as he entered a command centre in New Orleans for an hour-long briefing before meeting with local fishermen.

He also travelled to the Florida panhandle, where the slick has forced authorities to close down some of the area’s fabled white sand beaches.

Jindal, a Republican who has been highly critical of the federal response, asked Biden for help cutting through red tape and deploying more resources to keep the oil from coating fragile coastal wetlands and fishing grounds.

‘The federal government needs to increase their sense of urgency,’ Jindal said in a statement after meeting with Biden.

‘They need to treat this spill like a war and get in it to win it. We’re here to defend our way of life.’

At the leak site 50 miles offshore, winds of up to 22 knots churned up large waves that made it too rough for crews to deploy a third vessel set to nearly double the capacity of BP’s containment system.

The now-delayed Helix Producer was set to increase the capacity to gather the gushing oil to between 40,000 and 50,000 barrels per day by early July, from the current 25,000 barrels.
The current containment system is capturing nearly 25,000 of the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude spewing out of the ruptured well every day.

That could all end up gushing directly into the sea if Alex – which is forecast to pass hundreds of kilometres from the site and strike land near the Texas-Mexico border late on Wednesday – changes path and threatens a more direct hit on the slick.

Forecasters are not predicting such a dramatic shift. But U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the spill response, said that even the threat of gale force winds – upward of 45 mph – would be enough to force drilling and containment ships to withdraw.

Alex’s winds late on Tuesday had reached 75 mph, with higher gusts, and the storm was expected to strengthen before making landfall on Wednesday night, the National Hurricane Centre said.

Hurricane force winds extend outward only about 30km from the centre but tropical storm force winds extend up to 174 miles, according to the NHC.

In the event of an evacuation, operations will be shut down for about two weeks to ‘take down the equipment, move it off to a safe place, bring it back and re-establish drilling’, Allen said.

That would be another major setback for the ill-fated oil collection effort, and would probably delay until September the completion of relief wells designed to permanently plug the well.

An estimated 1.6 million to 3.6 million barrels of oil have already poured into the Gulf from the ruptured wellhead some 1 mile below the surface.

BP hopes a new mooring system will make the containment cap deep down on the sea floor easier to disconnect and reconnect in the case of bad weather – a vital contingency as hurricane season gets into full swing.

The rough seas have already shifted parts of the slick closer to sensitive areas in Florida and Louisiana and could also push the oil deeper into fragile coastal wetlands.

Waves at the site of the sunken BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig were up to two metres, a Coast Guard spokesman told AFP.
• Latest News & Headlines » Home «
• Source(s): NOAA / National Weather Service (NWS)
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