Spill causing vexing problems

On Sunday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar repeatedly said there are 30,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico. But all but a few hundred are in relatively shallow water. Although other wells have been as deep as the one drilled by Deepwater Horizon that has caused the massive oil spill, this remains at the edge of what is technologically possible. That also means that the government lacks the tools to seal the well and must rely on the oil industry to find a solution.

“Our job basically is to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum,” Salazar said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The oil spill presents technical challenges far more complex than those of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, where the quantity of oil could be easily estimated, said the administration’s point person on the crisis, Adm. Thad W. Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“This spill at this point, in my view, is indeterminate. That makes it asymmetrical, anomalous and one of the most complex things we’ve ever dealt with,” Allen said on CNN.

Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation said his group had taken a small plane over the slick Sunday. He said that from the air, the oil looked in some places like long ribbons of mud. In others, he said, it made the water strangely more reflective of sunlight, “as if somebody just took a paintbrush and just put varnish atop the ocean.”

Allen said Sunday night that the spill is 40 to 50 miles wide and 80 miles long and holding nearly steady, possibly slowed by an eddy current at the mouth of the Mississippi. “It’s pretty well remained in the vicinity of the well so far,” he said.

High winds and the threat of hail and tornados impeded efforts Sunday to keep the oil slick from reaching coastal Louisiana. The heavy seas have made skimming the oil nearly impossible, and the last controlled burn of the slick took place Thursday.

Some boats did get out to assess damage and lay protective booms despite the five-foot seas. In St. Bernard Parish, La., southeast of New Orleans, experienced fishermen took back routes through marshes to lay booms near shore.


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