Sunken Oil Rig Not Leaking Fuel, But Might Incident Affect Future Offshore Exploration?

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon April 21, 2010. Courtesy US Coast Guard

UPDATE (4/28): 42,000 gallons of oil a day are leaking from a broken pipe. See newest story here.

No oil appears to be leaking from the oil rig that burned violently for two days and sank yesterday in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials had feared that 336,000 of crude oil per day could be rising from the well on the seafloor, 5,000 feet below the surface. A major spill could threaten seabirds and shorebirds, shrimp breeding grounds, oyster beds, and other marine animals and habitat.

"We've been able to determine there is nothing emanating from the well-head," Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said on Good Morning America today. "That being said, we have positioned resources to be ready to respond should a spill occur... We will continue to monitor 24/7 for the next several days."

Rescue teams are continuing the search for the 11 rig workers who are still missing after the April 20 incident. At 11pm that evening, an explosion occurred on Deepwater Horizon, a mobile oil platform located 41 miles off Louisiana’s shore that was conducting exploratory drilling for BP. Of the 126-member crew, 115 were safely evacuated.

Yesterday, mounting fears of an environmental disaster overshadowed the search for missing crewmembers. Using underwater remotely operated vehicles and sonar, the Coast Guard has determined that oil in the water, which covers an area about 5 miles long and a mile wide, was “residual from the explosion,” not leaking from an open well, Landry told GMA.

Debris and oil from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform float in the Gulf of Mexico after the rig sank April 22, 2010. USCG photo by Petty Officer Elizabeth Bordelon

BP has mobilized a flotilla that includes 32 spill response vessels and four aircraft ready to spray dispersant to the spill.

"We are determined to do everything in our power to contain this oil spill and resolve the situation as rapidly, safely and effectively as possible," said Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward. "We have assembled and are now deploying world-class facilities, resources and expertise, and can call on more if needed. There should be no doubt of our resolve to limit the escape of oil and protect the marine and coastal environments from its effects."

NOAA’s oil-spill trajectory analysis indicates that the oil should remain offshore for at least three days, but the agency reports that “inclement weather forecast for 23-25 Apr will impact response and recovery operations.”

“The cause of the fire and explosion is unknown at this time. An investigation into the cause of the incident and assessment of the damage will be ongoing in the days or weeks to come,” Transocean, the offshore drilling contractor, said in a press release

For the latest updates, visit NOAA’s Deepwater Horizon Incident site.

Offshore drilling recently got a boost from the Obama administration, much to environmentalists' dismay, and is currently being debated in the Senate climate and energy bill to be released next week. We'll have to wait and see if the Deepwater Horizon incident disrupts passage of a climate bill, but University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato told The New York Times that recent broader public support for offshore drilling doesn't run very deep: "It's based on some general support for getting more energy domestically," Sabato said. "Undoubtedly, as people learn more about the costs, it's entirely possible that public support could wane."

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