Oil On Louisiana Shore, Also Entering Loop Current

BP conceded Thursday that more oil than it estimated is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico as heavy crude washed into Louisiana's wetlands for the first time, feeding worries and uncertainty about the massive monthlong spill.

Mark Proegler, a spokesman for oil giant BP PLC, said a mile-long tube inserted into a leaking pipe over the weekend is now capturing 210,000 gallons a day - the total amount the company and the Coast Guard have estimated is gushing into the sea - but some is still escaping. He would not say how much.

Several professors who have watched video of the leak have already said they believe the amount gushing out is much higher than the official estimates.

Proegler said the 210,000 gallons - 5,000 barrels - has always been just an estimate because there is no way of measuring how much is gushing from the seafloor.

The well blew out after an explosion a month ago on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 people.

Brown ooze from the spill coated marsh grasses and hung in the shallow water of a wetland at Louisiana's southeastern tip, the first heavy oil seen on shore so far. Gov. Bobby Jindal declared Wednesday it was just the outer edge of the real spill, much heavier than an oily sheen seen before.

"This is the heavy oil that everyone's been fearing that is here now," Jindal said during a boat tour. The wetlands at the mouth of the Mississippi are home to rare birds, mammals and a wide variety of marine life.

BP, which was leasing the rig when it exploded, was marshaling equipment and conducting tests Thursday ahead of a new effort to choke off the oil's flow. Crews hoped that by Sunday they can start a procedure known as a "top kill," which involves pumping heavy mud into the crippled equipment on top of the well, then permanently sealing it with cement.

The procedure has been used before to halt gushing oil above ground, but like other methods BP is exploring it has never been used 5,000 feet below the sea. That's why scientists and engineers have spent much of the last week preparing and taking a series of measurements to make sure that the mission doesn't backfire.

"The philosophy from the beginning is not to take any action which could make the situation worse, and those are the final steps we're doing," said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer.

In addition to the oil washing up in Louisiana, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that a small portion of the slick had entered the so-called loop current, a stream of fast moving water that circulates around the Gulf before bending around Florida and up the Atlantic coast. Its arrival may portend a wider environmental catastrophe affecting the Florida Keys and tourist-dotted beaches along that state's east coast.

Tracking the unpredictable spill and the complex loop current is a challenge for scientists, said Charlie Henry, a NOAA environmental scientist.

The loop moves based on the shifting winds and other environmental factors, so even though the oil is leaking continuously it may be in the current one day, and out the next. And the slick itself has defied scientists' efforts to track it and predict its path. Instead, it has repeatedly advanced and retreated, an ominous, shape-shifting mass in the Gulf, with vast underwater lobes extending outward.

Even farther south, U.S. officials were talking to Cuba about how to respond to the spill should it reach the island's northern coast, a U.S. State Department spokesman said.

Florida's state meteorologist said it will be at least another seven days before the oil reaches waters west of the Keys, and state officials sought to reassure visitors that beaches are still clean and safe. During a news conference, David Halstead, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, showed off a picture of a Coppertone bottle on a beach.

"What's the only oil on the beaches? Suntan oil," Halstead said.

Tar balls found earlier in the Florida Keys were not from the spill, the Coast Guard said Wednesday. Still, at least 6 million gallons have already poured into the Gulf off Louisiana since the rig explosion that killed 11 workers and led to the spill, the worst U.S. environmental disaster in decades. The Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 11 million gallons in Alaska in 1989.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said in a news release that BP complied with his request that a live feed of the oil spill be made publicly available on the Web.

It was not up Thursday morning but Eben Burnham-Snyder, spokesman for the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said in an e-mail that it should show up soon.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the government has access to that live video and scientists will be using it along with satellite imagery to check estimates from early on in the disaster about how much is leaking.

"The government will be making its own, independent verification of what those total numbers are," Salazar said on the CBS "Early Show" Thursday.

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  • by Derek Location: Greenville on May 21, 2010 at 06:02 AM
    OSOC are you still suggesting that this was an act of a left wing extremist group? Even after the survivors of the disaster explained what caused this rig to blow up? Yeah, if we drop the facts, ignore the truth, turn our focus away from the safety measures that were ignored by BP, Haliburton and on the platform itself, then the only logically explanation is that indeed this is the result of those liberal thugs, those environmentalist scum, its a conspiracy! its greenpeace's fault!
  • by Robin Location: Belhaven on May 20, 2010 at 07:55 PM
    to lovetheocean... First off, who doesn't love the ocean? When the oil rich Republicans walk off into the sunset, and the precious Gulf Stream is ruined, we will be in a mini ice age...... Second, I must say how sadened I am that there are people out here who believe that everything has to with PRESIDENT Obama... Do you seriously think that when we elect a new President, everybody who worked for the Government got fired and replaced by the new administration? How stupid can you be? And....By the way, you better hide your pipe bombs... There are still Bush people in jobs who may be competitent enough to catch you.
  • by Robin Location: Belhaven on May 20, 2010 at 07:22 PM
    I thought, according to the newscast at noon today, there was to be a NBC special @ 10 pm... well it's not...... what happened?
  • by Anonymous on May 20, 2010 at 01:16 PM
    Why does BP and the government not turn to NASA for help in finding a solution?? They have to work in "extreme cold conditions" in space?? Just a thought
  • by jerry Location: manteo on May 20, 2010 at 12:50 PM
    BP, I think, has been lying from the beginning about the amount of oil coming from the well. The greedy criminals could plug the leak, but instead, they keep trying to "pump it to a tanker". And all of this is Henry Ford`s fault.
  • by lovestheocean on May 20, 2010 at 11:52 AM
    ObamaSOC, I agree......according to survivor testimonies many safeguards were overlooked (more like over riden by authorities) that lead up to the diaster. So maybe we should call it major ignorance. The rig and all it's technology is gone and what's left is a pipe spewing oil and no solution in place for this. Kinda like having a water pipe burst in your house with no shut-off valve....sorry but inexcusable on the Oil Industries part.
  • by Bubba Location: the question on May 20, 2010 at 11:23 AM
    Over 50 Oil rigs lost during hurricane Katrina,Not 1 Oil spill of any significance. No major Oil rig blow ups in a long time. Our President says a couple months ago....We are gona drill more off shore in Virgina and NC.....then this......I hope someone takes a close look at this and makes sure the Oil companies didn't do it. They keep their high Oil prices, and no more drilling off-shore to drive prices down. Oil prices are high again, economy and jobs starting to suffer again, but our wonderful government and the oil companies say the price of oil has nothing to do with the recession. GREED PEOPLE, see what it does. This country is nothing more than a corrupt joke of greedy people.
  • by The flood Location: Winterville on May 20, 2010 at 10:59 AM
    If crazy environmentalists wouldn't force us to drill out that far and by consequence deep, we would be able to drill in much safer and easier to control environments close to the shore or even on dry land. Don't be fooled, the people who are up in arms the most about this are the ones that wanted it to happen the most so they could scare everyone into the false belief that drilling for oil is destroying the planet.
  • by Obama Snake Oil Co Location: Washington on May 20, 2010 at 10:20 AM
    lovestheocean, the thing I don't understand is, there are nearly 4000 oil platforms in the Gulf, yet, we talk of drilling, announce it, and an oil rig blows up. Then, all the safety features the platform has to prevent leakage, fails...what are the odds of this? I am sure there was no bet on the tables in vegas for that one...too much history and for a long time, that this would happen. This, plus, you mean, for all these years and history, there wasn't a plan to deal with this?
  • by lovestheocean on May 20, 2010 at 10:06 AM
    Oh yeah I forgot to mention.....you can kiss the Crytal Coast of NC goodbye a fews months from now when that crap gets flowing really well into the Gulf Stream. Also the Bahamas, Caribbeans, everglades, Key West, Miami, etc. are all toast as well. Thanks BIG OIL MONGULS, you greedy idiots.
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