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Hurricane Alex Wreaks Havoc with BP Oil Spill Clean Up

Jun 30, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

More oil is being pushed up on Gulf Coast beaches, thanks to rough seas created by Hurricane Alex. According to the Associated Press, waves as high as 6 feet and winds over 25 mph were forecast through tomorrow just offshore from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle.

Though the first hurricane of the Atlantic season was expected to come ashore near the Texas/Mexico boarder, some 500 miles from the spill site, Alex is still complicating efforts to clean up and contain the BP oil spill. The rough seas meant that skimming and burning operations in the Gulf of Mexico had to be suspended. Dozens of ships were moved from the cleanup area.

As a result beaches in Alabama were left streaked with oil, the Associated Press said. A large oil patch was pushed toward Louisiana’s Grand Isle and uninhabited Elmer’s Island, dumping tar balls on beaches that haven’t seen any significant oil in nearly three weeks.

According to a Bloomberg report, BP has been collecting oil from the stricken well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, and funneling it to the Discoverer Enterprise and the Q4000 drilling rigs. BP is also working to connect a containment cap to the Helix Producer, a vessel that can collect an additional 20,000 to 25,000 barrels of oil a day. About three more days is needed to complete the process, but the rough seas are delaying the work, Bloomberg said.

Despite the choppy conditions, work is continuing on two relief wells that will be used to permanently halt the spill. They are expected to be finished sometime next month.

BP planned to boost its recovery capacity to 53,000 barrels a day by June 30 and to 80,000 barrels a day by mid-July. It’s thought that as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day is gushing into the Gulf. So far, between 70.8 million gallons and 137.6 million of oil have spewed into the sea since the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, according to government and BP estimates.

Other oil producers in the Gulf are also taking precautions because of Alex. According to Bloomberg, 28 platforms and three rigs operated by BP, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and other companies have been evacuated in the western part of the Gulf.

There is one bright spot in all of this. According to the Associated Press, scientists have said the rough seas and winds could actually help break apart the oil and make it evaporate faster. That could mean that less surface oil will eventually wash up on beaches.

Once the storm passes, skimming efforts in the Gulf will be getting a boost, the Associated Press said, as the U.S. has accepted offers of help from 12 countries and international organizations. Mexico, Norway, Holland and Japan are providing skimmers; Canada is providing containment boom; and Croatia has provided technical advice.

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