As BP admits the operation to keep its oil spill away from the Louisiana coast could take three months, one expert tells Alex Thomson it is “a logistical nightmare”.

The race to keep the oil offshore, as BP admits it could be three months before the leak is fully sealed.

Today saw a further fall in BP’s share price mid the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. How long will it take to tame the gushing well 5,000 feet below sea level?

The company hopes to drop a dome over it before siphoning the oil flow away – but that will take a week. And to stem the leak altogether could take at least three months.
Tony Hayward, the head of BP, promised today that the company would pay for the leak, as he outlined plans to try to contain the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico . President Obama has called the leak a “massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster”.

Mr  Hayward admitted it could be three months before the flow of oil from the ruptured well is capped. For now, the company is trying to drop giant metal hoods directly over the leaking pipe.

"" The spill has been growing steadily since an explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon rig eleven days ago.  Scientists think it may have tripled in size and could threaten coastlines further east – towards Alabama.

Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson, reporting live from the Louisiana coast, told Jon Snow the rain and wind which have swept the region for several days are now dying down.

But nobody in the area is under any illusions about the mammoth nature of the clean-up task ahead. And local fishermen are demanding action, not words.

The effects of the vast slick are being felt on a variety of species. The booms are not working in the high winds and heavy seas.

From the air, the main slick is still visible – bigger than Hampshire, nine miles out. Nobody knows how much is leaking into the sea.

BP Tony Hayward boss finally accepted today that the clean-up could cost £8bn and that the responsibility was with his company.

Kerry O’Neill, a fisherman from Venice, told Channel 4 News: “Hurricane Katrina was bad, but we were able to kind of go back to work afterwards. This here, there ain’t no telling how long we’d be shut down.”

President Obama flew in to the area yesterday, and he underlined BP’s responsibilities. But this morning in Venice, the fishermen were not easily moved. “Talk is cheap,” Kerry O’Neill told Alex Thomson.

Booms are being laid down out to sea, but many of them have already been swept to shore.

Venice lives and dies by oil and fishing. BP is saying a well funnel under construction could be placed over the leak in six to eight days, allowing safe pumping and storage of the crude. But the technology is untried at this depth.

But BP also says the well could spew its crude for up to three months – what BP calls a “worst-case scenario”.

‘Logistically a nightmare, technologically pushing the limits’
Dr Simon Boxall, of the National Oceanography Centre, told Channel 4 News that on land it was easy to put a funnel over a leaking oil well.

“But we’re dealing here with a hole that is 1,500 metres, over one mile, deep. And at those depths the pressure is phenomenal,” he said.

In addition, the work was remote and in the dark. And the oil pumping out through the sea floor “is like a fog”.

“So you’re dealing with robots, though a fog, a mile away, with phenomenal pressures (…) It’s pushing the boundaries of technology.”

Dr Boxall explained: “At these sorts of depths, low tech is the best option… At this stage what they need is a quick fix to at least stem the oil flow.”

Those involved in sealing the leak needed to wait for a “calm weather window” to complete the operation. “They’ve got to get this thing down through a mile of water. They’ve then got to use robots to position it.

“And another thing we’re not used to is dealing with mini-robots under the sea at the same time (…) If you’ve got two or three things dangling over the side of a ship, or different ships, the chance of them getting tangled up is also very high.

“So logistically it’s a nightmare, technologically it’s pushing the limits.”

Dr Boxall likened the situation in the Gulf of Mexico to a succession of stopcocks controlling the water supply to a house.

“You have a mains stopcock from the mains supply,” he told Alex Thomson, “and you’ve got lots of stopcocks along the line – under your sink, in the shower,  whatever.

“If the mains stopcock itself goes, then at the end of the day you have a problem. You can’t turn that safety valve off.

“And that’s what’s happened here. You’ve got a situation where, if you like, it’s broken right at the beginning of the line. And when that happens, there’s a limit to what you can put in in terms of safety measures.”

Alex Thomson writes from Louisiana
We are way down the Bayou. And when it comes to being way down the Bayou, Venice is about as way down it as you can get.

The thick, driving tropical rain smashed down all the way last night, as I drove from a massive concrete freeway of central New Orleans, down, down and down into the dark night of the Mississippi Delta.

By night you see nothing – and then the vast, sudden light-show of a refinery or flare stack. By day the light has gone, but the thick tropical rain remains.

With the possible exception of water, Venice Louisiana doesn’t share much with the place of gondoliers. You simply drive down Highway-23 till the swamps and waters finally close in, and the only way back by land is reverse.

This morning, sheltering from the rainy onslaught, groups of burly men, all high-vis and hard hat, stand around – and they wait. This whole town – well, “town” isn’t the right word – this whole weird collection of docks, service vessels, oil yards and fishing boats, is in suspended animation.

There are yards full of clear-up equipment, oil booms, even catering. But till the weather clears, little is happening. And for the fishermen too, of course, their ground’s now closed.

And as for the perpetrators, well, BP have admitted responsibility for the oil and for cleaning it up. Potus, visiting Venice yesterday, said so. Venice fishermen and oil men say so. And now Tony Hayward – BP boss – says so.

The BP chief executive said the oil giant was “absolutely responsible” for cleaning up the oil spill caused by a ruptured offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Speaking on NBC’s Today Show, Tony Hayward also said the company was preparing for a “worst case scenario” that it would need to contain the spill for two to three months.

His comments came a day after President Barack Obama said BP was responsible for footing the bill for $4.6bn of damages caused by the massive oil slick heading towards the wetlands of the Gulf Coast.

BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill”, Obama said, as the race to save wildlife from gallons of crude oil continues.

BP has more than 2,500 people working to clean up the slick, which the oil giant says is costing it at least £6.5m a day.

However, BP’s bill looks set to soar as new evidence suggests the slick has tripled in size over the past two days and could cost the US more than $14bn.

Satellite images analysed by the University of Miami show the growing spread of the spill – and indicate the well may now be leaking at a greater rate.

US officials have banned fishing for at least 10 days in the affected area, which provides the nation with around 20 per cent of its seafood.

Mr Hayward said: “We’ve made it clear that where legitimate claims are made, we will be good for them.”

“We have the claims process set up, small claims today that are being paid instantly … bigger claims we clearly have a process to run through,” he added.

The President vowed to spare no effort in responding to the crisis, which he said threatened one of the “richest and most beautiful eco systems on the planet”.

Meanwhile, there are fears of a worst-case scenario that would see the spillage infiltrating the Gulf Stream where it could be carried to Florida’s beaches.

“It is also the heartbeat of the region’s economic life and we’re going to do everything in our power to protect our national resources and compensate those who have been harmed, rebuild what has been damaged and help this region preserve like it has done so many times before,” he said in Louisiana yesterday.

The stricken waters in the Gulf of Mexico span the coastlines of four states, with the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana and Florida’s Pensacola Bay the worst affected, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA officials are working to keep oiled seafood off the market – which is well-known for its shrimp and oyster supply as well as being a rich source of crabs and fish.

“There should be no health risk in seafood currently in the marketplace,” Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Board said in a statement.

More than a billion pounds of fish and shellfish were harvested by fishermen in the region in 2008, according to government figures.

Eleven BP workers were killed after an explosion on April 20 that sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and lead to the massive oil spill.

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