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Attempts to stem spill as oil spreads 600 miles

Reuters

An oil slick off the coast of Louisiana has spread 600 square miles. British oil company BP is using robotic underwater vehicles to try to mop up oil leaking from the debris of a rig that sank on Thursday after an explosion.

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Satellite images showed the slick in the Gulf of Mexico had spread by 50 percent in a day, although officials said 97 percent of the pollution was just a thin veneer on the surface of the sea.

BP is using at least four underwater robots to try to plug up the leaking well after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig left 11 workers missing and presumed dead last week.

Plugging like this has never been attempted before and BP’s chief operating officer warned that if it fails, it could take two to three months to stop the leak.

BP is also planning to drill relief wells that would permanently shut off the oil flow.
The leaks, some 5,000 feet underwater are releasing 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of oil a day. The company has poured chemicals into the slick to help the dispersal process.

Five aircraft and 32 spill response vessels were hoping to resume efforts to mop up the slick after weather delays on Saturday.

So far, the slick is not threatening the coast of Louisiana, where it could endanger wetlands that are home to rare waterfowl and other wildlife.

"In the trajectory analysis we don't see any impact to any shoreline within
the next three days," said Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator of the US
government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Still, some experts said the spill has the potential to be the worst seen in the United States since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill, which polluted 750 miles of the shore of Alaska.

The US coast guard, which helped evacuate 115 workers after Tuesday's blast, aborted its air and sea search for the other missing 11 workers on Friday.

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