BP Gulf leak is worst US oil spill since 1980

08:41, May 28, 2010      

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As BP labored for a second day Thursday to choke off the leak at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, dire new government estimates showed the disaster has easily eclipsed the Exxon Valdez as the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.

The company announced late in the day that it had suspended shooting heavy mud into the blown-out well 5,000 feet underwater around midnight Wednesday so it could bring in more materials. Thursday evening, BP PLC said it had resumed the pumping procedure known as a “top kill”. Officials said it could be late Friday or the weekend before the company knows if it has cut off the oil that has been flowing for five weeks.

As the world waited, U.S. President Barack Obama announced major new restrictions on drilling projects, and the head of the federal agency that regulates the industry resigned under pressure, becoming the highest-ranking political casualty of the crisis.

BP insisted the top kill was progressing as planned, though the company acknowledged drilling mud was escaping from the broken pipe along with the leaking crude.

"The fact that we had a bunch of mud going up the pipe isn't ideal but it's not necessarily indicative of a problem," said spokesman Tom Mueller.

The top kill is the latest in a string of attempts to stop the oil that has been spewing since the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20. Eleven workers were killed.

If the procedure works, BP will inject cement into the well to seal it permanently. If it doesn't, the company has a number of backup plans. Either way, crews will continue to drill two relief wells, considered the only surefire way to stop the leak.

The stakes were higher than ever as public frustration over the spill grew and a team of government scientists said the oil has been flowing at a rate 2.5 to 5 times higher than what BP and the Coast Guard previously estimated.

Two teams of scientists calculated the well has been spewing between 504,000 and more than a million gallons a day. Even using the most conservative estimate, that means about 18 million gallons have spilled so far. In the worst-case scenario, 39 million gallons have leaked.

That larger figure would be nearly four times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster, in which a tanker ran aground in Alaska in 1989, spilling nearly 11 million gallons.

"Now we know the true scale of the monster we are fighting in the Gulf," said Jeremy Symons, vice president of the National Wildlife Federation. "BP has unleashed an unstoppable force of appalling proportions."

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(Editor:赵晨雁)

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