National News

Evac of spill site called off, ships return

Saturday, July 24, 2010

With improved weather, BP's evacuation of the Gulf of Mexico has been called off and ships are returning to the site of the leaky well.

The rough weather is still slated to hit the Gulf area directly, but the storm has weakened to barely a tropical depression and broke apart as it crossed Florida and moved into the Gulf.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's spill chief, ordered many ships to be evacuated from the Gulf on Friday ahead of the storm.

By Saturday morning, BP Spokesman Steve Rinehart said that the rig drilling the relief tunnel that will blast mud into the broken well to permanently seal it already was getting ready to head back.

"It was a quicker turnaround than what it looked like it was going to be when the storm was predicted to be bigger and more intense," Rinehart said.

Rinehart added that the vessels relaying video images and seismic readings from undersea robots monitoring the leaky well are still in place and may be able to stay.

The mechanical cap that's been containing the oil for the most part for eight days was left closed. There was no worry that the storm would cause problems with the cap because it's almost a mile below the ocean's surface.

The government's spill-response team held off on any blanket order for resuming the drilling and cleanup activities.

The improving forecast means crews are likely to start drilling again sooner than previously expected.

Latest Developments:

  • The storm has affected the operation. Work on the relief tunnel stopped Wednesday, and it will take time to restart. Crews on the drilling rig pulled up a mile of pipe in 40-to-60-foot sections and laid it on deck of the drilling rig so they could move to safer water.
  • The threat of severe weather remains. Hurricane season moves into its most active period in early August and extending into September. The season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. Even as the storm weakened, workers on land readied for a possible storm surge that could push oil into the sensitive marsh areas along the coast.
  • Before the cap was attached and closed a week ago, the broken well spewed 94 million to 184 million gallons into the Gulf after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Jane Lubchenco says the storm surge could push more oil onto the shoreline. But it could pull away oil from other areas. And it may help dissipate the oil in the water, spreading out the surface slick and breaking up tar balls.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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oil, oil spill, environment, storm, british petroleum, national news
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