BILOXI — Gov. Haley Barbour said at a news conference Sunday that a massive oil spill might be contained without reaching Mississippi shores, but oil from the Deepwater Horizon had inched to within 9 miles of Plaquemines Parish and closer to marine nurseries that supply the Gulf of Mexico.
Federal waters were closed to fishing from the Mississippi River to Pensacola Bay.
"We are trying very, very hard to stop the leakage at the source," said Adm. Thad W. Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and lead federal official for the spill response. "This threat will not go away until a relief well is drilled to relieve the pressure and the current well is capped."
However, British Petroleum reported some encouraging news Sunday. Dispersant is working to break up oil from the Deepwater Horizon well before it reaches the Gulf's surface, BP spokesman Bill Salvin said. The dispersant has been widely used in the oil industry, but never at 5,000 feet below sea level.
BP first experimented with the dispersant Saturday. A second test Sunday went so well that the dispersant will continue to be used on the ocean floor, where 5,000 feet of crimped pipe is gushing oil in three places.
BP hopes to stop the gusher within a week through a subsea containment system, essentially large chambers of steel where the oil would be trapped, then piped to a tanker. The structures are being designed by company engineers in Houston and built in Port Fourshon, La., by Wild Well Control.
Allen said the chambers were used successfully on sunken rigs after Katrina. But those rigs were only 200 feet or so below the water's surface. The chambers have never been deployed at such a depth and must be designed to withstand pressure of more than 2,000 square pounds per inch.
Coast Guard and other vessels also are being used to skim oil from the surface and booms are being placed to protect bays and waterways. However, some of the booms were breaking apart Sunday in heavy surf and wind. This is the first time the nation has had to deal with an oil disaster of this magnitude from a rig that exploded, then sank.
The disaster can not be compared to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Allen said because they were dealing with a known quantity of oil in a vessel. In this case, about 5,000 barrels a day of oil is pumping into the Gulf. "We are dealing with an indeterminate amount of oil over an indeterminate amount of time," Allen said. "This is a very problematic spill." If the wellhead on the ocean floor gives way, he said, 100,000 barrels of oil a day could spew into the water.
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