A deep-water oil well that exploded earlier in the week sunk into the Gulf of Mexico Thursday, taking with it any remaining hope that 11 workers still missing in the blast might be rescued. Like the coal miners of West Virginia, oil field hands do tough, dirty, dangerous work so the rest of us can enjoy the comforts of home and the easy convenience of our automobiles.
With a sheen of oil already one mile wide and five miles long and growing, the collapse of the rig also sunk guarantees heard often during the “drill here, drill now” days of the 2008 presidential campaign that such accidents just don’t happen anymore, that the days when offshore oil drilling posed a danger to the environment were well behind us thanks to new technology.
Instead, officials are warning about “potentially the biggest blowout of an oil and gas well in the Gulf of Mexico in 30 years.”
“I think it certainly has the potential to be a major spill,” David Rainey, a vice president for Gulf of Mexico exploration for BP, which was leasing the rig, said at a news conference.
Coast Guard helicopters, planes and patrol boats were in the final 12 hours of search-and-rescue efforts for the missing workers, said Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the commander of the Coast Guard’s Eighth District. She said interviews with some of the 115 survivors had indicated to officials that the 11 who were missing may have been “in the vicinity of the explosion,” a view echoed separately in interviews with reporters.
“As time passes,” she said, “the probability of success in locating the 11 missing persons decreases.”
The sinking of the rig, meanwhile, left the scope of the disaster troublingly uncertain. Admiral Landry and officials from BP and Transocean, the Swiss company that owned the giant rig, could not say with certainty whether oil and gas were still emanating from the well underwater, though Adrian Rose, a vice president at Transocean, said the response team “was not able to stem the flow of hydrocarbons” before the rig sank…
The potential for environmental disaster from the spill would be greatest if the oil were to reach the Louisiana coast, some 50 miles away.
Fearing a potential environmental disaster, BP announced Thursday that it was dispatching a flotilla of more than 30 vessels capable of skimming more than 170,000 barrels of oil a day to protect sea lanes and wildlife in the area of the sunken platform.