BP oil spill: Clean up of gulf waters continues

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May 12, 2010 -- Yesterday, crews lowered a second containment box, called a 'top hat', to cap the broken well pipe spewing light crude into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

This containment box is designed to allow injection of methanol and hot water, which will hopefully combat the formation of hydrates. It's these ice-like crystals that caused the first, larger containment box to clog.

BP hopes, once again, that this will stem the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, but cautions that these mitigation strategies have not been attempted before under these same conditions, namely a mile below the surface. The 'top hat' is expected to be operational by Thursday.

The U.S. military has also provided commercial and military aircraft to transport a boom to help combat the spill.

Oil dispersants are also being used to try to break up the crude substance. Some experts are concerned that this strategy could produce more harm than good, exposing marine life and volunteers to highly toxic chemicals.

BP has been spraying the chemical over the surface of the water. More dispersant has been used in cleaning up this oil spill than has ever been before -- more than 350,000 gallons so far -- something that has experts and environmentalists concerned. Tests are being conducted on the potential effects of the chemical and EPA and NOAA officials will be reviewing the data to determine whether the practice should continue.

Meanwhile, tar balls -- some as large as notebooks -- have begun to wash ashore Louisiana beaches. BP contractors and volunteers in Alabama continue to prepare for possible landfall along the state's coast. Workers are laying a boom across Mobile Bay to try to keep the oil out.

While the exact cause of the April 20 explosion is yet to be determined, BP, Transocean, and Halliburton representatives pointed fingers at each other at a hearing in Washington, DC, yesterday. A failed blow-out preventer and faulty cement casing are emerging as the favorite likely causes, but speculation and investigation continue.

It's being estimated that about 4 million gallons of oil has been spilled thus far. Spewing at a rate of about 210,000 gallons per day, the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf waters could very soon surpass the Exxon Valdez accident, which spilled 11 million gallons into Prince William Sound in March 1989.

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