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Gulf oil spill: Test of underwater dispersants is a success

May 1, 2010 |  9:12 am
In a rare example of good news in the battle to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, a BP spokeswoman said that a test run of a plan to spray dispersant on the leak at the source some 5,000 feet underwater was successful, and that a larger-scale application of the dispersant would be applied beginning Saturday.

BP spokeswoman Marti Powers, stationed in Venice, La, said that robot submarines sprayed a relatively small amount of the dispersant on the oil Friday evening, and observed it working. The chemical breaks oil into particles, which then sink to the ocean floor where it is eaten by various organisms there, Powers said.

But even if today’s larger-scale effort is also successful, Powers said it was unclear how much that would help mitigate the problem overall – in part because no one has tried the technique at this depth before.

“We are literally trying new things here,” she said.

The oil leak continues to spew an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, and a massive oil slick continues to threaten the fragile Louisiana coastline. Powers said that the oil has not yet reached land, but was close.

The response effort continues to grow here, with more than 2,500 workers from the public and private sectors now working to stop the leak offshore and protect the coastline, with more scheduled to come. The latter effort continued to be complicated Saturday morning by high winds and gulf swells of up to 10 feet, Powers said, which made oil skimming difficult and kept many of the smaller boats employed to lay protective boom unable to get onto the open water.

“As there’s breaks we’re laying it down, but the waves are not helping us,” Powers said.

In New Orleans on Saturday morning, officials have scheduled a job fair with the intent of hiring 500 response and cleanup workers. BP said that 300 fishermen have signed up with an employment program that would also put them to work laying boom, ferrying supplies and engaging in inshore remediation efforts.

-- Ricard Fausset