Tropical storm Bonnie 2010: Oil spill work on hold as system approaches

As BP works to control the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, local wildlife struggle for survival.
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010; 8:39 AM

With tropical storm Bonnie approaching, hundreds of workers and more than a dozen vessels will begin moving from the Deepwater Horizon blowout site Friday, stopping work on the long-awaited final "kill" of the well for more than a week.

The decision to begin the evacuation was made late Thursday by retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, after concluding that Tropical Storm Bonnie would likely hit the site with winds above 40 mph on Saturday morning.

A tropical storm watch was issued early Friday for the northern Gulf Coast from Destin, Fla., to Morgan City, La., the Associated Press reported.

"Due to the risk that Tropical Storm Bonnie poses to the safety of the nearly 2,000 people responding to the BP oil spill at the well site, many of the vessels and rigs will be preparing to move out of harm's way beginning tonight," Allen said in a statement. "This includes the rig drilling the relief well that will ultimately kill the well, as well as other vessels needed for containment. Some of the vessels may be able to remain on site, but we will err on the side of safety."

Allen and BP Senior Vice President Kent Wells said that the containment cap placed on the well last week is sufficiently secure that it can ride out a tropical storm without leaking or compromising the now-controlled well.

Because both the blown-out well and the two relief wells being drilled nearby are connected in various ways to boats on the surface, BP's first task has been to begin disconnecting them and taking the precautions it can.

"We've already been preparing for several days," Wells said before the final decision was made to evacuate. BP officials said that the vessels would move out of harm's way but would not return to port.

Vessels will be moved out according to their ability to withstand the conditions. Wells said that if the forecast changes before all the boats leave, crews could begin to work again more quickly. But a full evacuation would mean 10 to 12 days of lost time at the site.

The coming storm may well push oil into the fragile marshlands of Louisiana, and potentially could be more damaging than Tropical Storm Alex, which had that effect last month. Alex was hundreds of miles away from the well site and the Louisiana coast but it created waves large and strong enough to carry the oily water to formerly unaffected areas.

Reflecting the growing concern about Bonnie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency Thursday; the storm is forecast to hit Louisiana on Sunday.

Jindal announced the action at a news conference in Baton Rouge just before U.S. forecasters determined it was a tropical storm strong enough to get a name.

Other companies have been evacuating personnel in the Gulf as well. Shell Oil evacuated 160 employees and contract workers Wednesday, and had 20 helicopters were ferrying others Thursday from both the eastern and central sections of the gulf.

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