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Robot subs try to shut leaking oil well

Associated Press / April 26, 2010

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NEW ORLEANS — Crews were using a robot submarine yesterday to try to stop an oil leak nearly a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, but officials said it would take at least another day before they knew whether the job was completed.

The Coast Guard said the oil spill was expected to stay 30 miles off the coast for the next three days, but officials are still keeping a watchful eye because the slick has the potential to threaten shores from Louisiana to Florida.

Officials said they were trying to stop the flow by using robot submarines to activate valves at the well head, but that would take 24 to 36 hours to complete. If that doesn’t work, crews are also planning to drill a relief well to cut off the flow, which could take several months.

What appeared to a manageable spill a couple of days ago after an oil rig exploded and sank off the Louisiana coast Tuesday, has now turned into a more serious environmental problem. The new leak was discovered Saturday, and as much as 1,000 barrels — or 42,000 gallons — of oil is leaking each day, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said.

The new leak is troubling for the fragile ecosystem of shrimp, fish, birds, and coral.

“What crude oil tends to do is float to surface and then under wave action it turns into what looks like chocolate mousse and sinks. It’s way too early to tell’’ the impact, said James Cowan, an oceanography and coastal sciences professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

The initial spill occurred during the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. More than 100 workers safely escaped the platform, which is about the size of two football fields, but 11 workers have not been found and are presumed dead.