Gulf storm forces BP workers to abandon oil well
OIL workers yesterday abandoned the broken BP Gulf of Mexico well after ships around the site were ordered to evacuate ahead of a tropical storm.
Engineers had feared earlier that the cap that has mostly contained the oil in the past week would have to be re-opened and left gushing if a major storm came through.
But after days of tests, they were confident enough to leave it sealed while most support ships left the area.
Tropical storm 'Bonnie' raked the low-lying Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas with rain and lightning on Thursday and the US National Hurricane Centre said the storm could reach the Gulf of Mexico by late yesterday. It is expected to cross over the site of the spill.
Scientists say even a severe storm should not affect the well cap, nearly a mile beneath the ocean surface and 40 miles from the Louisiana coast.
However, it could delay by another 12 days the push to plug the broken well for good using mud and cement.
"While this is not a hurricane, it's a storm that will have probably some significant impacts; we're taking appropriate cautions," government spokesman Thad Allen said.
'Bonnie' had maximum sustained winds near 40mph yesterday as it swirled about 80 miles south-east of Miami.
Some experts worry the hurricane season could worsen environmental damage from the spill, with powerful winds and large waves pushing oil deeper into estuaries and wetlands and also depositing more of the pungent, sticky mess on beaches.
Mr Allen said forcing ships to move out could leave the well head unmonitored for up to a few days, and he ordered BP to make sure the ships carrying the robotic submarines watching the well were the last to leave and the first to return.