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Alex not aiming at Gulf spill area - for now

June 27, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A tropical weather system slamming into parts of Mexico has yet to take direct aim at the Gulf spill area for now, but the system can quickly change course and drastically hinder cleanup efforts. The containment efforts of the massive oil spill are complicated enough in the most ideal conditions, but things could get even more mind-boggling with the approach of a storm system like Alex. It has so far pelted Belize, northern Guatemala and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula with heavy rain.

Coast Guard officials say that any system with winds over 46 mph could force BP to abandon efforts to contain the flow for up to two weeks and delay the drilling of two relief wells that are the best hope of stopping the leak.

Saturday, Alex became the first tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, but it has since weakened to a tropical depression.

However, forecasters say that Alex will reach the Yucatan Peninsula and cross over into the Gulf, where the warm waters could fuel it back up to hurricane strength. Alex is projected to hit Mexico again south of Texas and is expected to miss the spill area, but officials are keeping a close eye.

Emergency plans call for moving workers and equipment five days before gale-force winds are forecast to arrive at the half-square mile containment operation surrounding the blown-out well. Oil has been gushing since the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded 50 miles off Louisiana's coast April 20, killing 11 workers.

Once a storm's expected direction is determined, barges and crews plan to remove as much boom in its path as possible, said Sam Phillips, solid waste permits administrator with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. The boom would be stored on barges so it could be put back in place quickly.

BP, the Coast Guard and the state of Lousiana have already been talking about how to coordinate evacuations so workers and equipment involved in the oil spill response don't clog highway escape routes.

Some fear high winds and large waves could push it deeper into estuaries and wetlands. A storm surge of several feet could bring it inland, creating a mess. But a storm also could help disperse and break up some of the oil.

No matter what happens with Tropical Depression Alex, it's likely just the beginning. Forecasters are predicting a busy hurricane season with powerful storms.

Latest Developments:

  • A financial disclosure report released Friday shows that the Louisiana judge who struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deep-water drilling in the Gulf has sold many of his energy investments. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman still owns eight energy-related investments, including stock in Exxon Mobil Corp. Among the assets he sold was stock in Transocean, which owned the rig that exploded. The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court Friday to delay Feldman's ruling "to preserve the status quo" during the government's appeal.
  • Labor Secretary Hilda Solis slammed BP - along with Massey Energy, owner of the West Virginia coal mine where 29 workers died in an explosion in April - saying they need better safety measures. "We are not saying go out of business," she said. "Do your job better. Make an investment in your employees. We want you to make a profit, but not at the expense of killing your employees."
  • Vice President Joe Biden will head to the Gulf on Tuesday to visit a command center in New Orleans and the oil-fouled Florida Panhandle.
  • The IRS said payments for lost wages from BP's $20 billion victims compensation fund are taxable just like regular income. Payments for physical injuries or property loss are generally tax-free.
  • The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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