BP Plc forged ahead on Wednesday with efforts to stem its leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well, amid fears powerful currents were pushing the slick toward prized U.S. tourist resorts and fisheries.
The London-based energy giant, which has seen its reputation battered and market value cut by $30 billion due to the disaster, said it planned to increase the amount of oil captured from its blown well as it works on a permanent fix.
A siphon tube inserted into the well was capturing an estimated 2,000 barrels (318,000 liters) per day from the ruptured undersea well, about 40 percent of the amount that was gushing into the surrounding waters, BP said.
Its progress was being closely watched by the Obama administration, which has taken a tough line on BP and other companies involved in the spill, and Gulf Coast residents, whose livelihood and way of life are threatened.
Environmentalists warn that the spill could prove worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska — the worst such incident in U.S. history — and bring an ecological and economic calamity to the Gulf region.
In a sign of the widening environmental impact, the United States nearly doubled a no-fishing zone in waters seen affected by the oil gushing from the blown well, extending it to 19 percent of U.S. waters in the Gulf.
And tests were being done on tar balls found on a Key West island resort to see if they came from BP’s well, as Florida braced for the spill’s potential impact on its $60 billion-a-year tourism industry.
Oil debris and tar balls have been reported in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Protective booms are being used to try to defend the shore.
“No one knows where the tar balls are from, but they predict doom and gloom,” said Charlie Bauer, a resident of Key West, the famed diving and fishing resort at the far southern tip of Florida.