Natural Gas Slows Oil Leak in Gulf of Mexico

Satellite Imagery Shows Shrinking Slick, as Gas Slows Flow of Oil


May 11, 2010—

In the last few days, the spill from the broken well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico has begun to change. Sources tell ABC News the amount of natural gas coming out of the well is increasing, which could mean less oil spewing into the ocean. BP, trying to control the slick, confirmed the report.

When satellite images of the oil slick from May 1 are compared with the slick today, it appears smaller in size. On explanation is that it now appears that the natural gas forcing its way out of the well could be reducing the amount of oil escaping. Instead of floating on the surface, the natural gas escapes into the atmosphere.

BP confirms that it is seeing some changes in the nature of the leak, but because it is not measured, they cannot say precisely what is happening.

"The pressure data we have observed in recent days gives us more confidence in a direct intervention," BP spokesman Andrew Gowers said today.

Gas Leak Could Improve Odds of Clogging Leak

BP was been caught flat-footed wothout a response plan when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig caught fire on April 20, but now the company thinks that the change in the nature of the leak could improve the odds of containing the damage. A plan to fire rubber tires and golf balls into the pipe to clog it now actually has a chance of working.

BP today took ABC News to the mouth of the Mississippi to see Hazmat teams it has mobilized on the outer marshes of the Mississippi Delta, one of three locations where oil has now breached the booms and come ashore.

"It's ball sand goblets of tarish grease-like material," said Cory Anderson of the U.S. Environmental Corp.

BP Execs Face Lawmakers

And as the oil began to wash ashore on the Gulf Coast, there were tough questions for BP today on Capitol Hill.

"What I see is a company not prepared to address a worst-case scenario," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), "but a company that is flailing around trying whatever they think of next to try to deal with the worst-case scenario that you all had the ability to do."

Oil Spill: Companies Pass the Blame on Capitol Hill

Several companies, including the giant oil-services firm Halliburton, had a hand in the accident, but Halliburton is passing the buck to BP.

"Halliburton [is] contractually obligated to comply with owners' wishes," said Tim Probert, the company's chief health, safety and environmental officer.

BP, facing an environmental and public relations disaster, has promised to pay for all legitimate costs.

"Liability. Blame. Fault. Put it over here," said Lamar McKay, president and chairman of BP America, on Capitol Hill today.

It is still not clear what the increase in gas coming out of the well means for the long term, but it is clear that this accident has exposed how little oil companies know about the deep sea that they are increasingly exploring and exploiting. Lawmakers said one objective of today's hearings is to make sure that there are safeguards and response plans in place before an accident like this happens again.