Vessels involved with recovering, flaring and drilling were the only ones still out on the water on Tuesday afternoon as waves as high as 12 feet in parts of the Gulf of Mexico forced the Coast Guard and BP to suspend virtually all oil spill cleanup and response efforts until it is safer to work in the area.
"Controlled burns of oil on the ocean, flights spraying dispersant chemicals
and booming operations were all stopped late on Tuesday," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Parker.
Upgraded from Tropical Storm Alex to Hurricane Alex overnight, forecasters expect the storm to make landfall in eastern Mexico and coastal Texas, passing well south of the site of the Deepwater Horizon well. If it stays on its current track (south of the oil slick), the storm may even drive oil away from the coast because a hurricane's winds rotate in a counter-clockwise direction.
Coast Guard officials say the high winds and seas will mix and “weather” the oil which can actually help accelerate the biodegradation process.
BP continued with oil recovery and relief well drilling operations at the site of the leak, recovering roughly 12,000 barrels of oil in the first half of the day on Tuesday. Scientists now estimate that roughly 35,000 to 60,000 barrels are gushing from the broken well every day.
The Coast Guard was also forced to evacuate crews working in low-lying areas because of the risk of tidal surge. An evacuation process that will take a few days to reverse.
It is not entirely clear how long recovery efforts will be delayed by Hurricane Alex, but it will probably be 1-2 weeks before the entire response operation is back in full swing -- just in time for the next storm in what NOAA predicts will be an above average 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.
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