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Gulf of Mexico oil spill: ‘Worst-ever US environmental disaster’ may last for months

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Oil gushing from the blown well in the Gulf of Mexico (AP)

Oil gushing from the blown well in the Gulf of Mexico (AP)

Heavy oil from the massive Gulf of Mexico spill reached wildlife sanctuaries(AP)

Heavy oil from the massive Gulf of Mexico spill reached wildlife sanctuaries(AP)

A boat pulls a boom into the Gulf of Mexico in a bid to stem leaking oil

A boat pulls a boom into the Gulf of Mexico in a bid to stem leaking oil

A worker feeds a boom into the Gulf of Mexico in a bid to contain the oil spill

A worker feeds a boom into the Gulf of Mexico in a bid to contain the oil spill

Oil is continuing to leak into the Gulf of Mexico

Oil is continuing to leak into the Gulf of Mexico

Oil in the Gulf of Mexico after the rig blew up and sank

Oil in the Gulf of Mexico after the rig blew up and sank

Oil is gushing from a broken pipe into the Gulf of Mexico

Oil is gushing from a broken pipe into the Gulf of Mexico

Support ships in oily water near the Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Support ships in oily water near the Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Video footage shows oil gushing from a pipe in the Gulf of Mexico

Video footage shows oil gushing from a pipe in the Gulf of Mexico

Vessels try to contain the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico

Vessels try to contain the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico

A boat moves through oily water at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

A boat moves through oily water at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Helicopters drop sandbags to try and stem an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico

Helicopters drop sandbags to try and stem an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico

BP is trying to stem the spread of an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico

BP is trying to stem the spread of an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil from the leaking Deep Horizon oil rig swirls in the Gulf of Mexico (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Oil from the leaking Deep Horizon oil rig swirls in the Gulf of Mexico (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

An oil soaked bird struggles against side of a ship in the Gulf of Mexico (AP)

An oil soaked bird struggles against side of a ship in the Gulf of Mexico (AP)

Oil seen from an aerial view at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico (AP/US Navy)

Oil seen from an aerial view at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico (AP/US Navy)

A boat works to collect oil that has leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico

A boat works to collect oil that has leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil gushing from the blown well in the Gulf of Mexico (AP)

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is the worst environmental disaster the US has ever faced, the White House conceded yesterday as it warned Americans to be prepared for oil and gas to keep leaking into the ocean for almost three more months.

Forty days after the fatal oil rig explosion that ripped a hole in the sea bed, BP gave up on its latest desperate bid to stop the flow, a failure that the company said “scares everybody”.

By yesterday, its engineers had returned to the drawing board to design a new way of funnelling some escaping oil to the surface for collection. It is a process that, if successful, will capture a majority of the oil, leaving the rest to swell a slick that is already licking the shore in Louisiana, affecting sensitive wildlife areas and threatening the livelihoods of fishing communities along the coast.

Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, declared that the state was in “a war to protect our way of life”.

Many beaches that would normally be teeming with visitors for the Memorial Day long weekend were deserted yesterday, and residents reacted with anger and despair at news that the so-called “top kill” procedure had failed.

BP had spent three days pumping mud and junk into the hole, in what Robert Dudley, BP's managing director, called an attempt to “wrestle this beast to the ground”. The beast proved stronger than their efforts, however.

And so the underwater camera showing the leak, which has provided a transfixing visual accompaniment to the blizzard of Press conferences and television appearances of BP bosses and White House officials, continues to show thick black oil spewing out, 5,000ft below the surface of the ocean.

A new relief well that will permanently replace the destroyed rig will not be ready until “late August”, Mr Dudley said.

Between 20 and 40 million gallons of oil have leaked into the ocean and though the exact rate of release is unknown, it has already become clear that this is the biggest spill in US history, eclipsing the Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama's energy adviser, Carol Browner, declared it “probably the biggest environmental disaster we've ever faced in this country”.

The latest attempt to stop the leak is to place a smaller cap, called a “lower marine riser package”, over the hole in a procedure that will involve cutting off the broken drilling pipe on the seabed.

There is “no guarantee” that this tricky procedure will be a success either, Mr Dudley said.

Belfast Telegraph