Gulf storm threatens U.S. efforts to plug spill

HOUSTON, (Reuters) – Many of the rigs and vessels  at BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico oil leak site will prepare to move  out of the path of Tropical Storm Bonnie late yesterday, the  top federal official overseeing the spill response said.

“While these actions might delay the effort to kill the  well for several days, the safety of the individuals at the  well site is our highest concern,” retired Coast Guard Admiral  Thad Allen said in a statement.

Allen did not specify when the rigs and vessels would move,  beyond saying they would begin their preparations “to move out  of harm’s way” beginning last night.

Among the rigs involved is the one drilling the relief well  that will permanently kill the leak. It had been on track to  intercept it by mid-August. Officials have said an evacuation  could force a delay of 10 to 14 days in operations.

Officials said earlier the blown-out well would remain  capped even if an evacuation forces a temporary halt to  undersea surveillance.

BP capped the well last week, choking off the flow of oil  that has caused an ecological disaster for the first time since  the April 20 explosion. Such containment efforts have been  keenly eyed by investors as BP’s ultimate costs may hinge on  how much oil is determined to have flowed into the Gulf.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Bonnie, the second  named storm of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, was packing  maximum sustained winds of 40 miles (65 kph) per hour.

It formed near the Bahamas yesterday on a track that  could take it over BP’s oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency  as the storm is forecast to hit the state’s coast on Sunday.

BP has already evacuated nonessential workers from eight  offshore Gulf facilities.

The largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, triggered  by the explosion that killed 11 workers, has unleashed an  environmental disaster in the Gulf and devastated the region’s  tourism and fishing industries.

Workers also had been close to completing the relief well  designed to permanently stop the spill and launching a “static  kill” operation to pump heavy drilling mud and possibly cement  into the well.

Because of the storm, the well could go unwatched for days.  BP executive Doug Suttles told CBS News engineers may have some  data on the well, but not until after the storm is gone.

“We’re trying to have some capability to do things like  take stored images, photographs, video, other things that we  can actually collect after the storm passes. But right now we  couldn’t do live monitoring,” Suttles said.

Allen said he had directed BP to ensure vessels involved in  monitoring were “the last to leave, and the first to return.”

The spill has sparked a crisis for British energy giant BP,  which created a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the  disaster and still faces mounting costs.

BP shares remained relatively steady in New York trading,  climbing 0.3 percent as the overall market rose. It is due to  report quarterly results next week.

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