US & Canada

Hurricane Alex delays BP oil clean-up efforts in Gulf

Handout satellite image of Tropical Storm Alex in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico as it closes in to land near the Mexico-Texas border on June 28, 2010, before it became a hurricane
Disruption from Hurricane Alex had been widely forecast

The effects of Hurricane Alex have halted part of BP's oil clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

Activities such as skimming, dispersant flights and controlled burning have all been suspended because of strong winds and high waves.

But the main methods of oil capture at the spill site are continuing despite the weather.

Hurricane Alex is the first of the Atlantic season.

It has strengthened to a category 1 hurricane and is expected to make landfall near the Texas-Mexico border late on Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of barrels of oil have leaked every day since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank in April.

A containment cap placed over the leaking pipe is collecting up to 25,000 barrels a day and sending it to two surface ships.

And a relief well being drilled to staunch the flow is on target to be finished by early August, a senior BP executive has said.

Delays

Before it became a hurricane, ripple effects from what was Tropical Storm Alex created six-foot (1.8m) waves, according to the National Weather Service in New Orleans.

Skimming ships returned to shore in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama, as gusts and high waves made the procedure unsafe.

Officials were also forced to move barges that had been preventing oil from reaching sensitive wetlands.

The hurricane comes as US Vice-President Joe Biden is visiting Gulf coast officials and residents.

Forecasters say Alex will bring six to 12 inches (15-30cm) of rain to northeastern Mexico and southern Texas.

Containment boom is seen placed on the beach in Louisiana
Millions of gallons of oil have gushed into the sea since the leak began

"We're ready to go as soon as conditions allow us to get those people back out and fighting this oil spill," said US Coastguard Lt Dave French.

BP spokesman Robert Wine has said that the three rigs and a drillship involved in capture and drilling efforts were continuing.

"That's all big equipment, and it isn't as affected by the sea state," he said.

But while Hurricane Alex is forecast to pass hundreds of miles from the site, officials remain wary that it could still change course.

BP had hoped to collect up to 53,000 barrels a day by linking up another vessel, said Kent Wells, the firm's senior vice-president of exploration and production, but it has also been postponed due to the weather.

The expected heavy seas could cause a delay of up to a week in hooking up the new oil capture system, Mr Wells said in a briefing.

The US state department has announced it has accepted additional offers of assistance from 12 countries and international organisations to help clean up and contain the spill.

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