As submersible robots made another risky attempt to control the underwater Gulf oil gusher, the crude on the surface spread, closing in on Florida. BP’s stock plummeted and took much of the market down with it, and the federal government announced criminal and civil investigations into the spill.
After six weeks of failures to block the well or divert the oil, the latest mission involved using a set of tools akin to an oversized deli slicer and garden shears to break away the broken riser pipe so engineers can then position a cap over the well’s opening. But it’s a big gamble: Even if it succeeds, it will temporarily increase the flow of an already massive leak by 20 percent — at least 100,000 gallons more a day. That’s on top of the estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons gushing out already.
In Florida, officials confirmed an oil sheen about nine miles from the famous white sands of Pensacola beach. Crews shored up miles of boom and prepared for the mess to make landfall as early as Wednesday. “It’s inevitable that we will see it on the beaches,” said Keith Wilkins, deputy chief of neighborhood and community services for Escambia County.
Florida would be the fourth state hit. Crude has already been reported along barrier islands in Alabama and Mississippi, and it has impacted some 125 miles of Louisiana coastline. More federal fishing waters were closed, too, another setback for one of the region’s most important industries. More than one-third of federal waters were off-limits for fishing, along with hundreds of square miles of state waters.
Fishermen and fishing welders have received $5,000 from BP PLC, but that has was quickly vanished. “I call that ‘Shut your mouth money,”‘ said Murray Volk, 46, of Empire, who’s been fishing for nearly 30 years. “That won’t pay the insurance on my boat and house. They say there’ll be more later, but do you think the electric company will wait for that?”
BP’s stock nose-dived on Tuesday, losing nearly 15 percent of its value on the first trading day since the previous best option — the so-called top kill — failed and was aborted at the government’s direction. It dipped steeply with Holder’s late-afternoon announcement, which also sent other energy stocks tumbling, ultimately causing the Dow Jones industrial average to tumble 112. If BP’s new effort to contain the leak fails, the procedure will have made the biggest oil spill in U.S. history even worse.