Hurricane Alex Hampers Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Cleanup
Hurricane Alex halts efforts to capture oil from Gulf of Mexico as experts predict severe storm season ahead
MIAMI, Florida - Roaring across the
Caribbean, Alex has become the first hurricane of the 2010 season and
the first June Atlantic hurricane since 1995, according to the National
Hurricane Center in Miami.
Located in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, about 255 miles
southeast of Brownsville, Texas, Hurricane Alex is packing maximum
sustained winds of 75 miles per hour and is moving mostly westward at a
speed of nine miles per hour.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the coast of Texas south
of Baffin Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande and the coast of Mexico
from the mouth of the Rio Grane to La Cruz.
The center of Alex will approach the coast of northeastern
Mexico or southern Texas on Wednesday and make landfall in the
hurricane warning area by Wednesday night, the Hurricane Center says.
While the Coast Guard and BP are not yet evacuating equipment, oil
spill cleanup operations are being affected by Hurricane Alex. With
inclement weather from the storm threatening to make conditions unsafe
for water operations over the next few days, contractors and Coast
Guard personnel based at Branch Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, closed
off passes with floating barriers to prevent any oil that may enter the
lake from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill from penetrating deep into the
Hurricane Alex is expected to produce rainfall of six to 12 inches over
parts of northeastern Mexico and southern Texas, with isolated maximum
amounts of 20 inches.
The Hurricane Center says these rains could cause
life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. "A dangerous storm surge
will raise water levels by as much as three to five feet above ground
level along the immediate coast to the north of where the center makes
landfall," forecasters said. The surge could penetrate inland as far as
several miles from the shore with depth generally decreasing as the
water moves inland.
Near the coast, the surge is forecast to be accompanied by large and destructive waves.
Oil spill National Incident Commander U.S. Coast Guard Admiral
Thad Allen told reporters on Monday, "Any kind of a surge from a storm
would, obviously, exacerbate the oil, move it further into marshes, and
would cause problems for us. So we're going to face that potential
throughout the hurricane season should we have any kind of heavy
"The current speed and direction and wind strength of Alex does
not indicate that we should do anything regarding evacuation," said
Admiral Allen. "The only impact we're seeing right now is an increase
in sea state that's going to inhibit potentially the preparations we
need to bring the third production vessel online."
"We have a set of criteria by which if we thought we're going
to get gale force winds in 120 hours, we would start to redeploy that
equipment, but those criteria are not met in this current storm," he
"The actual impact of Alex passing by could produce seas of 10
to 12 feet sometime in the next 36 hours or so," Admiral Allen said.
"The only impact that will have on the operations will be a potential
delay of the any preparations through the Helix Producer which will be
the third production vessel that would take us to a capacity of 53,000
barrels by the end of the month of June."
BP is drilling two relief wells in its attempt to intercept the
oil spewing into gulf waters, but in case of a strong hurricane that
endeavor would have to stop.
Admiral Allen told reporters, "Regarding the relief wells, if
we have to evacuate the site because of a hurricane, we estimate that
there could be a break of about 14 days to take down the equipment,
move it off to a safe place, and then bring it back and reestablish the
On land, preparations for an emergency are underway. The
National Response Coordination Center was put on higher alert today and
most federal emergency support functions were activated. The Federal
Emergency Management Agency is prepositioning assets at Randolph Air
Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
Texas Governor Rick Perry today sent a letter to President
Barack Obama requesting a pre-landfall emergency declaration for 19
South Texas counties that allows the state to pursue federal assistance
for debris removal and actions taken to prepare for Alex.
The governor has already issued a state disaster proclamation
for these counties, which allows the state to initiate necessary
preparedness efforts, such as pre-deploying resources to ensure local
communities are ready to respond to disasters.
"As Texas continues to monitor this storm and prepare for its
impact on our coast, I urge residents living in areas in Tropical Storm
Alex's projected path to take the necessary measures to protect life
and property," Governor Perry said. "We will continue to work with
local officials as this storm makes its way toward our communities."