WRAPUP 4-Oil spill alarm rises after containment dome setback

* BP working “around the clock” to find solutions

* Backup plan features golf balls, shredded tires

* Tar balls washing ashore in Alabama

* BP CEO tells paper containment may be weeks, months away
(Recasts, adds quotes, Alabama residents, senators)

By Erwin Seba

ROBERT, La., May 9 (BestGrowthStock) – BP Plc (BP.L: ) engineers on
Sunday desperately explored options to control oil gushing from
a ruptured Gulf of Mexico well after a setback with a huge
containment dome fueled fears of a prolonged and growing
environmental disaster.

BP was considering its next move after a buildup of
crystallized gas in the dome forced engineers to suspend
efforts to place the four-story chamber over the rupture, the
company’s best short-term solution to containing the spill.

The mammoth dome was set aside on the sea floor while BP
seeks solutions — a process it said on Saturday could take two
days.

“People are working around the clock at BP headquarters,”
U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told National Public Radio
on Sunday. But conducting operations at depths of one mile (1.6
km) below the surface was complicating the challenge, he said.

“We’re actually dealing with a source that doesn’t have
human access,” Allen said.

At least 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 litres) of
oil a day are gushing unchecked into the Gulf since the
Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 crew
members and rupturing the well.

On Dauphin Island, Alabama, a barrier island and beach
resort full of weekend swimmers and beachcombers, sunbathers
found tar balls and tar beads washing up along a half-mile
stretch of the white-sand beach. Experts were testing the tar
to determine if it came from the huge Gulf spill.

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The spill, which could become the worst in U.S. history,
threatens economic and ecological disaster on Gulf Coast
tourist beaches, wildlife refuges and fishing grounds. It has
forced President Barack Obama to rethink plans to open more
waters to drilling.

BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward told London’s Sunday
Telegraph newspaper it could be weeks or months before the
spill is brought under control. He said the company could spend
$10 million a day on clean-up efforts. (ID:nLDE64807W: )

BP engineers were exploring ways to overcome the
containment dome’s problem with gas hydrates — essentially
slushy methane gas that would block the oil from being siphoned
out of the top of the box.

SHOOTING DEBRIS INTO BLOWOUT PREVENTER

Possible solutions could include heating the area or adding
methanol to break up the hydrates, Chief Operating Officer Doug
Suttles said.

If the problem is solved, engineers would attach a pipe to
the dome and pump the captured oil to a surface tanker. The
goal was to capture about 85 percent of the leaking crude.

“Let’s hope and pray that this dome works,” Republican
Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama told CNN. “If it doesn’t
work, I don’t know where we go.”

BP may try to plug the damaged blowout preventer on the
well by pumping debris into it at high pressure, a technique
called a “junk shot,” or attaching a new preventer on top of
it.

“They are actually going to take a bunch of debris — some
shredded up tires, golf balls and things like that — and under
very high pressure shoot it into the preventer itself and see
if they can clog it up to stop the leak,” Allen told CBS’s
“Face the Nation.”

BP also is drilling a relief well to halt the leak but that
could take three months.

Hundreds of boats deployed protective booms and used
dispersants to break up the oil again on Sunday. Crews have
laid more than 900,000 feet (270,000 metres) of boom and spread
290,000 gallons (1.1 million litres) of chemical dispersant in
fighting the growing slick.

Residents of Alabama’s Dauphin Island, although used to
rough weather sweeping in from the Gulf, did not conceal their
alarm over the threat of the slick coming ashore.

“It is the price you pay for living on the coast. I am just
worried about it getting in the Gulf Stream and carried up the
coast,” said Dolores Dorr.

ALABAMA BEACH, PORT DEFENSES

On Saturday, a team of dozens of BP-contracted workers in
rubber boots and gloves laid down special clusters of
oil-absorbing synthetic fibers called pom-poms, erected storm
fencing along the Dauphin Island beach and collected samples of
the tar and water for testing. The beach remained open.

Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier said he suspected the tar
came from the leaking well but only testing would confirm it.

Gulf Coast politicians echoed the public’s fears.

“If this gusher continues for several months, it’s going to
cover up the Gulf Coast and it’s going to get down into the
Loop Current and that’s going to take it down into the Florida
Keys and up the east coast of Florida,” Florida Democratic
Senator Bill Nelson told CNN.

“And you’re talking about massive economic loss to our
tourism, our beaches, our fisheries, very possibly disruption
of our military testing and training which is in the Gulf of
Mexico,” Nelson said.

Crews labored to cordon off the entrance to Alabama’s
Mobile Bay with a containment boom fence in a bid to safeguard
America’s ninth-largest seaport.

Ships arriving at Southwest Pass, the deepwater entrance to
the Mississippi River and New Orleans will be inspected to
determine if they need cleaning. Two cleaning stations have
been set up but no ships have needed cleaning yet.

IMPACT ON SEAFOOD INDUSTRY

The spill’s only major contact with the shoreline so far
has been in the uninhabited Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana,
mostly a wildlife reserve.

“Right now, it appears that the impact is localized in
southeast Louisiana, with the next areas likely to be impacted,
Mississippi and Alabama,” Allen said.

Louisiana officials closed more state waters to shrimp and
oyster harvesting as the slick edged westward. Shrimp
harvesting is now banned from Freshwater Bayou on the central
coast to Louisiana’s border with Mississippi. Some oyster beds
located west of the Mississippi River also are shut.

Seafood is a $2.4 billion industry in Louisiana, which
produces more than 30 percent of the seafood originating in the
continental United States.

In Bayou La Batre, the heart of Alabama’s seafood industry,
the docks were largely quiet as thousands of shrimpers and
seafood processors remained idled by fishing restrictions.

About 30 oyster-processing plants have shut down, putting
as many as 900 people out of work, said Wayne Eldridge, owner
of J&W Marine Enterprises and an oyster plant operator.
(Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Houston; Tom Brown and
Pascal Fletcher in Miami; Steve Gorman, Verna Gates and Kelli
Dugan in Dauphin Island, Alabama; Eric Beech in Washington;
Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Bill Trott)

WRAPUP 4-Oil spill alarm rises after containment dome setback