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A cleanup crew removes oil from a Louisiana beach A cleanup crew removes oil from a Louisiana beach on May 23, 2010. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The Oil Spill Nightmare Continues

Latest effort to halt Gulf spill stalls; oily mess nears Florida beaches

By Laura Leigh Davidson | null null , null
Top: Sticky, brown oil clings to a shovel held by a member of a cleanup crew that removed oil from a Louisiana beach on May 23, 2010. (John Moore/Getty Images) Bottom: Map by Jim McMahon
Top: Sticky, brown oil clings to a shovel held by a member of a cleanup crew that removed oil from a Louisiana beach on May 23, 2010. (John Moore/Getty Images) Bottom: Map by Jim McMahon

The latest effort to contain the monstrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico hit a snag on Wednesday.

Since abandoning the failed "top kill" effort over the weekend, engineers have been focused on a new method called "cut and cap." In this method, underwater robots use a set of shears (giant scissors) to cut the damaged oil pipes. Then the robots smooth the cuts in the pipes with a massive saw called a diamond-wire cutter.

Once the final cuts are made, a cap will be fastened to the leaking pipes. Much of the oil and gas that have been spewing from the busted pipes will then be funneled through the cap into oil tankers (ships that store and carry oil) on the surface.

The first series of cuts were successful. But the operation has been slowed by a problem with the saw. U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told reporters on Wednesday that the diamond-edged saw had gotten stuck on the sides of the thick pipe. Allen said efforts are under way to free the saw and finish cutting the oil pipe.

British Petroleum (BP) officials told CNN they hope this latest containment method will be working successfully by late Wednesday or Thursday.
 
Even if the cut and cap method works, it will not stop the flow of oil completely—and it is only a temporary solution. BP has said its best chance of permanently plugging the leak is the "relief wells" it has been digging since May 2. But it will be August before those relief wells can be completed.

Oil Slick to Hit Florida Beaches This Week

Meanwhile, cleanup crews braced for the arrival of oil on Florida beaches. State officials said that ribbons of oil were spotted about seven to nine miles from Pensacola Beach.

Officials from Florida's Environmental Protection Agency said they are almost certain that the slick will hit the Florida Panhandle this week. The area is a popular spot with tourists from around the world.

The oil slick has already started polluting beaches and marshlands in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. At least 26 million gallons of oil have gushed into ocean waters since the April 20 oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers. The six-week old spill is the worst in U.S. history. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says thousands of animals have probably been injured or sickened by the oil and its fumes. Fishing has been banned in one third of the Gulf of Mexico.

TRACKING THE OIL SPILL DISASTER

Scholastic News Online has been tracking the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Click here for a collection of news stories, video, a kids' poll, and other resources that will grow as the events of this environmental disaster unfold.

MORE NEWS FOR KIDS

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