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Choppy Seas Help Contain Alaska Oil Spill

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BAD weather turned into good news for the effort to clean up the worst US oil spill as a rough sea became a churning caldron that helped break up part of the Exxon Valdez slick. Exxon, meanwhile, said it will reimburse the government for the costs of military assistance ordered by President Bush, but would write off the charges from its taxes.

The spill has killed thousands of birds and animals, and gasoline prices in the United States have surged in the wake of the disaster.

US Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner warned oil companies against using the spill as an excuse to raise prices. ``If they're doing it, they're making a big mistake,'' he said.

The Coast Guard said Monday that the oil had stalled from its southwesterly drift toward Kodiak Island, the nation's richest fishing port last year. It said the oil was breaking into tar balls, which sink. In addition, the goop had traveled no farther southwest than Gore Point, about 80 miles northeast of Kodiak, in three days.

But there was some concern that as two storms moved closer to land, higher waves in Prince William Sound could wash oil over booms protecting spawning areas. The weather forced cancellation of spotter flights over the spill Monday, but boom-laying operations continued.

In Kodiak, City Manager Gordon Gould said many people there, faced with the loss of income and the loss of a way of life, are frustrated and worried.

The Coast Guard has sent six more cutters to assist the cleanup. So far about 18,000 barrels of crude have been recovered -- only 8 percent of the 240,000 barrels that spilled March 24 when the tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef.

Exxon says about 2,000 barrels were being recovered daily. The state and the Coast Guard place the figure at about 1,000 barrels a day.

Repair work on the Exxon Valdez continues. Its hull was ripped open when it struck the reef, which lies well outside the shipping channel.

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