Tropical storm threatens oil spill region

BP's clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico could be hit by a further setback with a tropical storm threatening to home in on the spill region.

BP's clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico could be hit by a further setback with a tropical storm threatening to home in on the spill region.

Forecasters said that Tropical Storm Alex is heading to pass just south of the affected area on Thursday or Friday.

But there remains a real chance it could change direction, experts said, and resulting winds of up to 60 mph could force BP to evacuate workers and equipment from the area.

The oil giant said it had been planning for potential hurricanes since mid-May, but was not taking any action as a result of the current weather conditions.

Alex developed into a tropical storm on Saturday morning.

Billy Payne, forecaster at Press Association's weather division MeteoGroup, said: "Its path takes it across Belize and Mexico before heading into the Gulf of Mexico.

"Then it looks like it could track south (of the oil slick). But there is still a chance it could overlap. There is a lot of room for error, it is too early to say."

In a statement, BP said it had been "engaged in general hurricane planning and preparedness since mid-May".

It added: "We've not taken any actions as a result of the current weather situation in the Gulf."

BP currently needs five days to evacuate equipment and men. It would take a further five days to move vessels back onto the site and resume oil collection once a storm passes. But it is looking to reduce this to 48 hours.

"Our goal is to shorten the trigger time so that we can capture as much oil as possible while ensuring the safety of all response personnel," BP said.

If the tropical storm does hit, it would prove the latest setback for BP's faltering clean-up operation.

It could interrupt oil capture operations for up to two weeks, experts in the US have suggested.

Since an explosion sunk the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, killing 11 workers, in between 69 million and 132 million gallons of crude has spilled into the water.

Yesterday, BP announced that its plan to drill a relief well through 2.5 miles of rock to stop the spill was on course to be completed by mid-August.

But it was not enough to stop shares plunging either side of the Atlantic.

In New York and London, BP stocks slumped to a 14-year low on Friday on news that the overall clean-up cost had risen to 2.35 billion US dollars (£1.6 billion).

Today also saw activists across the world take part in a protest against offshore oil drilling.

Hands Across the Sand is aimed at highlighting the environmental consequences of the practice.

Protesters in London were among those taking part in the action.

At St James's Park a small group of environmentalists joined hands on the Blue Bridge as Big Ben struck 12 o'clock in the background.

Organiser Charlotte Pulver said: "We are so oil dependent, especially the US, and they are taking extreme risks.

"And extreme risks can cause extreme disasters."


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