Hurricane Alex Delays Spill Clean-Up Efforts

NEW ORLEANS(Dow Jones Newswires), June 30, 2010

Hurricane Alex disrupted the BP oil spill clean-up effort in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday as the storm gathered strength and was expected to make landfall.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Texas as Alex strengthened into the first Atlantic hurricane of the season late Tuesday.

Alex was far from the epicenter of the clean-up operation off the Louisiana coast, but churned up waves and strong winds that forced the suspension of oil skimming and booming operations off the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.

Two vessels continued to capture oil gushing from an undersea well 50 miles off Louisiana, where the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded 10 weeks ago sparking the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Waves at the site were up to seven feet high, a Coast Guard spokesman told AFP.

Coupled with winds of up to 22 knots it made it too rough for crews to deploy a third vessel, the Helix Producer, that was set to nearly double the capacity of BP's containment system.

The current containment system is capturing nearly 25,000 of the estimated 30,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude spewing out of the ruptured well every day.

The rough seas have also shifted parts of the slick closer to sensitive areas in Florida and Louisiana, and could also push the oil deeper into fragile coastal wetlands.

Alex was set to make landfall late Wednesday south of the U.S. border with Mexico, possibly as a Category Two hurricane, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

The NHC said at 0900 GMT that Alex's hurricane winds extended outward up to 25 miles, and tropical storm force winds extending outward up to 200 miles.

Obama's emergency declaration for Texas was a green light for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts, a White House statement said.

Vice President Joe Biden, who toured the disaster area on Tuesday, got an earful of complaints from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal about the slow federal response.

Some 413 miles of once-pristine shorelines have been oiled, as well as countless birds and other wildlife, since the rig sank on April 22.

Since then crude has gushed at an alarming rate, leaving the region's vital fishing and tourism industries in tatters.

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