Oil recovery workers at the Deepwater Horizon site were pulling up pipes to head to safe waters Friday — out of the way of Tropical Storm Bonnie — for what the chief of the Gulf of Mexico recovery effort cast as a best-case scenario halt to operations for 48 hours.
“It will be up to the masters to pick the best location… to ride out the storm,” retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told reporters in a late morning teleconference from New Orleans. “This is not a hurricane. This is a tropical storm right now.”
As he spoke, Bonnie’s squalls lashed South Florida on her way west to complicate oil recovery efforts from the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Clean-up workers already began pulling in protective boom on Thursday and by evening small skimmer vessels and other ships fighting the contamination at sea were headed to port.
Approximately 43,100 people, more than 6,470 vessels and dozens of aircraft have been engaged in the response.
In the Gulf, BP oil managers decided a day earlier to leave the oil well capped rather than use values to ease any pressure that might build. Allen expressed confidence in the week-old “cap and stack” containment seal that has stopped crude from gushing into the Gulf for more than a week.
Instead, he said, Development Drillers No. 2 and 3 were disconnecting from the so-called lower marine riser package Friday morning to head for calmer seas.
The drill ships would be gone for at least 48 hours, he said. Once they return, he added, it could take another 48 hours to reconnect.
Allen said officials had yet to decide whether workers and vessels operating underwater sensors, robots and monitoring seismic activity at the drill site would also evacuate.
If they do, he said, they would use hydrophones at the well’s base to monitor activities.