Australia oil spill containment weeks off

Oct. 29, 2009 at 9:38 AM

SYDNEY, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- An oil spill in the Timor Sea off Australia may take weeks to contain, and could be heading toward a whale breeding area, officials and environmentalists say.

Engineers are making a fourth attempt to plug the leak on the damaged West Atlas rig that has been seeping oil for nearly nine weeks, the BBC reported Thursday.

Engineers trying to cap a nearly 10-inch hole, said officials for PTTEP Australasia, the company operating the rig. In addition, boats have been spraying chemicals to help disperse the slick and stop its spread.

Australia's Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism said the damaged rig could be leaking up to 2,000 barrels of oil a day. However, PTTEP Australasia's Chief Financial Officer Jose Martins said the company's estimated spillage is closer to 400 barrels a day, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said.

"There is no scientific way of actually measuring the amount of oil coming out because it's a leak ... you can't quantify it," Martins said. "And everything that we see and if you try and triangulate all the numbers together it points to the number being about 400 barrels a day. So trying to exaggerate it doesn't ... change our reaction."

Martins said during an Australian radio interview that the leak was difficult to locate because it was about 2 miles below the ocean surface.

"The precise nature of the leak will be subject to inquiry, an investigation by regulatory authorities," he said.

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