New scale of disaster looms in Gulf of Mexico

NEW ORLEANS—Concern grew Sunday that the US Gulf coast is facing a whole new level of environmental disaster after the best short-term fix for a massive oil spill ran into serious trouble.

BP’s giant containment box lay idle on the seabed as engineers furiously tried to figure out how to stop it clogging with ice crystals.

The British energy giant, which owns the lion’s share of the leaking oil and has accepted responsibility for the clean-up, has tried to banish the notion that the dome is a “silver bullet” to end the crisis.

But should efforts fail to make the giant funnel system effective, there is no solid plan B to prevent potentially tens of millions of gallons of crude from causing one of the worst ever environmental catastrophes.

Untold damage is already being done by the 3.5 million gallons estimated to be in the sea so far, but the extent of that harm will rise exponentially if the only solution is a relief well that takes months to drill.

Admiral Thad Allen, head of the US Coast Guard, suggested they were considering what he called a “junk shot” to plug the main leak.

“They’re actually going to take a bunch of debris, shredded up tires, golf balls and things like that and under very high pressure shoot it into the preventer itself and see if they can clog it up and stop the leak,” Allen, who is leading the US government’s response, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

This could be risky as experts have warned that excessive tinkering with the blowout preventer — a huge 450-ton valve system that should have shut off the oil — could see crude shoot out unchecked at 12 times the current rate.

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