Burning oil send up a massive plume of black smoke a few miles from the site of the rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico Thursday, 6 May 2010. JOHN MCCUSKER / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE nola.com

By HARRY R. WEBER and RAY HENRY, Associated Press Writers
Sunday, May 9, 2010

(05-09) 17:41 PDT ON THE GULF OF MEXICO (AP) -- A day after icy slush clogged the massive box they hoped would contain an out-of-control oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, BP officials on Sunday said they may try again — this time with a smaller box.

They also were considering several other options to stop the daily rush of at least 200,000 gallons of crude, which began washing up on beaches in thick blobs over the weekend.

With crippled equipment littering the ocean floor, oil company engineers scrambled to devise a fresh method to cap the ruptured well. Their previous best hope for containing the leak quickly, a four-story containment box, became encrusted with deep-sea crystals Saturday and had to be cast aside. …

There was a renewed sense of urgency as dime- to golfball-sized balls of tar washed up Saturday on Dauphin Island, three miles off the Alabama mainland at the mouth of Mobile Bay and much farther east than the thin, rainbow sheens that have arrived sporadically in the Louisiana marshes. Until Saturday none of the thick sludge — those indelible images from the Valdez and other spills — had reached shore.

Above the oil leak, waves of dark brown and black sludge crashed into the support ship Joe Griffin. The fumes there were so intense that a crewmember and an AP photographer on board had to wear respirators while on deck.

An oil-stained cattle egret rests on the deck of the supply vessel Joe Griffin at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill containment efforts in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, Sunday, May 9, 2010. Harry R. Weber / Ray Henry / Associated Press

A white cattle egret landed on the ship, brownish-colored stains of oil on its face and along its chest, wings and tail.

The containment box plan, never before tried at such depths, had been designed to siphon up to 85 percent of the leaking oil to a tanker at the surface. It had taken about two weeks to build the box and three days to cart it 50 miles out and slowly lower it to the well.

Icelike hydrates, a slushy mixture of gas and water, clogged the opening in the top of the peaked box like sand in a funnel, only upside-down.

BP officials were not giving up hopes that a containment box — either the one brought there or another one being built — could cover the well. Crews planned Sunday to secure the box about 1,600 feet from the massive leak site, much farther away from where it was placed Saturday, according to a daily activity sheet reviewed by The Associated Press. …

What next? After failure, BP mulls gusher options

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