Oil spill threatens Florida as BP ramp up efforts

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BP have ramped up efforts to stem its leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well, amid fears powerful currents are pushing the slick toward fragile tourist resorts and fisheries.

The energy giant, which has seen its reputation battered and market value cut by £20 billion due to the disaster, said it planned to increase the amount of oil captured from its blown well as it works on a permanent fix.

A siphon tube inserted into the well is capturing an estimated 2,000 barrels per day from the ruptured undersea well, about 40 per cent of the amount that was gushing into the surrounding waters, BP said.

Environmentalists warn that the spill could prove worse than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska -- the worst such incident in U.S. history -- and bring an ecological and economic calamity to the Gulf region.

In a sign of the widening environmental impact, the United States nearly doubled a no-fishing zone in waters potentially affected by the oil gushing from the blown well, extending it to 19 per cent of US waters in the Gulf.

Tests are also being conducted on tar balls found on a Key West island resort to see if they came from BP's well, as Florida braced for the spill's potential impact on its £40 billion-a-year tourism industry. Oil debris and tar balls have been reported in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.