Mexico expects oil from BP Plc's damaged Gulf of Mexico well to reach its shores by December, and is considering how to sue the company for any environmental damage, Mexico's environment minister told Reuters.
The gushing well, off Louisiana, is about 500 miles (800 km) from the nearest point on Mexico's coast, but changing currents could bring oil tar balls and sick or dying sea turtles drifting toward its shores.
Environment Minister Juan Elvira said Mexico is trying to add to its stocks of oil booms and netting, a tough task because the United States has used up most of the gear to protect its coastline, to try to capture oil that will start drifting south when sea currents change in October.
The equipment will be deployed by the navy to protect the country's sandy beaches and delicate mangrove forests when the oil comes to its shores.
"We think it will be in the month of December, not before, according to our simulations," Elvira said in an interview late on Wednesday.
The BP disaster is prompting Mexico to consider tightening environmental rules for its own deep water drilling plans, Elvira said. New regulations could slow down the process of issuing incentive-based contracts for private companies wanting to partner with state oil company Pemex.
Weather experts predict an unusually active hurricane season that could disperse the oil with potentially disastrous consequence for Mexico.
Many Gulf of Mexico turtles and birds migrate back and forth between the U.S. coast and Mexico, and turtles who have swallowed oil from the slick can die a slow and agonizing death from internal organ damage, Elvira said.
The blow to turtles could set back years of conservation programs in Mexico, which has protected hatcheries up and down its coasts for the often endangered species to lay eggs.
If scientists can prove the BP oil spill causes measurable harm to Mexico's ecosystems, the country may sue BP. "We are looking for the most appropriate legal instruments to sue BP for impacting biodiversity," Elvira said.
London-based BP already faces a criminal investigation and lawsuits over the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and triggered the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The company has spent more than $1 billion so far on cleaning up the sticky brown oil, which has fouled wildlife refuges in Louisiana and barrier islands in Mississippi and Alabama, and sent tar balls ashore on beaches in Florida.
One-third of the Gulf's U.S. waters, or 78,000 square miles (200,000 square km), is closed to fishing, and the toll of dead and injured birds and marine animals is climbing.
"The damage is already done to the environment," Elvira said.
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