Oil slick not threatening Australian coast: minister


June 18, 2010 Updated Aug 23, 2009 at 4:31 AM EDT

An oil and gas leak that forced the evacuation of a drilling rig off Australia's northwest coast was evaporating naturally and not threatening the coast, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said Sunday.

Ferguson said the spill was not as big as first feared and international experts are working out how to cap the leaking oil well as quickly as possible.

"There's no threat to the Australian coast," he told Channel Ten television.

"It is evaporating naturally and the work of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) will merely assist in that evaporation."

The spill, about eight nautical miles long and 30 metres wide, began just before dawn Friday at the West Atlas drilling rig, 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the Australian mainland.

The 69 workers on board the rig were evacuated to Darwin soon after the leak was detected.

AMSA spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins said a Hercules military aircraft flew over the slick on Sunday morning to drop a chemical dispersant.

"The application of dispersant this morning appears to have been successful," Jiggins told national news agency AAP.

"We've been able to visually see the oil dispersing into the water, which is very positive."

Jiggins said the Bangkok-based company that operates the rig, PTTEP Australasia, had promised to pay for the clean-up operation.

"It's impossible to gauge at this stage," she said of the cost of the clean-up, before adding: "But it will run into the millions."

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