Sunday, June 20, 2010

Catching Up with the BP Oil Spill

A summary of events on Saturday, June 19, Day 60 of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began with the April 20 explosion and fire on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which is in charge of cleanup and containment. The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well.
BP chief executive Tony Hayward was the target of fresh outrage among many in the Gulf Coast who learned that the executive took a day off Saturday to see his 52-foot yacht "Bob" compete in a glitzy race off England's shore. BP spokespeople rushed to defend Hayward, who has drawn withering criticism as the public face of BP PLC's halting efforts to stop the spill. Company spokesman Robert Wine said the break is the first for Hayward since the Deepwater Horizon rig BP was leasing exploded. It was not clear whether Hayward actually took part in Saturday's J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race or attended as a spectator. Meanwhile, some critics were also upset that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden played a round of golf Saturday near Washington, something they've done on other weekends since the spill.
Tar balls washed up on Destin, Fort Walton and Panama City Beach, the farthest east the oil has been reported in the Sunshine State. From Pensacola in the west to Panama City Beach in the east — spanning some 100 miles of coast famous for sugar white sand beaches — the aftermath of the spill continued its march. On Saturday evening, hundreds of clumps of tar mixed with sand littered the high tide line at Fort Walton Beach as people strolled, played in the sand and swam. Unfavorable onshore winds were pushing the oil closer, and more tar balls were expected to wash up in the next few days. A large plume of oil was about 30 miles offshore, officials said, and it would land on the Panama City-area beaches in the coming weeks unless the winds change for good.
About 50 miles off the coast, a newly expanded containment system is capturing or incinerating more than 1 million gallons of oil daily, the first time it has approached its peak capacity, according to the Coast Guard. BP hopes that by late June it will be able to keep nearly 90 percent of the flow from the broken pipe from hitting the ocean.
The head of a new office created to process claims from the BP oil spill said a plan to handle the remaining damage claims will be in place in 30 to 45 days. Kenneth Feinberg was chosen by President Barack Obama and BP to oversee the Independent Claims Facility. Feinberg said he also plans to have a program going forward that would guarantee that people making claims in the future would receive them within 30 to 60 days of submitting it.
Vast amounts of natural gas contained in crude escaping from the blown well could pose a serious threat to marine life by creating "dead zones" where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives. The danger presented by the methane has been largely overlooked, with early efforts to monitor the oil spill focusing on the more toxic components of oil. But scientists are increasingly worried about the gas that can suffocate sea creatures in high concentrations. At least 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas — and possibly almost twice that amount — have leaked since April 20. That's based on estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey's "flow team" that 2,900 cubic feet of natural gas are escaping for every barrel of oil.
Oil industry groups said the spill doesn't necessarily indicate problems with how environmental laws are applied in granting drilling permits. Anadarko Petroleum, which has a part interest in the well that blew up, submitted comments to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which is completing a 30-day review of the issue. So did the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas trade group. In the wake of the explosion, reports have suggested that government regulators skirted requirements in the National Environmental Policy Act. Anadarko said it did not believe implementation of environmental policies "in any way played a role in this event."
At least 22 nations — including Britain, where BP is based — have offered oil-collecting skimmers, boom, technical experts and more to help the U.S. cope with its worst-ever environmental disaster. But their generosity comes with a price tag. The State Department confirmed that nearly every offer of equipment or expertise from a foreign government since the rig explosion would require the U.S. to reimburse that country.
Far from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico and their bosses' frantic attempts at damage control, BP workers for the oil giant are dodging awkward glances and tactfully avoiding any mention that they work for what may be America's public enemy No. 1. In interviews with The Associated Press, more than a dozen BP employees from Alaska to North Carolina say they still love the company that has paid and treated them well for years. Now, they are just careful whom they share it with. In BP's case, the public scorn is so great that a corporate security official felt compelled to send employees a memo warning them to keep a low profile and stay aware of their surroundings.
It's nearly impossible to avoid the live video of the coal-gray oil gushing from BP's well a mile below the Gulf of Mexico's surface. According to an Associated Press-GfK Poll this week, 88 percent of the public has viewed it. The video is a daily reminder that two months after the oil rig explosion that killed 11 and caused the massive leak and resulting environmental and economic damage, BP still hasn't plugged the well.

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