Oil spill events from Tuesday

By The Associated Press

Events May 11, Day 22 of a Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began with an explosion and fire on April 20 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 at about 210,000 gallons per day.

THE BLAME GAME

The blame game is in full throttle as Congress begins hearings on the massive oil spill threatening sensitive marshes and marine life along the Gulf Coast. Executives of the three companies involved in the drilling activities that unleashed the environmental crisis are trying to shift responsibility to each other. Hearings began Tuesday in Washington before two Senate committees, while the Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service began two days of hearings in Louisiana about the cause of the explosion and spill.

1ST CONGRESSIONAL HEARING

The chairman of a key Senate committee says failures that led to the massive Gulf oil spill need to be closely examined so new safety measures can be imposed. New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman opened the first congressional hearings Tuesday into the accident. Bingaman said it’s not enough “to label this catastrophic failure an unpredictable and unforeseeable occurrence.”

MMS BREAKUP?

The Associated Press has learned that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will propose splitting up the Minerals Management Service. An administration official, who asked not to be identified because the plan is not yet public, said one agency would be charged with inspecting oil rigs, investigating oil companies and enforcing safety regulations. The other would oversee leases for drilling and the collection of billions of dollars in royalties.

DISPERSANTS

The Environmental Protection Agency says BP may keep using oil-dispersing chemicals near the sea bottom where the oil is leaking, although the agency acknowledged ecological effects of the chemical are not yet fully known. Two tests have shown the procedure helps break up the oil before it reaches the surface.

TOURISM

Daydreams of beach sunsets have been replaced by anxious Internet checks for many vacationers headed to the Gulf Coast. Hotel clerks there are busy answering calls about a massive oil spill and whether — just maybe — there’s a shot at a refund. The answer is typically no. Meanwhile, the phones are also steadily ringing for tourism officials hundreds of miles away at Atlantic Coast beaches like Hilton Head Island, S.C., as they delicately try to lure vacationers away without appearing to profit from the disaster.

BIRDS

Two birds rescued and cleaned of oil from the Gulf Coast spill are now back in the wild — on the Atlantic Coast. The relocation of the brown pelican and northern gannet are the first of what could be many wildlife relocations. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service veterinarian Sharon Taylor said 10 birds have been found dead from the oil so far. Three others that were found alive remain in rehabilitation.