A summary of events Thursday, June 24, Day 65 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.
A cap was back in place on BP’s broken oil well after a deep-sea blunder forced crews to temporarily remove what has been the most effective method so far for containing some of the massive Gulf of Mexico spill. Engineers using remote-controlled submarines repositioned the cap late Wednesday after it had been off for much of the day. It had captured 700,000 gallons of oil in 24 hours before one of the robots bumped into it late in the morning. Bob Dudley, BP’s new point man for the oil response, said crews had done the right thing to remove the cap because fluid seemed to be leaking and could have been a safety hazard.
While the cap was off, clouds of black oil gushed unchecked again at up to 104,000 gallons per hour, though a specialized ship at the surface managed to suck up and incinerate 438,000 gallons. The oil-burning ship is part of an armada floating at the site of the rogue well some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast and the scene below the surface is no less crowded. At least a dozen robotic submarines dangle from ships at the surface on mile-long cables called “umbilicals,” with most of the undersea work taking place within a few hundred yards of the busted well.
In Florida, thick pools of oil washed up along miles of national park and Pensacola Beach shoreline Wednesday, as health advisories against swimming and fishing in the once-pristine waters were extended for 33 miles east from the Alabama line. “It’s pretty ugly, there’s no question about it,” Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said. The oil reeked as it baked in the afternoon heat on a beach that looked as if it had been paved with a 6-foot-wide ribbon of asphalt. Park ranger Bobbie Visnovske said a family found an oily young dolphin beached in the sand in the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Wednesday. Wildlife officers carried it into shallow water to revive it. They later transported it to a rehabilitation center in Panama City, about 100 miles to the east.
The Obama administration seeks to resurrect a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling. The Justice Department filed court papers asking U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman to delay his ruling overturning the order to suspend drilling on 33 wells and stop approval of any new deepwater permits. Several companies, including Shell and Marathon Oil, said they would await the outcome of any appeals before they resume drilling. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he would issue a new order within the next few days. He said it may allow drilling in areas where reserves and risks are known and is likely to include criteria for when the ban would be lifted.
The man who inherited the Gulf oil spill response from BP’s embattled CEO said Wednesday that Americans have been too quick to blame his company for the environmental disaster now in its third month. “I’m somewhat concerned there is a bit of a rush to justice going on around the investigation and facts,” BP PLC managing director Bob Dudley said after touring a New Orleans wildlife conservation center where oil is cleaned from sea turtles. The Mississippi native said BP has been unusually open about making its internal investigation public and shared information that no other company would.
Britain, home of BP headquarters, said deep-sea exploration will continue in North Sea oil fields off Scotland despite safety concerns raised by the Gulf spill, the country’s energy minister said Thursday. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne told an energy conference in London that regulation is strong enough “to manage the risk of deep-water drilling.” Britain announced this month it was doubling the number of inspections carried out at North Sea oil rigs following the Gulf disaster.
The current worst-case estimate of what’s spewing into the Gulf is about 2.5 million gallons a day. Anywhere from 67 million to 127 million gallons have spilled since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and blew out the well 5,000 feet underwater. BP PLC was leasing the rig from owner Transocean Ltd.
A leaky truck filled with oil-stained sand and absorbent boom soaked in crude pulls away from the beach, leaving tar balls in a public parking lot and a messy trail of sand and water on the main beach road. A few miles away, brown liquid drips out of a disposal bin filled with polluted sand. BP PLC’s work to clean up the mess from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history already has generated more than 1,300 tons of solid waste, and companies it hired to dispose of the material say debris is being handled professionally and carefully. A spot check of several container sites by The Associated Press, however, found that’s not always the case.
More than five dozen brown pelicans rehabilitated from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico take flight in Texas. The 62 pelicans arrived on Coast Guard cargo planes Wednesday and were taken to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge about 175 miles south of Houston. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups released the pelicans and one northern gannet. Wednesday’s release was the largest to date since the offshore oil rig exploded April 20.
A federal report confirms what independent scientists have been saying for weeks about the Gulf oil spill: Undersea oil plumes extend for miles from the ruptured well. The report may help measure the effectiveness of spreading chemicals to break up the oil. Government researchers released a summary Wednesday of water sampling conducted last month near the undersea gusher. It describes a cloud of oil starting around 3,300 feet deep up to 4,600 feet deep and stretching up to 6 miles from the well. Levels of oil and gas within the cloud are significantly higher than concentrations closer to the surface. The Environmental Protection Agency says there’s been no significant harm to sea life, but marine scientist Vernon Asper of the University of Southern Mississippi says the levels are enough to kill fish.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen says two contract workers helping with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup have died. Neither death appears to have a direct connection to the spill. Allen said Wednesday in Washington that one man was killed by what investigators later called a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Allen said the other worker’s death involved swimming. He would not provide more details.
A new exhibit at an aquarium in Iowa had intended to showcase the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, it will be void of life to underline the environmental impact of a massive oil spill in the ocean basin. The 40,000-gallon aquarium at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, was supposed to have been teeming with sharks, rays and other fish. Two smaller tanks were to show a seagrass bed and coral reef. Instead, says executive director Jerry Enzler, the main tank will hold water and artificial coral, with window stickers that look like oil.
The House has approved legislation that would give subpoena power to the presidential commission investigating the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Rep. Lois Capps, a California Democrat, said that Americans want answers from those responsible for the spill, and subpoena power will ensure “no stone goes unturned.” The vote Wednesday was 420-1, with Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas casting the only no vote. President Barack Obama has appointed the seven-member commission to investigate the spill.
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday subpoenaed BP claims documents, after its chairman said the company has not complied with requests to provide information on its payments. The committee’s voice vote showed bipartisan agreement for Chairman John Conyers’ efforts to release claims information to the public. The committee also voted, 16-11, to approve a bill eliminating limits on the amount of money that vessel owners had to pay for deaths and injuries. The bill would let family members collect payments for non-monetary damages such as pain and suffering. Introduced by Conyers, D-Mich., the bill was sent to the full House, where it will be considered along with other legislation resulting from the oil spill.
In need of political momentum, Democrats are exploiting Republican Rep. Joe Barton’s startling apology to BP for its treatment by the Obama administration, launching a steady, low-budget campaign of fundraising appeals, a pair of television commercials and Web ads. Little more than four months before midterm elections, party officials appear to be testing ways to maximize the gain from a comment that ricocheted across the Capitol at a furious pace last week, and that Republicans deemed significant enough to force Barton to recant.
To a nation frustrated by the Gulf oil spill, BP’s attempts at damage control have sometimes been infuriatingly vague. But from a legal standpoint, that’s exactly the point. With the company facing more than 200 civil lawsuits and the specter of a Justice Department investigation, saying the wrong thing could expose BP to millions of dollars in damages or even criminal charges for its executives. Inside the company, experts believe, there is a natural tension between public relations people who want BP to project a positive image and lawyers who don’t want to be boxed into a corner. It’s a balancing act with billions of dollars — perhaps even BP’s survival — at stake.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is urging the White House to hold a summit with East Coast governors and local officials to ensure they are prepared if oil from the Gulf spill makes its way up the Atlantic coastline. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, made the request in a letter to President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Computer models show that the oil could enter the Gulf’s loop current, go around the tip of Florida and up the coast.
The Associated Press