Some oil spill events from Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A summary of events on Tuesday, May 25, Day 34 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 at a rate of at least 210,000 gallons per day.

TOP KILL

BP is going in for the kill. The trick is to do the job quickly and cleanly. As early as dawn Wednesday, the oil company will try to choke the gusher at the bottom of the sea by force-feeding it heavy drilling mud and cement. The tactic, called a “top kill,” is routinely used above ground but has never been tried 5,000 feet underwater. If it’s not done just right, it could make the leak worse. BP CEO Tony Hayward pegged its chances of success in this case at 60 percent to 70 percent.

DIAGNOSTICS

Engineers were doing at least 12 hours of diagnostic tests Tuesday. They planned to check five spots on the well’s crippled five-story blowout preventer to make sure it could withstand the heavy force of the mud. A weak spot in the device could blow under the pressure, causing a brand new leak. Bob Bea, an engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, estimated that anything above 1.6 million gallons a day would be too much for a top kill to work.

LIVE VIDEO

Live video of the leak has been available online for the past few days, but Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said he learned Tuesday that the feed would be shut off while BP attempts the top kill. A BP spokesman said the company has not yet decided.

Recently, the video has shown the underwater plume getting significantly darker. A top oil engineering expert says that suggests heavier, more-polluting oil is spewing out. The color of the oil gushing from the main pipe has changed in color from medium gray to black. Two scientists noticed the change, which oil company BP downplayed as a natural fluctuation that is not likely permanent.

WHAT ELSE?

If the top kill doesn’t work, or makes the problem worse, BP will probably turn to a containment box resting on the seafloor. It is a smaller version of the 100-ton box the company lowered several weeks ago in hopes of capturing much of the oil. That larger device was clogged with ice crystals and BP had to abandon it, but the company hopes the smaller version might work better.

HOW MUCH?

BP says it siphoned more oil with a mile-long tube after two days of falling totals from a leaking seafloor well in the Gulf of Mexico. BP PLC spokesman John Curry told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the tube collected some 256,200 gallons of oil on Monday. The collections were further evidence that a previous estimate — that the entire spill was 210,000 gallons a day — was too low.

DISPERSANT

BP is complying with the government’s request to use less of a toxic dispersant in fighting the Gulf oil spill, but alternative dispersants aren’t so readily available, the White House’s energy adviser said Tuesday. In a letter to BP last week, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the oil giant three days to find a less toxic alternative to the dispersant, Corexit 9500, that it is using to break up the oil. But in a series of meetings that followed, White House energy adviser Carol Browner said, it became clear the alternatives were not as widely available as needed.

CRONYISM

Staff members at an agency that oversees offshore drilling accepted tickets to sports events, lunches and other gifts from oil and gas companies and used government computers to view pornography, according to an Interior Department report alleging a culture of cronyism between regulators and the industry. In at least one case, an inspector for the Minerals Management Service admitted using crystal methamphetamine and said he might have been under the influence of the drug the next day at work, according to the report by the acting inspector general of the Interior Department.

The report cites a variety of violations of federal regulations and ethics rules at the agency’s Louisiana office. Previous inspector general investigations have focused on inappropriate behavior by the royalty-collection staff in the agency’s Denver office.

THE PRESIDENT

President Barack Obama, seeking to show command of a crisis that has exasperated the nation, will head back to Louisiana on Friday to review efforts to stop the disastrous Gulf oil spill. The White House announced Obama’s trip but did not yet release details of exactly where he will go. The president will be in Louisiana for the day on Friday, flying there from Chicago, where he will be spending the long holiday weekend, and returning there at night.

MEMORIAL SERVICE

Eleven men who died in the offshore rig explosion that triggered the Gulf oil spill were honored at a somber memorial service with tributes from country music stars and drilling company executives. Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, organized the event, held under tight security at the Jackson Convention Complex. Police patrolled outside. It was impossible to judge the reactions of those attending. Reporters weren’t allowed inside but were ushered to a room where the service was broadcast on closed-circuit television.

COMPARISONS

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has constantly been measured against the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which leaked nearly 11 million gallons of crude, killed countless animals and tarnished the owner of the damaged tanker, Exxon. Yet the leader of botched containment efforts in the critical hours after the tanker ran aground wasn’t Exxon Mobil Corp. It was BP PLC, the same firm now fighting to plug the Gulf leak. People who had a front row seat to the Alaska spill tell The Associated Press that BP’s actions in the Gulf suggest it hasn’t changed much at all.

FOODIES

As the thick oil from the BP spill bubbles through the Gulf of Mexico, threatening sea life and wetlands, foodies are taking up knife, fork and wine glass to defend the equally vulnerable reputation of the coast’s seafood industry. The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, an annual celebration of the city’s love of all things tasty, is pairing wines from around the world with the cooking of some of the city’s best chefs to help deliver the message: Louisiana seafood is still safe, available and delicious.

FLORIDA ADS

Florida tourism officials are taking to the airwaves to try and combat worries over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is running radio advertisements across the U.S. that say “our coast is clean and our beaches are open.” It’s also running a full-page ad in USA Today with a similar message.

FLORIDA KEYS

The Coast Guard says around 100 tar balls have been recovered throughout the Florida Keys in the last week, but none have been linked to the massive Gulf of Mexico spill.

Capt. Pat DeQuattro said Tuesday an early analysis has been able to rule out that the tar balls came from the Deepwater Horizon spill. More analysis is needed to determine where they did come from.

The Associated Press