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Title: Drill, drill, drill?


synergy - April 23, 2010 12:30 PM (GMT)
Does anyone still think that "drill here, drill there, drill everywhere" is a good idea? Do you want to take a chance with an oil spill off the southeast coast of United States fouling Georgia and South Carolina's beaches and estuaries?

Oil rig blast prompts environmental concerns
QUOTE
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY, Associated Press Writers
8:02 am EDT Fri 23 April 2010

NEW ORLEANS – As the Coast Guard searched for 11 crew members missing after a drilling rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, authorities turned their focus to controlling an oil spill that could threaten the fragile ecosystem of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.

The Deepwater Horizon had burned violently for nearly two days until it sank Thursday morning. The fire's out, and officials had initially feared as much as 336,000 gallons of crude oil a day could be rising from the sea floor 5,000 feet below.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said Friday morning that no oil appeared to be leaking from the well head at the ocean floor, nor was any leaking at the water's surface. However, Landry said crews were closely monitoring the rig for any more crude that might spill out.

The oil currently being contained was residual from the explosion and sinking.

"If it gets landward, it could be a disaster in the making," said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director for the environmental group Gulf Restoration Network.

BP PLC, which leased the rig and took the lead in the cleanup, said Friday it has "activated an extensive oil spill response," including using remotely operated vehicles to assess the subsea well and 32 vessels to mop up the spill.

BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward said the company will do "everything in our power to contain this oil spill and resolve the situation as rapidly, safely and effectively as possible." He says the company can call on more resources if needed.

Ed Overton, an LSU environmental sciences professor, said he expects some of the light crude oil to evaporate while much of it turns into a pasty mess called a "chocolate mousse" that ultimately breaks apart into "tar balls," small chunks of oily residue that can wash ashore.

"It's going to be a god-awful mess for a while," he said. "I'm not crying doomsday or saying the sky is falling, but that is the potential."

The Coast Guard early Friday was searching for the missing, but some family members said they had been told that officials assumed all were dead. Most of the crew — 111 members — were ashore, including 17 taken to hospitals. Four were in critical condition.

The accident shows that drilling is not safe, said Abe Powell, who heads Get Oil Out!, created after a 1969 platform accident off Santa Barbara, Calif., fouled miles of ocean and beaches with wildlife-killing goo and spawned the environmental movement.

"When oil companies say drilling is safe now and we won't allow any accidents ... we know that's not true," he said.

Weather forecasts indicate the spill was likely to stay well away from shore at least through the weekend, but if winds change it could come ashore more rapidly, said Doug Helton of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's office of response and restoration.

The Coast Guard, which was leading the investigation, hadn't given up the search early Friday for those missing from the rig, which went up in flames Tuesday night about 41 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Four who made it off safely were still on a boat operating one of several underwater robots being used to assess whether the flow of oil could be shut off at a control valve on the sea floor, said Guy Cantwell, spokesman for rig owner Transocean Ltd.

Landry said crews saw a 1-mile-by-5-mile rainbow sheen of what appeared to be a crude oil mix on the surface. There wasn't any evidence crude was coming out after the rig sank, she said, but officials weren't sure what was going on underwater.

At the worst-case figure of 336,000 gallons a day, it would take more than a month for the amount of crude oil spilled to equal the 11 million gallons spilled from the Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

A turn in winds and currents might send oil toward fragile coastal wetlands — nurseries for fish and shrimp and habitat for birds.

"As you get closer to shore, you get richer and richer marine habitats, and also get the potential for long-term exposure," Helton said.

Animals at sea will be briefly exposed to the oil when the slick passes over, but when it hits land, it sticks, he said.

To prevent that, the Marine Spill Response Corp., an energy industry cleanup consortium, brought seven skimmer boats to suck oily water from the surface, four planes that can scatter chemicals to disperse oil, and 500,000 feet — 94.6 miles — of containment boom, a floating barrier with a skirt that drapes down under the water and corrals the oil.

Another 500,000 feet of boom were on the way, said BP spokesman Tom Mueller.

"Right now we are over-responding with resources to manage the potential spill here," he said. "We will be well-prepared to manage whatever comes."

He said 6,000 feet, about 1.1 mile, of boom was in the water by Thursday evening.

While this was happening on the surface, robots tethered to ships nearly a mile above the sea floor sent back video of the damage so crews can decide whether a shutoff valve called a blowout preventer can be closed.

Authorities don't know whether the rig sank to the bottom — or, if it did, whether it hit the blowout preventer, Lt. Cdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau said.

"It didn't sink catastrophically. It kind of settled into the water" and may still have some buoyancy, she said.

If the valve is too badly damaged to cut off the flow of oil, a nearby rig a safe distance from the broken well will drill a new hole intersecting the one that blew wild. Then heavy fluid called "kill fluid" will be pumped in to plug it, said Scott D. Dean, a BP spokesman.

In addition to other environmental concerns, the well is in an area where a pod of sperm whales is known to feed, said Kim Amendola of NOAA. Sarthou said she was worried the activity around the well might disturb the whales.

Meanwhile, relatives of the missing waited for news.

Carolyn Kemp of Monterey, La., said her grandson, Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27, would have been on the drilling platform when it exploded.

"They're assuming all those men who were on the platform are dead," Kemp said. "That's the last we've heard."

Jed Kersey, of Leesville, La., said his 33-year-old son, John, had finished his shift on the rig floor and was sleeping. He said his son told him all 11 missing workers were on the rig floor at the time of the explosion.

"He said it was like a war zone," said Jed Kersey, a former offshore oil worker.

The family of Dewey Revette, a 48-year-old from southeast Mississippi, said he worked as a driller on the rig and had been with the company for 29 years.

"We're all just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring and hoping for good news. And praying about it," said Revette's 23-year-old daughter, Andrea Cochran.

Those who escaped did so mainly by getting on lifeboats that were lowered into the Gulf, said Adrian Rose, vice president of Transocean.

Weekly emergency drills seemed to help, he said, adding that workers apparently stuck together as they fled the blast.

"There are a number of uncorroborated stories, a lot of them really quite heroic stories, of how people looked after each other. There was very little panic," Rose said.

Family members of two missing workers filed separate lawsuits Thursday accusing Transocean and BP of negligence. Both companies declined to comment about legal action against them after the first suit was filed.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service, which regulates oil rigs, conducted three routine inspections of the Deepwater Horizon this year — in February, March and on April 1 — and found no violations, MMS spokeswoman Eileen Angelico said.

___

Associated Press Writer Noaki Schwartz reported from Los Angeles, Holbrook Mohr from Jackson, Miss., Mike Kunzelman, Cain Burdeau and Alan Sayre in Louisiana, Chris Kahn in New York and Sofia Mannos of AP Television News contributed to this report.

synergy - April 23, 2010 09:04 PM (GMT)
Drill Baby Drill: Offshore Rig Explodes, 11 Missing - By: David Dayen Friday April 23, 2010 6:28 am | FDL "News Desk

synergy - April 25, 2010 02:36 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
The New York Times
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
Published: April 24, 2010

NEW ORLEANS — Robotic devices monitoring the deepwater well where a giant oil rig exploded and sank last week have discovered oil leaking from the well, a development that a senior Coast Guard official on Saturday called a “game changer.”

The oil was coming from two places in the riser — the 5,000-foot pipe that connects the well at the ocean floor to the drilling platform on the surface. The rig, the Deepwater Horizon, which sank Thursday 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, detached from the riser.

The riser, following a circuitous route underwater, now extends from the well to 1,500 feet above the seabed and then buckles back down.

On Friday, a remotely operated device began scanning the riser to determine if there were any leaks, said Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, commander of the Coast Guard’s Eighth District. The discovery of the leaks was made Saturday morning.

Roughly 1,000 barrels of oil a day are estimated to be emanating from the riser, officials said. They said that both leaks were on the seabed.

“Somewhere along the line there, there’s a break in the line,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Carleton of the Coast Guard. “We’ve got something coming out in a kink, in a middle area where there is a bend.”

There are several options for fixing the leaks, including shutting off the well at its source and drilling a relief well.

The rig itself was found on the sea floor about 1,500 feet from the well. The sheen of crude oil and water mix on the surface of the water was still more than 40 miles from shore at its closest point on Saturday. “That gives us a lot of time to try to mitigate in response to the spill,” Admiral Landry said.

The sheen had spread to a 20-by-20-mile area, Coast Guard officials said.

High winds and 10-foot seas have prevented the oil spill response vessels from making it to the site to continue cleanup on Saturday. But the Coast Guard had contained 33,726 gallons of oil-water mix from the area.

“We’ve been quite successful with on-water skimming,” Admiral Landry said.

The response team has also deployed 1,900 gallons of chemicals that break up the oil. Officials said that the team has a third of the world’s supply of such chemicals, called dispersant.

On Friday, officials suspended the search-and-rescue operations for the 11 missing members of the rig’s crew. Admiral Landry said again on Saturday that the missing workers were thought to have been in the vicinity of the explosion when it occurred Tuesday night, though an investigation was continuing.

The cause of the explosion was still uncertain, though officials from Transocean, the Swiss company that owned the rig, suggested last week that it may have been a blowout, when pockets of hydrocarbons shoot up a pipe unexpectedly. But the authorities were still investigating.

“It is still too early to know the exact cause or causes of this incident,” Admiral Landry said.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 25, 2010, on page A14 of the New York edition.

synergy - April 26, 2010 01:36 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Posted on: Monday, 26 April 2010, 06:55 CDT

RedOrbit staff and wire reports

Officials reported on Sunday that crude oil is gushing from a sunken oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a massive oil slick covering more than 400 square miles.

A fly-over of the affected area turned up a 20-mile by 2-mile slick derived from the Deepwater Horizon oil platform that sank last Thursday, two days after a huge explosion left 11 workers missing and presumably dead.

British oil company BP initially said there was no oil leaking from the site, but upon inspection from a robotic vessel on Saturday, two holes were found in the riser that connects the wellhead to the rig.

A spokesman for BP estimated that the leaks -- nearly a mile underwater -- were releasing about 42,000 gallons of oil per day.

US Coast Guard spokesman petty officer Erik Swanson, said the spill is serious. “We are responding as if it is already a very serious spill but we're still assessing it,” he told the AFP new agency.

BP and owner of the rig, Transocean, are hoping to avert an environmental crisis as the oil continues to spill into the ocean. Both companies are facing lawsuits already from families of those injured and possibly killed in the accident.

BP says it has considered two options for sealing the leaks. One option would use a hydraulic tool called a blowout preventer, installed near the wellhead as part of the existing equipment on the rig, to seal of the source of the oil.

A second option, which would be more time-consuming, would be to set up a relief well. This would call for drilling a new hole near the well, intercepting the leaking pipe, and then pumping cement or mud into the hole until it is sealed.

Less than 35,000 gallons of the slick has been recovered as oil skimming vessels faced storms and rough seas on Saturday that kept the ships from operating effectively. Better weather was expected for Sunday.

“We want to fight this battle offshore this afternoon,” Swanson told AFP. “We have many resources we are ready to deploy.”

So far, the oil recovery operation includes seven skimming vessels, nine aircraft and three barges for crude recovery.

“Our response plan is focused on quickly securing the source of the subsurface oil emanating from the well, clean the oil on the surface of the water, and keeping the response well offshore,” said Rear Admiral Mary Landry, the coast guard officer leading the clean-up effort.

Louisiana’s’ fragile wetland ecosystem is at high risk form the oil spill. Environmental groups are worried that should the slick reach the coastline it would destroy what is currently a paradise for rare waterfowl.

There is still no news of the 11 missing crewmembers, more than 36 hours after the US coast guard aborted its massive sea and air search.

---

On the Net:

    * Deepwater Horizon
    * U.S. Coast Guard


Source: RedOrbit Staff & Wire Reports

synergy - April 26, 2010 01:39 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
The New York Times

April 25, 2010
Oil Leaks Could Take Months to Stop
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and LESLIE KAUFMAN

NEW ORLEANS — Officials worked Sunday to try to stop oil leaks coming from the deepwater well drilled by a rig that sank last week near Louisiana, but they acknowledged that it could be months before they are able to stem the flow of what is now about 42,000 gallons of oil a day pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

The response team is trying three tacks: one that could stop the leaks within two days, one that would take months and one that would not stop the leaks but would capture the oil and deliver it to the surface while permanent measures are pursued.

Officials determined through weather patterns that the sheen of oil and water, now covering 600 square miles, would remain at least 30 miles from shore for the next three days. But states along the Gulf Coast have been warned to be on alert.

“We have been in contact with all the coastal states,” Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District, said at a news conference on Sunday. Emphasizing that the sheen was not estimated to hit shore anytime soon, Admiral Landry said contingency plans were being put in place.

“Everyone is forward-leaning and preparing for coastal impact,” she said.

Louisiana is erecting containment booms around sensitive coastal areas as a precautionary measure.

At the rate of 42,000 gallons of oil a day, the leak would have to continue for 262 days to match the 11-million-gallon spill from the Exxon Valdez in 1989, the worst oil spill in United States history.

The leaks were discovered Saturday in the riser, the 5,000-foot-long pipe that extended from the wellhead to the drilling platform. The riser detached from the platform after it exploded and sank, and it is now snaking up from the wellhead and back down to the sea floor. It is leaking in two places, both at the sea floor. The bends in the riser, like kinks in a garden hose, have apparently prevented a gush of oil. When the platform was on the ocean’s surface and the riser was still attached last week, oil and gas were shooting up through the riser, creating plumes of flame.

On Sunday morning, officials began using remote-controlled vehicles to try to activate the blowout preventer, a 450-ton valve sitting at the wellhead, 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. The blowout preventer can seal off the well, and is designed to do just that to prevent sudden pressure releases that possibly led to the first explosion on the oil rig on Tuesday night.

The authorities said it was still unclear what had caused the explosion. Eleven crew members are missing and presumed dead. If successful, engaging the blowout preventer could seal the well in 24 to 36 hours. But Doug Suttles, the chief operating officer for exploration and production at BP — which was leasing the drilling platform and is responsible for the cleanup under federal law — cautioned that the operation was “highly complex.”

“It may not be successful,” Mr. Suttles said.

Another effort described by officials Sunday — drilling relief wells nearby — would take two to three months to stop the flow.

BP is mobilizing two rigs that could drill the relief wells, which could send heavy mud and concrete into the cavity of oil and gas that drilling apparently punctured by accident.

If the blowout preventer does not seal off the well, officials intend to place a large dome directly over the leaks to catch the oil and route it up to the surface, where it could be collected.

This has been done before, but only in shallow waters, Mr. Suttles said.

“It’s never been deployed in 5,000 feet of water,” he said. “But we have the world’s best experts working on that right now.”

Rough seas halted the cleanup efforts on Saturday and most of Sunday. But as the weather cleared Sunday afternoon, aircraft resumed dumping dispersant, or chemicals that break down the oil. By evening, 15 vessels were headed to the area to resume skimming the oil off the surface of the ocean.

The Coast Guard said 48,000 gallons of oil-water mix had been collected by Sunday.

Doug Helton, a fisheries biologist who coordinates oil spill responses for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the oil emanating from the riser was taking the shape of a giant ice cream cone as it drifted toward the surface. He said there were no reports of dead animals yet, although that was expected to change if the leaks were not sealed.

Mr. Helton added that wind data allowed officials to predict that the spill would not hit shore within three days, but that it was moving north.

“Louisiana is the closest area,” he said. “There is a potential for other Gulf states if the release continues unabated, but we have no indication in our trajectories that shorefall will happen in the next three days.”

Sea life that congregates at the surface and has no mobility of its own — like plankton and fish eggs — is the most vulnerable to the slick. A large-scale destruction of eggs could affect fish populations in the future.

Officials are monitoring the environmental effects of the spill by boat and planes.

“It will be more severe over time,” Mr. Helton said.

synergy - April 26, 2010 10:51 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
The New York Times

Officials say an oil sheen is more than three days from shore.

By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and LESLIE KAUFMAN
Published: April 26, 2010

NEW ORLEANS — Coast Guard officials said Monday afternoon that the oil spill near Louisiana was now covering an area in the Gulf of Mexico of 48 miles by 39 miles at its widest points, and they have been unable to engage a mechanism that could shut off the well thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface.

The response team was trying three tacks to address a spill caused by an explosion on an oil rig last week: one that could stop the leaks within hours, one that would take months, and one that would not stop the leaks but would capture the oil and deliver it to the surface while permanent measures were pursued.

On Sunday morning, officials began using remote-controlled vehicles to try to activate the blowout preventer, a 450-ton valve sitting at the wellhead, 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. The blowout preventer can seal off the well to prevent sudden pressure releases that possibly led to the explosion on the rig last Tuesday night.

If successful, engaging the blowout preventer could seal the well Monday or Tuesday.

The flow of oil from the leaks is about 42,000 gallons of oil a day. The authorities said it was still unclear what caused the explosion. Eleven crew members are missing and presumed dead.

The Coast Guard also said in a statement Monday that an aircrew from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service spotted sperm whales in the vicinity of the oil spill on Sunday.

“The unified command is monitoring the situation and is working closely with officials from Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service and NOAA to understand the impact the spill and response activities may have on whales and other marine wildlife in the area,” the statement said.

Officials determined through weather patterns that the sheen of oil and water would remain at least 30 miles from shore at least until Tuesday. But states along the Gulf Coast have been warned to be on alert.

“We have been in contact with all the coastal states,” Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District, said at a news conference on Sunday. Emphasizing that the sheen was not estimated to hit shore anytime soon, Admiral Landry said contingency plans were being put in place.

“Everyone is forward-leaning and preparing for coastal impact,” she said.

Louisiana is erecting containment booms around sensitive coastal areas as a precautionary measure.

At the rate of 42,000 gallons of oil a day, the leak would have to continue for 262 days to match the 11-million-gallon spill from the Exxon Valdez in 1989, the worst oil spill in United States history.

The leaks were discovered Saturday in the riser, the 5,000-foot-long pipe that extended from the wellhead to the drilling platform. The riser detached from the platform after it exploded and sank, and it is now snaking up from the wellhead and back down to the sea floor. It is leaking in two places, both at the sea floor. The bends in the riser, like kinks in a garden hose, have apparently prevented a gush of oil. When the platform was on the ocean’s surface and the riser was still attached last week, oil and gas were shooting up through the riser, creating plumes of flame.

Another effort described by officials Sunday — drilling relief wells nearby — would take two to three months to stop the flow.

BP, which was leasing the drilling platform and is responsible for the cleanup under federal law, was mobilizing two rigs that could drill the relief wells, which could send heavy mud and concrete into the cavity of oil and gas that drilling apparently punctured by accident.

If the blowout preventer does not seal off the well, officials intend to place a large dome directly over the leaks to catch the oil and route it up to the surface, where it could be collected.

This has been done before, but only in shallow waters, said Doug Suttles, the chief operating officer for exploration and production at BP.

“It’s never been deployed in 5,000 feet of water,” he said. “But we have the world’s best experts working on that right now.”

Rough seas halted the cleanup efforts on Saturday and most of Sunday. But as the weather cleared Sunday afternoon, aircraft resumed dumping dispersant, or chemicals that break down the oil. By evening, 15 vessels were headed to the area to resume skimming the oil off the surface of the ocean.

The Coast Guard said 48,000 gallons of oil-water mix had been collected by Sunday.

Doug Helton, a fisheries biologist who coordinates oil spill responses for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, said the oil emanating from the riser was taking the shape of a giant ice cream cone as it drifted toward the surface. He said there were no reports of dead animals yet, although that was expected to change if the leaks were not sealed.

Mr. Helton added that wind data allowed officials to predict that the spill would not hit shore within three days, but that it was moving north.

“Louisiana is the closest area,” he said. “There is a potential for other Gulf states if the release continues unabated, but we have no indication in our trajectories that shorefall will happen in the next three days.”

Sea life that congregates at the surface and has no mobility of its own — like plankton and fish eggs — is the most vulnerable to the slick. A large-scale destruction of eggs could affect fish populations in the future.

Officials are monitoring the environmental effects of the spill by boat and planes.

“It will be more severe over time,” Mr. Helton said.

synergy - April 27, 2010 02:40 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
By CAIN BURDEAU, Associated Press Writer
8:35 pm EDT Mon 26 Apr 2010

NEW ORLEANS – Crews raced to protect the Gulf of Mexico coastline Monday as a remote sub tried to shut off an underwater oil well that's gushing 42,000 gallons a day from the site of a wrecked drilling platform.

If crews cannot stop the leak quickly, they might need to drill another well to redirect the oil, a laborious process that could take about two months while oil washes up along a broad stretch of shore, from the white-sand beaches of Florida's Panhandle to the swamps of Louisiana.

The oil, which could reach shore in as little as three days, is escaping from two leaks in a drilling pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface. The spill has grown to more than 1,800 square miles, or an area larger than Rhode Island.

Winds and currents can change rapidly and drastically, so officials were hesitant to give any longer forecasts for where the spill will head. Hundreds of miles of coastline in four states are threatened, with waters that are home to dolphins and sea birds. The areas also hold prime fishing grounds and are popular with tourists.

The oil began spewing out of the sea floor after the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank two days later about 40 miles off the Mississippi River delta. Eleven of the 126 workers aboard at the time are missing and presumed dead; the rest escaped. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

As of Monday afternoon, an area 48 miles long and 39 miles wide was covered by oil that leaked from the site of the rig, which was owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP PLC.

Crews used robot submarines to activate valves in hopes of stopping the leaks, but they may not know until Tuesday if that strategy will work. BP also mobilized two rigs to drill a relief well if needed. Such a well could help redirect the oil, though it could also take weeks to complete, especially at that depth.

BP plans to collect leaking oil on the ocean bottom by lowering a large dome to capture the oil and then pumping it through pipes and hoses into a vessel on the surface, said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP Exploration and Production.

It could take up to a month to get the equipment in place.

"That system has been deployed in shallower water, but it has never been deployed at 5,000 feet of water, so we have to be careful," he said.

The spill, moving slowly north and spreading east and west, was about 30 miles from the Chandeleur Islands off the Louisiana coast Monday. The Coast Guard said kinks in the pipe were helping stem the flow of oil.

From the air Monday afternoon, the oil spill reached as far as the eye could see. There was little evidence of a major cleanup, with only a handful of vessels near the site of the leak.

The oil sheen was of a shiny light blue color, translucent and blending with the water, but a distinct edge between the oil slick and the sea could be seen stretching for miles.

George Crozier, oceanographer and executive director at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, said he was studying wind and ocean currents driving the oil.

He said Pensacola, Fla., is probably the eastern edge of the threatened area, though no one really knows what the effects will be.

"We've never seen anything like this magnitude," he said. "The problems are going to be on the beaches themselves. That's where it will be really visible."

Aaron Viles, director for the New Orleans-based environmental group Gulf Restoration Network, said he flew over the spill Sunday and saw what was likely a sperm whale swimming near the oil sheen.

"There are going to be significant marine impacts," he said.

Concern Monday focused on the Chandeleur and Breton barrier islands in Louisiana, where thousands of birds are nesting.

"It's already a fragile system. It would be devastating to see anything happen to that system," said Mark Kulp, a University of New Orleans geologist.

Oil makes it difficult for birds to fly or float on the water's surface. Plant life can also suffer serious harm.

Whales have been spotted near the oil spill, though they did not seem to be in any distress. The spill also threatened oyster beds in Breton Sound on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Harvesters could only watch and wait.

"That's our main oyster-producing area," said John Tesvich, a fourth-generation oyster farmer with Port Sulphur Fisheries Co. His company has about 4,000 acres of oyster grounds that could be affected if the spill worsens.

"Trying to move crops would be totally speculative," Tesvich said. "You wouldn't know where to move a crop. You might be moving a crop to a place that's even worse."

If the oyster grounds are affected, thousands of fishermen, packers, processors might have to curtail operations.

Worse, he said, it's spawning season, and contamination could affect young oysters. But even if the spill is mostly contained, he said oil residue could get sucked in by the oysters.

"You will have off-flavors that would be a concern," Tesvich said.

If the oil continues oozing north, the white-sand beaches in Mississippi, Alabama and west Florida could be fouled, too.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal asked the Coast Guard to use containment booms, which float like a string of fat sausage links to hold back oil until it can be skimmed off the surface. Crews were trying to keep oil out of the Pass A Loutre wildlife area, a 115,000-acre preserve that is home to alligators, birds and fish near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour said he has spoken with the Coast Guard mission commander, Rear Adm. Mary Landry, but was uncertain what to do to protect the state's beaches.

"It's a real difficulty in trying to determine what defenses will be effective," he said.

A fleet of boats and containment equipment was working to skim oil from the surface of the Gulf late last week. But crews had to suspend their efforts because of a weather system that spawned deadly tornadoes in Louisiana and Mississippi and stirred up heavy seas over the weekend.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Connie Terrell said 32 vessels are waiting for conditions to improve to resume the cleanup. She could not say when they will be back at work, but she said 23,000 feet of containment boom had been deployed, 70,000 more were ready to go when the effort resumes, and another 50,000 feet were on order.

___

Associated Press writers Kevin McGill in New Orleans, Emily Wagster Pettus in Yazoo City, Miss., and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge contributed to this story.

synergy - April 27, 2010 10:29 PM (GMT)
Emergency efforts to stop oil for leaking from the well and efforts to mitigate a pending disaster have been unsuccessful in the heart of the offshore oil drilling industry where all the emergency equipment is readily available. Imagine the disaster if a similar incident happened in the Buford sea near the end of the summer. The Arctic Ocean would freeze over and the oil would continue to leak into the environment all winter long. Drilling offshore in the Arctic is not a good idea. The demand to "drill here, drill there, drill everywhere" is completely stupid. These rigs also make great terrorist targets.

Gulf businesses wait as oil creeps toward coast
QUOTE
By HOLBROOK MOHR and CAIN BURDEAU, Associated Press Writers

6:03 pm EDT Tue 27 Apr 2010

BILOXI, Miss. — This time, it's not a hurricane that threatens to wreck their livelihoods — it's a blob of black ooze slowly making its way toward the Gulf Coast.

Hotel owners, fishermen and restaurateurs are keeping anxious watch as an oil slick spreads from a wrecked drilling platform like a giant filthy ink blot. Forecasters say it could wash ashore within days near delicate wetlands, oyster beds and pristine white beaches.

Crews have not been able to stop thousands of barrels of oil from spewing out of the sea floor since an April 20 explosion destroyed the Deepwater Horizon, which was drilling 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead, and the cause of the explosion has not been determined.

Louis Skrmetta, 54, runs a company called Ship Island Excursions that takes tourists to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, where white-sand beaches and green water create an idyllic landscape.

"This is the worst possible thing that could happen to the Mississippi Gulf Coast," he said. "It will wipe out the oyster industry. Shrimping wouldn't recover for years. It would kill family tourism. That's our livelihood."

As crews struggled to contain the oil slick, Coast Guard officials said Tuesday they were considering setting fire to the contaminated water to burn off the crude. Pools of oil far offshore would be trapped in special containment booms and set aflame as soon as Wednesday.

"If we don't secure this well, this could be one of the most significant oil spills in U.S. history," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said.

A similar burn off the coast of Newfoundland in 1993 eliminated 50 to 99 percent of captured oil. However, burning the oil also creates air pollution, and the effect on marine life is unclear.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, birds and mammals are more likely to escape a burning area of the ocean than escape from an oil slick. The agency said birds might be disoriented by the plumes of smoke, but they would be at much greater risk from exposure to oil in the water.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Obama administration launched a full investigation of the explosion, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said they will devote every available resource to the probe.

Meanwhile, the glistening sheen of sweet crude continued to grow and began forming long reddish-orange ribbons of oil that, if they wash up on shore, could cover birds, white sand beaches and marsh grasses.

The last major spill in the Gulf was in June 1979, when an offshore drilling rig in Mexican waters — the Ixtoc I — blew up, releasing 140 million gallons of oil. It took until March 1980 to cap the well, and a great deal of the oil contaminated U.S. waters and Texas shores.

"In the worst-case scenario, this could also last months," said Richard Haut, a senior research scientist at the Houston Advanced Research Center who worked for Exxon for 20 years, 10 of them on an offshore platform in the North Sea.

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon is not expected to reach the coast until late in the week, if at all. As of Tuesday, it was about 20 miles offshore, south of Venice, La. The spill covered an expanding area about 48 miles long and 80 miles wide, but with uneven borders, making it difficult to calculate its area in square miles.

"I understand there's got to be industry, but it's so sad for our kids. We don't have a lot of beaches left," Bonnie Bethel, 66, said as she watched her grandchildren splash in the water on a Mississippi beach. "Can you imagine these poor birds in oil?"

Thousands of birds such as egrets and brown pelicans are nesting on barrier islands close to the rig's wreckage right now. If the oil gets to them, rescuers would need to reach their remote islands, wash them down and release them back into the wild.

Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network affiliated with the University of California at Davis, said he is standing by to clean up Gulf Coast birds if they are hurt by the spill. Cleaning up brown pelican chicks after a modest spill in Louisiana in 2005 was a major undertaking, he said.

"Just about any petroleum can cause problems for birds because they lose their waterproofing, and that's what keeps them dry and warm," Ziccardi said. "It's a really difficult time, and we're close to the peak of migration."

The spill also threatens billions of fish eggs and larvae coating the Gulf's surface this time of year.

If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil, or 4.2 million gallons, could spill into the Gulf before crews can drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, leaked 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.

Crews working to clean up the spill from the Deepwater Horizon have other things in their favor. Oil from the Exxon Valdez can still be found under rocks in the cold water of Prince William Sound, but residue in the Gulf will disappear faster.

"You have warm temperatures, strong sunlight, microbial action. It will degrade a lot faster," said Ronald S. Tjeerdema, an environmental toxicologist at the University of California at Davis who's studied the effects of oil on aquatic systems. "Eventually, things will return to normal."

And there's another bit of good news: The oil spilling out is sweet crude, which is low in sulfur, unlike the oil from the Exxon Valdez, which was heavy crude.

"If you had to pick an oil to spill, this would be it," said Ed Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University and an oil spill expert.

BP said Tuesday that it planned to begin drilling a relief well to redirect the leaking oil in a $100 million effort to take the pressure off the blown-out well.

The company said it would begin the drilling by Thursday even if crews can shut off oil leaking from the pipe 5,000 feet underground. Robot subs have tried to activate a shut-off device, but so far that has not worked.

Company spokesman Robert Wine said the drilling will take up to three months and will be done from a rig now in place near where the Deepwater Horizon sank.

Louisiana-based BP spokesman Neil Chapman said 49 vessels — oil skimmers, tugboats barges and special recovery boats that separate oil from water — are working to round up oil.

In Pensacola, Fla., the easternmost point likely to be affected, beachgoers and business owners kept watch.

"I've been looking at this sand all morning and thinking about the oil spill," said Shelley Brunson after a morning swim at Pensacola Beach. "I am praying they clean it up fast and it doesn't come here."

Sal Pinzone, general manager of the fishing pier where anglers catch pompano and cobia, shows up at work at 5:30 every morning to watch the sun rise over the famous white-sand beach.

"We are all worried," he said. "If the spill does hit the beaches along the Gulf, it will shut down everything."

___

Burdeau reported from New Orleans. Associated Press writers Alan Sayre, Kevin McGill and Cain Burdeau in New Orleans, Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston contributed to this report.

synergy - April 28, 2010 02:04 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
AP 9:55 am EDT Wed 28 Apr 2010

NEW ORLEANS – Authorities will begin burning some of the thickest oil in a massive slick from a rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana.

A Coast Guard spokesman says the burn is expected to begin Wednesday morning.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Prentice Danner says fire-resistant containment booms will be used to corral some of the thickest oil on surface, which will then be ignited. It was unclear how large an area would be set on fire or how far from shore the first fire would be set.

The slick is the result of oil leaking from the site of last week's huge explosion of a deep water oil rig that burned and sank. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead. Oil continues to spill undersea, where robot submarines have been unable to cap the well.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Coast Guard is considering setting fire to a large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to keep the mess away from shore as efforts to cap a spewing well fail.

Crews have been unable to stop thousands of barrels of oil from fouling gulf waters since an April 20 explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon, which was drilling 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead, and the cause of the blast has not been determined.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said the controlled burns would be done during the day far from shore. Crews would make sure marine life and people were protected and that work on other oil rigs would not be interrupted.

The burning could start as early as Wednesday afternoon, but whether it will work is unclear. Officials would be considering weather conditions including wind and waves in deciding whether to go ahead with the burn, BP spokesman Neil Chapman said Wednesday.

Ed Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University, questioned the method.

"It can be effective in calm water, not much wind, in a protected area," he said. "When you're out in the middle of the ocean, with wave actions and currents pushing you around, it's not easy."

He has another concern: The oil samples from the spill he's looked at shows it to be a sticky substance similar to roofing tar.

"I'm not super optimistic. This is tarry crude that lies down in the water," he said. "But it's something that has got to be tried."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, birds and mammals are more likely to escape a burning area of the ocean than escape from an oil slick. The agency said birds might be disoriented by the plumes of smoke, but they would be at much greater risk from exposure to oil in the water.

A similar burn off the coast of Newfoundland in 1993 eliminated 50 to 99 percent of captured oil. However, burning the oil also creates air pollution, and the effect on marine life is unclear.


Crews from the Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program are bringing in equipment to help corral the oil and burn the slick.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said burning surface oil is one of the best ways to deal with so large a slick.

The last time crews with the agency used fire booms to burn oil was a 1995 spill on the San Jacinto River, Patterson said.

"When you burn it, the plume from the fire is the biggest environmental concern, but this far out to sea it will not be as big of a problem," Patterson said.

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon is not expected to reach the coast until late in the week, if at all. But longer-term forecasts show the winds and ocean currents veering toward the coast. The glistening sheen of sweet crude is forming long reddish-orange ribbons of oil that, if they wash up on shore, could cover birds, white sand beaches and marsh grasses.

"As the days progress, the (oil) plume will migrate north, northeast," said Gregory W. Stone, an oceanographer and head of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University. "That plume will push onshore."

Hotel owners, fishermen and restaurateurs are keeping anxious watch.

Louis Skrmetta, 54, runs a company called Ship Island Excursions that takes tourists to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, where white-sand beaches and green water create an idyllic landscape.

"This is the worst possible thing that could happen to the Mississippi Gulf Coast," he said. "It will wipe out the oyster industry. Shrimping wouldn't recover for years. It would kill family tourism. That's our livelihood."

The last major spill in the Gulf was in June 1979, when an offshore drilling rig in Mexican waters — the Ixtoc I — blew up, releasing 140 million gallons. It took until March 1980 to cap the well, and the oil contaminated U.S. waters and Texas shores.

As of Tuesday, the spill was about 20 miles offshore, south of Venice, La. It covered an expanding area about 48 miles long and 80 miles wide, but with uneven borders, making it difficult to calculate its area in square miles.

"I understand there's got to be industry, but it's so sad for our kids. We don't have a lot of beaches left," Bonnie Bethel, 66, said as she watched her grandchildren splash in the water on a Mississippi beach. "Can you imagine these poor birds in oil?"

Thousands of birds such as egrets and brown pelicans are nesting on barrier islands close to the rig's wreckage. If the oil gets to them, rescuers would need to reach their remote islands, wash them down and release them back into the wild.

Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network affiliated with the University of California at Davis, said he is standing by to clean up Gulf Coast birds.

"Just about any petroleum can cause problems for birds because they lose their waterproofing, and that's what keeps them dry and warm," Ziccardi said. "It's a really difficult time, and we're close to the peak of migration."

The spill also threatens billions of fish eggs and larvae coating the Gulf's surface this time of year.

If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil, or 4.2 million gallons, could spill into the Gulf before crews can drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, leaked 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.

BP said Tuesday that it planned to begin drilling a relief well to redirect the leaking oil in a $100 million effort to take the pressure off the blown-out well.

The company said it would begin the drilling by Thursday even if crews can shut off oil leaking from the pipe 5,000 feet underground. Robot subs have tried to activate a shut-off device, but so far that has not worked.

Chapman said 49 vessels — oil skimmers, tugboats barges and special recovery boats that separate oil from water — are working to round up oil.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Obama administration launched a full investigation of the explosion, promising every available resource.

___

Mohr reported from Biloxi, Miss. Associated Press writers Alan Sayre and Kevin McGill in New Orleans, Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla., and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston contributed to this report.

synergy - April 29, 2010 03:30 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
Wed 28 Apr 2010

CAIN BURDEAU AND BRETT MARTEL
Associated Press Writers

Image
An oil skimmer collects oil from a leaking pipeline that resulted from last week's explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana Tuesday, April 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

NEW ORLEANS — The Coast Guard says a new leak has been found at the site where a oil platform exploded and sank off in the Gulf of Mexico.

Image
Weathered oil is seen in the wake of a crew boat as it sails over the site of a leaking oil pipeline that resulted from last week's explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana Tuesday, April 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Rear Adm. Mary Landry says that 5,000 barrels a day is now what is estimated to be leaking. Officials had been saying for days that it was 1,000 barrels a day.

Image
This Monday, April 26, 2010 photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows the base of a pollution containment chamber as it is moved to a construction area in Port Fourchon, La. According to the Coast Guard, the chamber will be used in an attempt to contain an oil leak related to the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon explosion. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley)

Landry says the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration says a better estimate is 5,000 barrels a day.

Image
An April 25, 2010 satellite photo provided by NASA shows a portion of the slick, with ships visible at bottom of the frame, from the 42,000 gallon-a-day oil leak from a well in the Gulf of Mexico following and explosion at the the Deepwater Horizon platform on April 20. (AP Photo/via NASA)

Oil is pouring into the Gulf from a site where the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank last week.

Image
In this aerial photo taken over the Gulf of Mexico, a boat and crew work in oil which leaked from a pipeline at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, Monday, April 26, 2010. Officials say there will be no shoreline impact from an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico for at least another three days. Crews were ramping up Monday to protect the coastline after the oil rig exploded off the Louisiana coast nearly a week ago. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Officials say the leading edge of the oil was nearing the Louisiana coast and could impact it as early as Friday evening.

synergy - April 29, 2010 11:11 AM (GMT)
I wonder how long before "intelligence sources" try to blame this horrendous accident and looming environmental disaster on terrorists?

QUOTE
Oil spill 'five times worse than thought'

Third leak is found at the site of oil rig explosion as BP escalates its response to the slick, which could hit US coast today
QUOTE
From (London) Times Online
April 29, 2010

Robin Pagnamenta, Anne Barrowclough

BP said that it was escalating its response to a worsening oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as US officials warned that the amount of crude leaking from the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig was five times greater than originally thought.

A third leak has been discovered at the site of the explosion nine days ago, increasing the amount of oil spilled into the ocean to 5,000 barrels of oil a day compared with an initial estimate of 1,000 barrels, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

BP said that it had deployed 69 vessels including barges and skimmers as well as 100,000ft of boom, which acts as a barrier to contain the oil. It said that more than 76,000 gallons of dispersant chemicals had been sprayed on to the oil to break up the slick.

“We are attacking this spill on all fronts, bringing into play all and any resources and advanced technologies we believe can help,” said Tony Hayward, the BP chief executive.

With no obvious way of shutting off the leak soon, though, the scale of the challenge remains daunting.

Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, called on the US Government for emergency assistance to prevent an environmental disaster as the slick threatened to hit fragile marshland along the coast today.

Winds have helped the slick, which spans 100 miles (160km) at its longest and 40 miles at its widest, to move to within 16 miles (26 kilometres) of Louisiana’s coastline.

Mr Jindal said that a part of the slick that had broken off from the main spill was likely to be the first to reach the coast, hitting the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area, a haven for birds, fish, sea turtles and other wildlife.

The slick could hit Breton Sound by Saturday and the Chandeleur Islands by Sunday.

The new leak means that within 50 days the slick could reach the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska.

Officials had previously found two leaks in the riser, the 5,000ft-long pipe that connected the rig to the wellhead. Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for exploration and production for BP, said that a third leak had been discovered closer to the source. “I’m very, very confident this leak is new,” he said.

Strong onshore winds “will move floating oil towards the delta with possible shoreline impacts by Friday night,” NOAA forecast chart said.

Charlie Henry, the administration’s scientific support coordinator, said there was a high risk that southeasterly winds would push emulsified oil and “tar balls” into the delta area by Friday night.

Mr Jindal said in a statement: “Our top priority is to protect our citizens and the environment. These resources are critical to mitigating the impact of the oil spill on our coast.”

A controlled burn of the oil has started, which involves igniting patches of the oil-water mixture inside booms, but this is expected to remove only about 3 per cent of the slick.

It could be enough, though, to prevent onshore wildlife habitats and marshland being overwhelmed. The contamination of Louisiana’s fragile wetlands would be almost impossible to clear up and be disastrous for waterfowl and rare wildlife.

The burn plan is an admission that the $6 million a day (£4 million) operation to bring the crisis under control has failed. Rear Admiral Mary Landry, who is leading the Government’s response to the disaster, said that if the oil well was not secured the spill could become one of the worst in US history.

She said that the oil burn was “just one tool in a tool kit” of plans.

BP is also trying to activate a device on the seabed that is designed to clamp shut over the subsea well. A metal canopy is being built that would be used to siphon off the leaking oil.

The company is moving two new drilling rigs into position to drill “relief wells” that could be used to cap the leak by injecting cement and mud into it.

synergy - April 29, 2010 11:18 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
From (London) Times Online
April 29, 2010

Robin Pagnamenta: analysis

The spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico threatens to inflict widespread environmental damage along the coast of four US states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Several bird species and wildlife are threatened by the spill, which could hit the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area, a delicate area of swampland, today.

The Chandeleur and Breton barrier islands off the Louisiana coast could be affected over the weekend.

Bird species at high risk include the brown pelican, the state bird of Louisiana, which was removed from the list on the US Endangered Species Act last year. They nest on barrier islands and their breeding season has just started. Other species include the American oystercatcher and Wilson’s plover.

Other creatures likely to be affected by the spill include the freshwater alligator and several species of sea turtles, which are moving through the Gulf for their spring nesting season. The turtles need to surface in order to breathe, raising the threat that they could be contaminated with crude oil.

The northern part of the Gulf of Mexico is a key spawning ground for the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna, whose eggs float close to the surface of the sea. Bass, bream, catfish, speckled trout and flounder also thrive in the region.

Louisiana’s significant shrimp and oyster industries are also at risk.

synergy - April 29, 2010 01:51 PM (GMT)
From Drill Baby to Spill Baby to Burn, Baby, Burn: America’s Bankrupt Energy Policy - by: Scarecrow Wednesday April 28, 2010 11:01 am | Firedoglake "The Seminal"

synergy - April 29, 2010 01:54 PM (GMT)
Horizon Oil Slick Continues to Expand, Disingenuous Politicians Demand “Investigation” - By: Seymour Friendly Wednesday April 28, 2010 12:33 pm | Firedoglake "The Seminal"

synergy - April 29, 2010 06:16 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
(Reuters) - A huge oil spill will hit the southern coast on Friday, the Coast Guard said on Thursday, and the military offered to help BP Plc contain the slick that threatens four states.

The spill was "of national significance," Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told a news conference, adding the government will push BP to conduct the strongest possible effort to clean it up.

The state of Louisiana declared a state of emergency due to the accident, which the Coast Guard said late on Wednesday was spilling five times more oil than previously estimated.

BP and the Coast Guard have already mounted what the London-based company calls the largest oil spill containment operation in history, involving dozens of ships and aircraft.

But they are struggling to control the slick from the leaking well 5,000 feet under the sea off Louisiana's coast.

The slick will hit the coast in the Mississippi Delta "sometime later tomorrow," Sally Brice O'Hare, rear admiral of the Coast Guard, said at the news conference with Napolitano.

Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead after last week's oil rig disaster -- the worst in the United States in almost a decade. There are fears of serious damage to fisheries, wildlife refuges and beaches in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Transocean's Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after it exploded and caught fire while it was finishing a well for BP about 40 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The spill could also have major ramifications for proposals in Congress and by President Barack Obama for issuing new offshore drilling permits.

The Washington Post noted the spill was likely to "surpass the size of the 1969 Santa Barbara spill that helped lead to the far-reaching moratorium on oil and gas drilling off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, a ban that Obama recently said he wants to modify."

The leak from the well blowout is now estimated at 5,000 barrels per day or about 210,000 gallons (795,000 liters).

(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and David Storey)

synergy - April 29, 2010 10:44 PM (GMT)
Third Horizon Leak Discovered: Spill Rate Grows To 210,000 Gallons A Day - By: Seymour Friendly Thursday April 29, 2010 10:53 am | Firedoglake "The Seminal"

synergy - April 30, 2010 12:16 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
By CAIN BURDEAU and HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press Writers
8:06 pm EDT Thu 29 Apr 2010

VENICE, La. – An oil spill that threatened to eclipse even the Exxon Valdez disaster spread out of control and drifted inexorably toward the Gulf Coast on Thursday as fishermen rushed to scoop up shrimp and crews spread floating barriers around marshes.

The spill was both bigger and closer than imagined — five times larger than first estimated, with the leading edge just three miles from the Louisiana shore. Authorities said it could reach the Mississippi River delta by Thursday night.

"It is of grave concern," David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press. "I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling."

The oil slick could become the nation's worst environmental disaster in decades, threatening hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world's richest seafood grounds, teeming with shrimp, oysters and other marine life.

The leak from the ocean floor proved to be far bigger than initially reported, contributing to a growing sense among many in Louisiana that the government failed them again, just as it did during Hurricane Katrina. President Barack Obama dispatched Cabinet officials to deal with the crisis.

Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, worried that his livelihood will be destroyed. He said he did not know whether to blame the Coast Guard, the federal government or oil company BP PLC.

"They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren't proactive," he said. "As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms."

The Coast Guard worked with BP, which operated the oil rig that exploded and sank last week, to deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and set controlled fires to burn the oil off the water's surface.

The Coast Guard urged the company to formally request more resources from the Defense Department. A BP executive said the corporation would "take help from anyone."

Government officials said the blown-out well 40 miles offshore is spewing five times as much oil into the water as originally estimated — about 5,000 barrels, or 200,000 gallons, a day.

At that rate, the spill could easily eclipse the worst oil spill in U.S. history — the 11 million gallons that leaked from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989 — in the three months it could take to drill a relief well and plug the gushing well 5,000 feet underwater on the sea floor.

Ultimately, the spill could grow much larger than the Valdez because Gulf of Mexico wells typically hold many times more oil than a single tanker.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for BP Exploration and Production, had initially disputed the government's larger estimate. But he later acknowledged on NBC's "Today" show that the leak may be as bad as federal officials say. He said there was no way to measure the flow at the seabed, so estimates have to come from how much oil rises to the surface.

Mike Brewer, 40, who lost his oil spill response company in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago, said the area was accustomed to the occasional minor spill. But he feared the scale of the escaping oil was beyond the capacity of existing resources.

"You're pumping out a massive amount of oil. There is no way to stop it," he said.

An emergency shrimping season was opened to allow shrimpers to scoop up their catch before it is fouled by oil. Cannons were to be used to scare off birds. And shrimpers were being lined up to use their boats as makeshift skimmers in the shallows.

This murky water and the oysters in it have provided a livelihood for three generations of Frank and Mitch Jurisich's family in Empire, La.

Now, on the open water just beyond the marshes, they can smell the oil that threatens everything they know and love.

"Just smelling it, it puts more of a sense of urgency, a sense of fear," Frank Jurisich said.

The brothers hope to get all the oysters they can sell before the oil washes ashore. They filled more than 100 burlap sacks Thursday and stopped to eat some oysters. "This might be our last day," Mitch Jurisich said.

Without the fishing industry, Frank Jurisich said the family "would be lost. This is who we are and what we do."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency Thursday so officials could begin preparing for the oil's impact. He said at least 10 wildlife management areas and refuges in his state and neighboring Mississippi are in the oil plume's path.

The declaration also noted that billions of dollars have been invested in coastal restoration projects that may be at risk.

As dawn broke Thursday in the oil industry hub of Venice, about 75 miles from New Orleans and not far from the mouth of the Mississippi River, crews loaded an orange oil boom aboard a supply boat at Bud's Boat Launch. There, local officials expressed frustration with the pace of the government's response and the communication they were getting from the Coast Guard and BP officials.

"We're not doing everything we can do," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, which straddles the Mississippi River at the tip of Louisiana.

Tension was growing in towns like Port Sulphur and Empire along Louisiana Highway 23, which runs south of New Orleans along the Mississippi River into prime oyster and shrimping waters.

Companies like Chevron and ConocoPhillips have facilities nearby, and some residents are hesitant to criticize BP or the federal government, knowing the oil industry is as much a staple here as fishing.

"I don't think there's a lot of blame going around here. People are just concerned about their livelihoods," said Sullivan Vullo, who owns La Casa Cafe in Port Sulphur.

A federal class-action lawsuit was filed late Wednesday on behalf of two commercial shrimpers from Louisiana, Acy J. Cooper Jr. and Ronnie Louis Anderson.

The suit seeks at least $5 million in compensatory damages plus an unspecified amount of punitive damages against Transocean, BP, Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and Cameron International Corp.

In Buras, La., where Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005, the owner of the Black Velvet Oyster Bar & Grill couldn't keep his eyes off the television. News and weather shows were making projections that oil would soon inundate the coastal wetlands where his family has worked since the 1860s.

It was as though a hurricane was approaching, maybe worse.

"A hurricane is like closing your bank account for a few days, but this here has the capacity to destroy our bank accounts," said Byron Marinovitch, 47.

"We're really disgusted," he added. "We don't believe anything coming out of BP's mouth."

Signs of the 2005 hurricane are still apparent here: There are schools, homes, churches and restaurants operating out of trailers, and across from Marinovitch's bar is a wood frame house abandoned since the storm.

A fleet of boats working under an oil industry consortium has been using booms to corral and then skim oil from the surface.

The Coast Guard abandoned a plan Wednesday to set fire to the leaking oil after sea conditions deteriorated. The attempt to burn some of the oil came after crews operating submersible robots failed to activate a shut-off device that would halt the flow of oil.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was briefed Thursday on the issue, said his spokesman, Capt. John Kirby. But Kirby said the Defense Department has received no request for help, nor is it doing any detailed planning for any mission on the oil spill.

Obama dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson to help with the spill. The president said the White House would use "every single available resource" to respond.

Obama has directed officials to aggressively confront the spill, but the cost of the cleanup will fall on BP, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said.

___

Mohr reported from Jackson, Miss. Associated Press writers Janet McConnaughey, Kevin McGill, Michael Kunzelman and Brett Martel in New Orleans, and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge also contributed to this report.

synergy - April 30, 2010 11:06 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
By CAIN BURDEAU, Associated Press Writer
6:58 am EDT Fri 30 Apr 2010

MOUTH OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER – Oil from a massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico was starting to ooze ashore, threatening migrating birds, nesting pelicans and even river otters and mink along Louisiana's fragile islands and barrier marshes.

Crews in boats were patrolling coastal marshes early Friday looking for areas where the oil has flowed in, the Coast Guard said.

The leak from a blown-out well a mile underwater is five times bigger than first believed. Faint fingers of oily sheen were reaching the Mississippi River delta late Thursday, lapping the Louisiana shoreline in long, thin lines. Thicker oil was about five miles offshore. Officials have said they would do everything to keep the Mississippi River open to traffic.

The oil slick could become the nation's worst environmental disaster in decades, threatening to eclipse even the Exxon Valdez in scope. It imperils hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world's richest seafood grounds, teeming with shrimp, oysters and other marine life.

"It is of grave concern," David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press about the spill. "I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling."

As the oil floated in, the National Weather Service warned of high tides and coastal flooding in the threatened area because of strong winds from the south. Tides could run 2 to 3 feet higher than usual from Friday through Sunday.

Oil clumps seabirds' feathers, leaving them without insulation — and when they preen, they swallow it. Prolonged contact with the skin can cause burns, said Nils Warnock, a spill recovery supervisor with the California Oiled Wildlife Care Network at the University of California. Oil swallowed by animals can cause anemia, hemorrhaging and other problems, said Jay Holcomb, executive director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center in California.

The spewing oil — about 210,000 gallons a day — comes from a well drilled by the rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded in flames April 20 and sank two days later. BP PLC was operating the rig that was owned by Transocean Ltd. The Coast Guard is working with BP to deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and set controlled fires to burn the oil off the water's surface.

Protective boom has been set out on Breton Island, where colonial species such as pelicans, gulls and skimmers nest, and at the sandy tips of the passes from the Mississippi River's birdfoot delta, said Robert Love, a state wildlife official.

The leak from the ocean floor proved to be far bigger than initially reported, contributing to a growing sense among some in Louisiana that the government failed them again, just as it did during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. President Barack Obama dispatched Cabinet officials to deal with the crisis.

Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, worried that his livelihood will be destroyed. He said he did not know whether to blame the Coast Guard, the government or BP.

"They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren't proactive," he said. "As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms."

BP shares continued falling early Friday. Shares were down 2 percent in early trading on the London Stock Exchange, a day after dropping 7 percent in London. In New York on Thursday, BP shares fell $4.78 to close at $52.56, taking the fall in the company's market value to about $25 billion since the explosion.

Government officials said the well 40 miles offshore is spewing about 5,000 barrels, or 200,000 gallons, a day into the gulf.

At that rate, the spill could eclipse the worst oil spill in U.S. history — the 11 million gallons that leaked from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989 — in the three months it could take to drill a relief well and plug the gushing well 5,000 feet underwater on the sea floor. Ultimately, the spill could grow much larger than the Valdez because Gulf of Mexico wells tap deposits that hold many times more oil than a single tanker.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was focusing on national wildlife refuges on a chain of barrier islands.

"We're trying to go for the ones where the pelicans are nesting right now," said Tom McKenzie, the agency's regional spokesman, adding that about 900 were on North Breton.

About 34,000 birds have been counted in the national refuges most at risk, McKenzie said. Gulls, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, egrets, shore birds, terns and blue herons are in the path of the spill.

Mink and river otter also live in the delta and might eat oiled carcasses, Love said.

Bird rescuer Holcomb worked the Valdez disaster and was headed to Louisiana. He said some birds may avoid the oil spill, but others won't.

"These are experiences that the birds haven't encountered before," he said. "They might think it's seaweed. It's never harmed them before."

BP has requested more resources from the Defense Department, especially underwater equipment that might be better than what is commercially available. A BP executive said the corporation would "take help from anyone." That includes fishermen who could be hired to help deploy containment boom.

An emergency shrimping season was opened to allow shrimpers to scoop up their catch before it is fouled by oil.

This murky water and the oysters in it have provided a livelihood for three generations of Frank and Mitch Jurisich's family in Empire, La.

Now, on the open water just beyond the marshes, they can smell the oil that threatens everything they know and love.

"Just smelling it, it puts more of a sense of urgency, a sense of fear," Frank Jurisich said.

The brothers hope to get all the oysters they can sell before the oil washes ashore. They filled more than 100 burlap sacks Thursday and stopped to eat some oysters. "This might be our last day," Mitch Jurisich said.

Without the fishing industry, Frank Jurisich said the family "would be lost. This is who we are and what we do."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency so officials could begin preparing for the oil's impact. He also asked the federal government if he could call up 6,000 National Guard troops to help.

In Buras, La., where Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005, the owner of the Black Velvet Oyster Bar & Grill couldn't keep his eyes off the television. News and weather shows were making projections that oil would soon inundate the coastal wetlands where his family has worked since the 1860s.

"A hurricane is like closing your bank account for a few days, but this here has the capacity to destroy our bank accounts," said Byron Marinovitch, 47.

"We're really disgusted," he added. "We don't believe anything coming out of BP's mouth."

Mike Brewer, 40, who lost his oil spill response company in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago, said the area was accustomed to the occasional minor spill. But he feared the scale of the escaping oil was beyond the capacity of existing resources.

"You're pumping out a massive amount of oil," he said. "There is no way to stop it."

___

Associated Press writers Holbrook Mohr in Mississippi, Phuong Le in Seattle, Janet McConnaughey, Kevin McGill, Michael Kunzelman and Brett Martel in New Orleans, and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge also contributed to this report.

synergy - April 30, 2010 12:29 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Fri 30 Apr 2010

RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI
Associated Press Writer

Image
A rescued Kemp's ridley turtle is readied for release on the beach Monday, April 26, 2010 on the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. More than 30 dead turtles have been found stranded on Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula south of Houston this month _ an unusually high number that has puzzled researchers, in part because most are so decomposed that there are few clues left about why they died. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

HIGH ISLAND, Texas — Flies buzz everywhere and the stench is overwhelming as biologist Lyndsey Howell stops to analyze the remains of yet another endangered sea turtle washed up from the Gulf of Mexico.

"It's been on the beach for a while," Howell says, flipping over the decomposing, dried-out shell.

More than 30 dead turtles have been found stranded on Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula south of Houston this month — an unusually high number that has puzzled researchers, in part because most are so decomposed that there are few clues left about why they died.

Image
Fisheries biologist Lyndsey Howell, right, and Shelley Harkness dig a grave in the sand for a dead Kemp's ridley turtle, foreground, Monday, April 26, 2010 in Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. The orange spray paint was put on the shell to identify the turtle. The number of strandings on these shores is double what scientists and volunteers normally see as the turtles begin nesting in April, says Howell, who patrols the beaches as part of her job with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

The number of strandings on these shores is double what scientists and volunteers normally see as the turtles begin nesting in April, says Howell, who patrols the beaches as part of her job with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Of the 35 turtles found, all but three were dead. Thirty-three were Kemp's ridleys, an endangered species researchers have spent decades trying to rehabilitate.

Many of the turtles appear to have propeller wounds from boats or have become entangled in fishing nets or lines, Howell says. Others have parasites or are emaciated.

The increase in deaths comes as the turtles swim closer to shore to nest and shrimping season gets into full swing along the upper Texas coast, said Roger Zimmerman, lab director of the NOAA marine fishery laboratory in Galveston.

Image
A decomposing Kemp's ridley turtle is measured by fisheries biologist Lyndsey Howell Monday, April 26, 2010 on the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. More than 30 dead turtles have been found stranded on Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula south of Houston this month _ an unusually high number that has puzzled researchers, in part because most are so decomposed that there are few clues left about why they died. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

"Historically, they increase about this time of year. ... This is a few more than we would normally expect," Zimmerman said. "We are concerned and we'll keep an eye on it."

Researchers are also watching the massive oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. If the oil were to begin moving in the direction of the Texas Gulf — which isn't predicted at the moment — many Kemp's ridleys swimming in to nest would be right in its path. In 1979, after an oil spill off the coast of Mexico, Kemp's ridleys were airlifted to cleaner waters.

Shrimping has long been blamed for sea turtle deaths. Shrimpers are required to install grid-like devices in their nets that are designed to allow turtles to escape. Shrimpers caught without the turtle excluder devices — or TEDs — may be fined thousands of dollars and have their catch seized by federal regulators.

Image
A rescued Kemp's ridley turtle leaves a distinct set of tracks as it makes it's way across the sand towards the water Monday, April 26, 2010 on the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Still, some are reluctant to invest $800 on the TEDs or are angry over the extra work they create aboard the shrimp boats, so they gamble they won't be caught.

"When there is more shrimp, there are more turtle strandings," Zimmerman said. "That correlation has been well-documented."

Educating fishermen, the public and shrimpers about preserving Kemp's ridleys is part of a new federal recovery plan expected to be approved in the coming months. The goal is to upgrade the Kemp's ridleys from endangered to threatened within six years — but that depends on having 10,000 nesting females per season. Currently, there are about 6,000.

Image
A decomposing Kemp's ridley turtle lies amid broken shells and debris Monday, April 26, 2010 on the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. More than 30 dead turtles have been found stranded on Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula south of Houston this month _ an unusually high number that has puzzled researchers, in part because most are so decomposed that there are few clues left about why they died. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Nesting season begins in mid-April and lasts into July. Most Kemp's ridleys nest on a beach in Mexico or at Padre Island in south Texas. But increasing numbers have been seeking out the shores of Galveston and Bolivar.

Howell and Zimmerman hope the deaths indicate the population has increased and even more turtles are heading toward the Texas Gulf Coast to nest.

But there's no knowing for certain.

Image
Fisheries biologist Lyndsey Howell release a Kemp's ridley turtle along the beach Monday, April 26, 2010 on the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. The number of strandings on these shores is double what scientists and volunteers normally see as the turtles begin nesting in April, says Howell, who patrols the beaches as part of her job with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

"This is a needle-in-a-haystack thing," said Andre Landry, a marine biology professor at Texas A&M University in Galveston. "It's a difficult situation, pinpointing a cause of death in an animal that may be compromised by decomposition."

———

On the Net:

Image
A rescued Kemp's ridley turtle is photographed by Shelley Harkness, right, while fisheries biologist Lyndsey Howell documents its' release on the beach Monday, April 26, 2010 on the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. The number of strandings on these shores is double what scientists and volunteers normally see as the turtles begin nesting in April, says Howell, who patrols the beaches as part of her job with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

NOAA Fisheries Service Galveston Laboratory:

http://galveston.ssp.nmfs.gov

Kemp's ridley sea turtle:

http://www.nps.gov/pais/naturescience/kridley.htm

synergy - April 30, 2010 01:54 PM (GMT)
I remember Sarah Palin repeating the "Drill, Baby, Drill" mantra to the delight of her environmentally unaware following. Rudy Giuliani isn't the only Republican to have made the call to "drill here, drill there, drill everywhere".

Too bad Obama also gave credence to this spectacularly bad idea. In an effort to compromise with Republicans and thereby undermine or defuse any political gains from this issue, President Obama approved additional off shore drilling. He is now open to criticism that he has made another spectacularly bad decision just like the one he made to escalate the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Obama needs to reconsider both of these flawed decisions.


There’s a reason you ignore them
QUOTE
By: Attaturk Friday April 30, 2010 1:30 am | Firedoglake

It’s certainly true that in the last week and a half, the Obama Administration has found itself in a Bush-like situation of having a bad policy decision become a precursor to an actual disaster.

The GOP plays the “long-game” when it comes to disastrous policy positions (or doesn’t depending on your sarcastic perspective), something a Democrat should always keep in mind. From pretending there isn’t global warming to pissing off the nation’s fastest growing ethnic groups you have to add this characteristic to your political calculus.

So how fitting that Republicans at their last convention sent out noted expert on everything Rudy Giuliani to discuss 9-11 offshore drilling. How fitting they adopt noted expert on everything Sarah Palin’s slogans. How fitting that they continue to send out noted expert on everything Newt Gingrich to demand it while a certain off-shore oil platform breaks Joseph Hazelwood’s record for oil spills.

There are reasons, Mr. President, we shouldn’t listen to most Republican talking points.

synergy - April 30, 2010 02:14 PM (GMT)
ACTION: Say No to Offshore Drilling - By: Michael Whitney Thursday April 29, 2010 11:53 am | Firedoglake "ACTION"

synergy - April 30, 2010 07:17 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Friday 30 April 2010

by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report

photo
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: futureatlas.com, US Coast Guard)

British Petroleum (BP) has broken federal laws and violated its own internal procedures by failing to maintain crucial safety and engineering documents related to one of the firms other deepwater production projects in the Gulf of Mexico, a former contractor who worked for the oil behemoth claimed in internal emails and other documents obtained by Truthout.

The whistleblower, whose name has been withheld at the person's request because the whistleblower still works in the oil industry and fears retaliation, first raised concerns about safety issues related to BP Atlantis, the world's largest and deepest semi-submersible oil and natural gas platform, located about 200 miles south of New Orleans, in November 2008. Atlantis, which began production in October 2007, has the capacity to produce about 8.4 million gallons of oil and 180 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

It was then that the whistleblower, who was hired to supervise the company's databases, discovered that Atlantis had been operating without a majority of the engineer-approved documents it needed to run safely, leaving it vulnerable to a catastrophic disaster that would far surpass the massive oil spill that began last week following a deadly explosion on a BP-operated drilling rig.

BP's own internal communications show that company officials were aware of the issue and feared that the document shortfalls related to Atlantis "could lead to catastrophic operator error."

Indeed, according to an August 15, 2008, email sent to BP officials by Barry Duff, a member of BP's Deepwater Gulf of Mexico Atlantis Subsea Team, the Piping and Instrument Diagrams (P&IDs) for the Atlantis subsea components "are not complete." P&IDs documents form the foundation of a hazards analysis BP is required to undertake as part of its Safety and Environmental Management Program related to its offshore drilling operations. P&IDs drawings provide the schematic details of the project's piping and process flows, valves and safety critical instrumentation.

"The risk in turning over drawings that are not complete are: 1) The Operator will assume the drawings are accurate and up to date," the email said. "This could lead to catastrophic Operator errors due to their assuming the drawing is correct," said Duff's email to BP officials Bill Naseman and William Broman. "Turning over incomplete drawings to the Operator for their use is a fundamental violation of basic Document control, [internal standards] and Process Safety Regulations."

BP did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

Last May, Mike Sawyer, an engineer with Apex Safety Consultants who evaluated BP's database and looked into the whistleblower's allegations, concluded that of the 2,108 P&IDs BP maintained that dealt specifically with the subsea components of its Atlantis production project, 85 percent did not receive engineer approval. Even worse, 95 percent of Atlantis' subsea welding records did not receive final approval, calling into question the integrity of thousands of crucial welds on subsea components that, if they were to rupture, could result in an oil spill 30 times worse than the one that occurred after the explosion on Deepwater Horizon last week.

In a report Sawyer prepared after his review of the Atlantis project, he said BP's "widespread pattern of unapproved design, testing and inspection documentation on the Atlantis subsea project creates a risk of a catastrophic incident threatening the [Gulf of Mexico] deep-water environment and the safety of platform workers." Moreover, "the extent of documentation discrepancies creates a substantial risk that a catastrophic event could occur at any time."

"The absence of a complete set of final, up-to-date, 'as built' engineering documents, including appropriate engineering approval, introduces substantial risk of large scale damage to the deep water [Gulf of Mexico] environment and harm to workers, primarily because analyses and inspections based on unverified design documents cannot accurately assess risk or suitability for service," Sawyer's report said. He added, "there is no valid engineering justification for these violations and short cuts."

Sawyer explained that the documents in question - welding records, inspections and safety shutdown logic materials - are "extremely critical to the safe operation of the platform and its subsea components." He said the safety shutdown logic drawings on Atlantis, a complex computerized system that, during emergencies, is supposed to send a signal to automatically shut down the flow of oil, were listed as "requiring update."

"BP's recklessness in regards to the Atlantis project is a clear example of how the company has a pattern of failing to comply with minimum industry standards for worker and environmental safety," Sawyer said.

The oil spill blanketing roughly 4,000 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed eleven workers, was exacerbated, preliminary reports suggest, by the failure of a blowout preventer to shut off the flow of oil on the drilling rig and the lack of a backup safety measure, known as a remote control acoustic shut off switch, to operate the blowout preventer.

Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent a letter Thursday to BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay seeking documents related to inspections on Deepwater Horizon conducted this year and BP's policy on using acoustic shut off switches in the Gulf of Mexico.

The circumstances behind the spill is now the subject of a federal investigation.

Profits Before Safety

Whether it's the multiple oil spills that emanated from BP's Prudhoe Bay operations in Alaska's North Slope or the explosion at the company's Texas refinery that killed 15 employees and injured 170 people, BP has consistently put profits ahead of safety.

In November 2007, BP pled guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a $20 million fine related to a 2005 oil spill in the North Slope, the result of a severely corroded pipeline and a safety valve failure. The federal judge presiding over the case put BP on probation for three years and said the 201,000-gallon oil spill was a "serious crime" that could have been prevented if BP had spent more time and funds investing in pipeline upgrades and a "little less emphasis on profit."

A month earlier, BP paid a $50 million fine and pleaded guilty to a felony in the refinery explosion. Moreover, BP has a prior felony conviction for improperly disposing of hazardous waste. The incident involving Deepwater Horizon, now the subject of a federal investigation, may end up being the latest example of BP's safety practices run amuck.

The issues related to the repeated spills in Prudhoe Bay and elsewhere were revealed by more than 100 whistleblowers who, since as far back as 1999, said the company failed to take seriously their warnings about shoddy safety practices and instead retaliated against whistleblowers who registered complaints with their superiors.

In September 2006, days before BP executives were scheduled to testify before Congress about an oil spill from a ruptured pipeline that forced the company to shutdown its Prudhoe Bay operations, BP announced that it had tapped former federal Judge Stanley Sporkin to serve as an ombudsman and take complaints from employees about the company's operations.

That's who the whistleblower complained to via email about issues related to BP's Atlantis operations in March 2009 a month after his contract was abruptly terminated for reasons he believes were directly related to his complaints to management about BP's failure to obtain the engineering documents on Atlantis and the fact that he "stood up for a female employee who was being discriminated against and harassed." The whistleblower alleged that the $2 million price tag was the primary reason BP did not follow through with a plan formulated months earlier to secure the documents.

"We prepared a plan to remedy this situation but it met much resistance and complaints from the above lead engineers on the project," the whistleblower wrote in the March 4, 2009, email to Pasha Eatedali in BP's ombudsman's office.

Federal Intervention

Additionally, he hired an attorney and contacted the inspector general for the Department of the Interior and the agency's Minerals Management Service (MMS), which regulates offshore drilling practices, and told officials there that BP lacked the required engineer-certified documents related to the major components of the Atlantis subsea gas and oil operation.

In 2007, MMS had approved the construction of an additional well and another drilling center on Atlantis. But the whistleblower alleged in his March 4, 2009, email to Eatedali in BP's Office of the Ombudsman that documents related to this project needed to ensure operational safety were missing and that amounted to a violation of federal law as well as a breach of BP's Atlantis Project Execution Plan. The ombudsman's office agreed to investigate.

MMS, acting on the whistleblower's complaints, contacted BP on June 30, 2009, seeking specific engineering related documents. BP complied with the request three weeks later. On July 9, 2009, MMS requested that BP turn over certification documents for its Subsurface Safety Valves and Surface Controlled Subsea Safety Valves for all operational wells in the Atlantis field. MMS officials flew out to the platform on the same day and secured the documents, according to an internal letter written by Karen Westall, the managing attorney on BP's Gulf of Mexico Legal Team.

But according to the public advocacy group Food & Water Watch, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, which became involved in the case last July, BP did not turn over a complete set of materials to MMS.

During two visits to the Atlantis drilling platform last August and September, MMS inspectors reviewed BP's blowout preventer records. Food & Water Watch said they believe MMS inspectors reviewed the test records and failed to look into the whistleblower's charges that engineering documents were missing. The blowout preventer, however, is an issue at the center of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

An MMS spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

Last October, Food & Water Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for expedited processing, seeking documents from MMS that indicate BP "has in its possession a complete and accurate set of 'as built' drawings ... for its entire Atlantis Project, including the subsea sector." "As-built" means lead engineers on a specific project have to make sure updated technical documents match the "as-built" condition of equipment before its used.

MMS denied the FOIA request.

"MMS does not agree with your assessment of the potential for imminent danger to individuals or the environment, for which you premise your argument [for expedited response]. After a thorough review of these allegations, the MMS, with concurrence of the Solicitor's Office, concludes your claims are not supported by the facts or the law," the agency said in its October 30, 2009, response letter.

In response, MMS said that although some of its regulatory requirements governing offshore oil and gas operations do require "as built" drawings, they need not be complete or accurate and, furthermore, are irrelevant to a hazard analysis BP was required to complete.

Unsatisfied with MMS's response, Food & Water Watch contacted Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), a member of the Committee on Natural Resources and chairman of the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, about the issues revolving around BP's Atlantis operations and provided his office with details of its own investigation into the matter.

"Unsubstantiated" Claims

On January 15, Westall, the BP attorney, wrote a letter to Deborah Lanzone, the staff director with the House Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals, and addressed the allegations leveled by Food & Water Watch as well as indirect claims the whistleblower made.

Westall said BP "reviewed the allegations" related to "noncompliant documentation of the Atlantis project ... and found them to be unsubstantiated." But Westall's response directly contradicts the findings of Billie Pirner Garde, BP's deputy ombudsman, who wrote in an April 13 email to the whistleblower that his claims that BP failed to maintain proper documentation related to Atlantis "were substantiated" and "addressed by a BP Management of Change document." Garde did not say when that change occurred. But he added that the whistleblower's complaints weren't "unique" and had been raised by other employees "before you worked there, while you were there and after you left."

Westall noted in her letter that "all eight BP-operated Gulf of Mexico production facilities" received safety awards from MMS in 2009.

"Maintenance and general housekeeping were rated outstanding and personnel were most cooperative in assisting in the inspection activities," MMS said about BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling facilities. "Platform records were readily available for review and maintained to reflect current conditions."

Westall maintained that the whistleblower as well as Food & Water Watch had it all wrong. Their charges about missing documents has nothing to do with Atlantis' operational safety. Rather, Westall seemed to characterize their complaints as a clerical issue.

"The Atlantis project is a complex project with multiple phases," Westall said in her letter to Lanzone. "The [August 15, 2008] e-mail [written by Barry Duff, a member of the Atlantis subsea team] which was provided to you to support [Food & Water Watch's] allegations relates to the status of efforts to utilize a particular document management system to house and maintain the Atlantis documents. The document database includes engineering drawings for future phases, as well as components or systems which may have been modified, replaced, or not used."

But Representative Grijalva was not swayed by Westall's denials. He continued to press the issue with MMS, and in February, he and 18 other lawmakers signed a letter calling on MMS to probe whether BP "is operating its Atlantis offshore oil platform ... without professionally approved safety documents."

Grijalva said MMS has not "done enough so far to ensure worker and environmental safety at the site, in part because it has interpreted the relevant laws too loosely."

"[C]ommunications between MMS and congressional staff have suggested that while the company by law must maintain 'as-built' documents, there is no requirement that such documents be complete or accurate," the letter said. "This statement, if an accurate interpretation of MMS authorities, raises serious concerns" and requires "a thorough review at the agency level, the legal level and the corporate level. The world's largest oil rig cannot continue to operate without safety documentation. The situation is unacceptable and deserves immediate scrutiny.

"We also request that MMS describe how a regulation that requires offshore operators to maintain certain engineering documents, but does not require that those documents be complete or accurate, is appropriately protective of human health and the environment."

On March 26, MMS launched a formal investigation and is expected to file a report detailing its findings next month.

Zach Corrigan, a senior attorney with Food & Water Watch, said in an interview Thursday that he hopes MMS "will perform a real investigation" and if the agency fails to do so, Congress should immediately hold oversight hearings "and ensure that the explosion and mishap of the Horizon platform is not replicated."

"MMS didn't act on this for nearly a year," Corrigan said. "They seemed to think it wasn't a regulatory or an important safety issue. Atlantis is a real vulnerability."

synergy - April 30, 2010 09:54 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
AP 5:20 pm EDT Fri 30 Apr 2010

MORGAN CITY, La. – Officials say an oil drilling rig on its way to a scrap yard has overturned in Louisiana.

No injuries have been reported. The overturned rig is unrelated to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that threatens the coast's fragile ecosystem.

The Coast Guard said Friday that the rig overturned about 80 miles west-southwest of New Orleans.

It can carry about 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel, but Coast Guard officials did not know how much fuel was on board. Coast Guard investigators say no fuel leaks have been found.

About 500 feet of boom has been set up around the rig to contain any fuel that might leak as a precaution.

Tina Moore, the owner of T. Moore Services, which owned the rig, says it was being transported to a demolition and scrap yard. She says the rig was mounted on a barge.

synergy - April 30, 2010 11:35 PM (GMT)
Here is a possible cause of the explosion. It is not sabotage, but it sounds plausible to my layman's ears.

Halliburton Presentation May Explain Horizon Oil Rig Explosion and Fire - By: Scarecrow Friday April 30, 2010 1:53 pm | Firedoglake "The Seminal"

synergy - April 30, 2010 11:41 PM (GMT)
Horizon Oil Slick Makes Shorefall; Disaster Writ Large Across Gulf Coast - By: Seymour Friendly Friday April 30, 2010 12:37 pm | Firedoglake "The Seminal"

synergy - May 1, 2010 12:05 AM (GMT)
Headlines today said the White House is leaning heavily on BP to everything it can to seal the well as quick as humanly possibly, but I heard yesterday morning that the feds are now in charge at least to the extent that BP "won't say no to the government's Plan A when they prefer Plan B". But you guys are right. This environments disaster is a Katrina scale disaster, maybe even worse than Katrina, and it sits squarely in Obama's lap! BUT, Wonko the Sane, a couple of days ago you were pooh poohing my overreaction and "alarmism". You and Obama were in the same slow boat together!

QUOTE
Cleanup after huge slick could take years

Rising winds and 10ft-waves are threatening to overwhelm efforts to contain the oil spill as it creeps forward hour by hour
QUOTE
From The (London) Times
May 1, 2010

Giles Whittell in Venice, Louisiana

Rising winds and 10ft-high seas threatened last night to overwhelm a desperate effort by the US military and thousands of commercial fishermen to contain the giant oil slick creeping hour by hour into some of the world’s most sensitive wetlands.

As BP accepted full responsibility for the Gulf Coast disaster for the first time, President Obama kept open the option of increased offshore drilling. Locals in the Mississippi delta said that federal help had come too late and wildlife officials forecast a clean-up that could take up to five years after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

The first filmy layers of oil, floating on the sea’s surface, reached the coast on Thursday night near the Pass a l’Outre, the northernmost of three major outlets for the Mississippi on the east side of the delta. Heavier oil is expected to start pushing up the creeks and canals over the weekend, driven by a stiff onshore wind that yesterday was creating 5ft swells even in partially protected waters.

Hundreds of oil workers recruited by BP and the US Government gathered in Venice, the delta’s major oil town, ready to deploy. Further east, the US Air Force mobilised Hercules transport planes equipped with chemical spraying systems. The navy sent inflatable skimming equipment and 66,000ft of booms to its main staging point in Gulfport, Mississippi.

The governor of Florida followed Louisiana in declaring an emergency yesterday as the slick from the Gulf headed for his state’s coast. Thousands of volunteers swamped hotlines hoping to help with the clean-up, but nine days after the explosion there was more sign of readiness to act than action.

Most military personnel were also on standby, at the mercy of the wind. “It’s going to blow hard all weekend and we’re not going to get a break till Monday,” said a fisherman, David Arnesen.

Where the true wilderness of the delta begins, five miles south of Venice, wildlife is as yet unscathed. But fishermen returning from the Gulf described the pungent smell of the slick. Rebecca Lang, an environmentalist, said it was only a matter of time before the oil destroyed Louisiana’s most precious ecosystem. “It’s going to be awful, horrendous,” she said. “The fish, the birds and the oyster beds have been part of our culture since the 1800s. This could be worse than \ Valdez.”

Sea-bed gushers left by the explosion are pumping 210,000 barrels of crude into the Gulf a day. If the leaks are not capped — and BP was still unsure yesterday what had caused them — the scale of the disaster will eclipse the Exxon Valdez tragedy within weeks. The slick is already 600 miles (965km) in circumference, posing a $2.5 billion threat this year alone to the Louisiana fishing industry and the risk of $3 billion (£1.9 billion) in lost revenues for the state’s tourist sector.

For the region’s wildlife, the timing could hardly be worse. It has come at spawning time for the Atlantic blue-fin tuna, and migration time for Gulf sea turtles. It is feared that hundreds of turtles may already be trapped in the slick.

BP was last night urged by the US Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, to commit more resources to stop the leakage.

David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s chief strategist, said earlier that no new offshore drilling would be approved “until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable”.

Hours later, Mr Obama repeated a call for tougher safety and environmental standards, but said: “I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security.”

In a separate incident yesterday, a mobile rig turned over in a Louisiana canal as it was being taken to a scrapyard. It was not reported to be leaking oil.

synergy - May 1, 2010 12:23 AM (GMT)
Deepwater Horizon oil spill: Is this Halliburton's Katrina? - By karoli Friday Apr 30, 2010 2:00pm | Crooks and Liars | includes VIDEO

synergy - May 1, 2010 09:40 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
The New York Times

May 1, 2010
BP Is Criticized Over Oil Spill, but U.S. Missed Chances to Act
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and ERIC LIPTON

NEW ORLEANS — As oil edged toward the Louisiana coast and fears continued to grow that the leak from a seabed oil well could spiral out of control, officials in the Obama administration publicly chastised BP America for its handling of the spreading oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico.

Yet a review of the response suggests it may be too simplistic to place all the blame for the unfolding environmental catastrophe on the oil company. The federal government also had opportunities to move more quickly, but did not do so while it waited for a resolution to the spreading spill from BP.

The Department of Homeland Security waited until Thursday to declare that the incident was “a spill of national significance,” and then set up a second command center in Mobile, Ala. The actions came only after the estimate of the size of the spill was increased fivefold to 5,000 barrels a day.

The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful.

By Friday afternoon, she said, the Defense Department had agreed to send two large military transport planes to spray chemicals that can disperse the oil while it is still in the Gulf.

Officials initially seemed to underestimate the threat of a leak, just as BP did last year when it told the government such an event was highly unlikely. Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the chief Coast Guard official in charge of the response, said on April 22, after the rig sank, that the oil that was on the surface appeared to be merely residual oil from the fire, though she said it was unclear what was going on underwater. The day after, officials said that it appeared the well’s blowout preventer had kicked in and that there did not seem to be any oil leaking from the well, though they cautioned it was not a guarantee.

BP officials, even after the oil leak was confirmed by using remote-controlled robots, expressed confidence that the leak was slow enough, and steps taken out in the Gulf of Mexico aggressive enough, that the oil would never reach the coast.

On Friday, the company drew sharp new criticism from federal officials for not stopping the leak and cleaning up the spill before it reached land. They called the oil company’s current resources inadequate.

“It is clear that after several unsuccessful attempts to secure the source of the leak, it is time for BP to supplement their current mobilization as the slick of oil moves toward shore,” Ms. Napolitano said pointedly.

Geoffrey S. Morrell, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said in a statement that the government would hold BP accountable for the cost of the department’s deployment, which as of Friday night included the Louisiana National Guard to help clean up coastal areas once the oil comes ashore.

Meanwhile, one official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a widely distributed warning on Friday, said the oil flow could grow from the current estimate of 5,000 barrels a day to “an order of magnitude higher than that.” The NOAA document, first obtained by The Press-Register in Mobile, was described by an agency spokesman as simply a possibility raised by a staff member, not an official prediction.

Some oil industry critics questioned whether the federal government is too reliant on oil companies to manage the response to major spills, leaving the government unable to evaluate if the response is robust enough.

“Here you have the company that is responsible for the accident leading the response to the crisis,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “There is a problem here, and the consequence is clear.”

But it is still the government, in this case the Coast Guard, that has the final say. A law passed a year after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster makes the owner of a rig or vessel responsible for cleaning up a spill. But oversight of the cleanup is designated to the Coast Guard, with advice from other federal agencies.

Rear Adm. Robert C. North, retired, who was commander of the Coast Guard’s Eighth District from 1994 to 1996, said that decisions in these situations are made collectively, but that the buck essentially stops with the federal coordinator — in this case, Admiral Landry. “The federal on-scene coordinator is kind of the one individual to say, ‘I think we need to do more’ or ‘That’s adequate,’ ” he said.

If the government determines that the responsible party is not up to the job, it can federalize the spill, running the cleanup operations without the private company but billing it for the cost. This is a last resort, however.

In this case, Admiral North said, the oil companies have more technology and expertise than the government. “It doesn’t appear that federalizing it would bring in any more resources,” he said.

Officials from BP and the federal government have repeatedly said they had prepared for the worst, even though a plan filed last year with the government said it was highly unlikely that a spill or leak would ever result from the Deep Horizon rig.

“There are not much additional available resources in the world to fight this thing offshore,” said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, in an interview. “We’ve basically thrown everything we have at it.”

Mr. Suttles said BP’s efforts did not change after it was disclosed Wednesday night that the leak was estimated at 5,000 barrels a day, five times larger than initial estimates had suggested. He said BP, which is spending roughly $6 million a day and will likely spend far more when oil reaches land, had already been mobilizing for a far larger spill.

However, he did not deny that BP initially thought the slick could be stopped before it reached the coastline.

“In the early days, the belief was that we probably could have contained it offshore,” Mr. Suttles said. “Unfortunately, since the event began we haven’t had that much good weather.” The first weekend after the sinking of the rig, choppy seas brought the cleanup to a near halt, and made more complicated tactics like controlled burns impossible.

But even after the weather cleared — and just a few days before officials began acknowledging the likelihood of landfall — Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, expressed confidence the spill could be contained.

Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said Friday that he agreed the situation was catastrophic and could continue to unfold for up to three months, but he said he remained satisfied with his team’s response, saying that even if it had initially known that the leak was 5,000 barrels a day, the response would have been the same. “While it may not have been visible to the public, from the very start, we have been working this very hard,” he said.

Within a matter of hours of the report of the explosion, the Coast Guard had dispatched three cutters, four helicopters and a plane to the scene, helping to save 90 workers, including three critically injured ones who were sent by helicopter for emergency care.

“We have never tried so many different methods for a large spill on the surface as we have during this, and I have been doing oil spill response for 30 years,” Admiral Allen said.

synergy - May 1, 2010 01:40 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI, Associated Press Writer – Fri Apr 30, 5:22 pm ET

HIGH ISLAND, Texas – Flies buzz everywhere and the stench is overwhelming as biologist Lyndsey Howell stops to analyze the remains of yet another endangered sea turtle washed up from the Gulf of Mexico. "It's been on the beach for a while," Howell says, flipping over the decomposing, dried-out shell.

More than 30 dead turtles have been found stranded on Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula south of Houston this month — an unusually high number that has puzzled researchers, in part because most are so decomposed that there are few clues left about why they died.

The number of strandings on these shores is double what scientists and volunteers normally see as the turtles begin nesting in April, says Howell, who patrols the beaches as part of her job with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Of the 35 turtles found, all but three were dead. Thirty-three were Kemp's ridleys, an endangered species researchers have spent decades trying to rehabilitate.

Many of the turtles appear to have propeller wounds from boats or have become entangled in fishing nets or lines, Howell says. Others have parasites or are emaciated.

The increase in deaths comes as the turtles swim closer to shore to nest and shrimping season gets into full swing along the upper Texas coast, said Roger Zimmerman, lab director of the NOAA marine fishery laboratory in Galveston.

"Historically, they increase about this time of year. ... This is a few more than we would normally expect," Zimmerman said. "We are concerned and we'll keep an eye on it."

Researchers are also watching the massive oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. If the oil were to begin moving in the direction of the Texas Gulf — which isn't predicted at the moment — many Kemp's ridleys swimming in to nest would be right in its path. In 1979, after an oil spill off the coast of Mexico, Kemp's ridleys were airlifted to cleaner waters.

Shrimping has long been blamed for sea turtle deaths. Shrimpers are required to install grid-like devices in their nets that are designed to allow turtles to escape. Shrimpers caught without the turtle excluder devices — or TEDs — may be fined thousands of dollars and have their catch seized by federal regulators.

Still, some are reluctant to invest $800 on the TEDs or are angry over the extra work they create aboard the shrimp boats, so they gamble they won't be caught.

"When there is more shrimp, there are more turtle strandings," Zimmerman said. "That correlation has been well-documented."

Educating fishermen, the public and shrimpers about preserving Kemp's ridleys is part of a new federal recovery plan expected to be approved in the coming months. The goal is to upgrade the Kemp's ridleys from endangered to threatened within six years — but that depends on having 10,000 nesting females per season. Currently, there are about 6,000.

Nesting season begins in mid-April and lasts into July. Most Kemp's ridleys nest on a beach in Mexico or at Padre Island in south Texas. But increasing numbers have been seeking out the shores of Galveston and Bolivar.

Howell and Zimmerman hope the deaths indicate the population has increased and even more turtles are heading toward the Texas Gulf Coast to nest.

But there's no knowing for certain.

"This is a needle-in-a-haystack thing," said Andre Landry, a marine biology professor at Texas A&M University in Galveston. "It's a difficult situation, pinpointing a cause of death in an animal that may be compromised by decomposition."

___

On the Net:

NOAA Fisheries Service Galveston Laboratory: http://galveston.ssp.nmfs.gov

Kemp's ridley sea turtle: http://www.nps.gov/pais/naturescience/kridley.htm

synergy - May 1, 2010 05:13 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Posted on Friday, April 30, 2010

By Les Blumenthal | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — A 1999 report commissioned by the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling suggests failures of underwater blowout preventers designed to stop oil spills like the massive one threatening the Gulf Coast were far from unknown, the chairwoman of a key Senate panel said Friday.

Citing a Minerals Management Service report, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said there were 117 failures of blowout preventers during a two-year period in the late 1990s on the outer continental shelf of the United States.

"To find out the ultimate failsafe weapon doesn't work is surprising," said Cantwell, who as chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee's oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee will play a roll in any congressional investigation of the Gulf oil spill and the drilling rig fire that caused it.

The unclassified version of the 1990 report said the failures involved 83 wells drilled by 26 rigs in depths from 1,300 feet to 6,560 feet.

A similar report released by the agency in 1997 found that between 1992 and 1996 there were 138 failures of blowout preventers on underwater wells being drilled off Brazil, Norway, Italy and Albania.

Both reports are highly technical. Classified versions of the reports included proprietary information that was redacted before the reports were released publicly.

Cantwell's office said there were no newer studies, but a 2007 paper from the Minerals Management Service said between 1992 and 2006 there were 39 actual blowouts.

Blowout preventers, which can weigh up to 500,000 pounds and stand 50 feet tall, are bolted on the top of a wellhead on the seafloor and in an emergency can cut off the flow of oil to prevent a gusher. The blowout preventers can be activated by throwing a switch on the drilling rig. They are also supposed to activate automatically in the event of a major problem or, in some cases, can be activated by acoustic sound waves produced from a ship on the surface.

No one is sure what caused the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon off the coast of Louisiana to burst into flames on April 20 and sink two days later into the Gulf. The accident left 11 workers missing and presumed dead and 17 others injured. The blowout preventer apparently failed to cap the well, allowing an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil to escape daily.

The cause of the explosion and fire is under investigation, and efforts to activate the blowout preventer 5,000 feet below the surface have, so far, been unsuccessful.

The Orlando Sentinel reported Friday that BP officials were told by the crew on the rig that they had activated the blowout preventer before fleeing.

The Minerals Management Service plans to inspect all deepwater rigs in the Gulf within a week to ensure their blowout preventers and other emergency equipment are operating properly.

Cantwell said that both the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate Energy Committee, of which she is also a member, will hold hearings on the Deepwater Horizon accident. Since the accident, she said she and her staff have been in constant contact with the Coast Guard.

The senator said the 1999 Minerals Management Service report "detailed fairly regular failures" of blowout preventers.

"I think they will try to paint this as an infrequent occurrence," she said. "They are not."

Cantwell previously led the opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"The spin back then was it could be done (drilling) safely," she said. "People say it's like inserting a straw in the ground. Well, accidents happen. In a highly sensitive area, the question is how safe can it be?"

ON THE WEB

1999 study commissioned by the Minerals Management Service that discusses the 117 blowout preventer failures observed during the study period in the late 1990s

2007 article by Minerals Management Service employees on the incidents of actual blowouts

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Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/04/30/9325...l#ixzz0mhNyuvzO


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synergy - May 1, 2010 05:30 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Posted on Friday, April 30, 2010

By Kevin G. Hall | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — An inadequate underwater cement job during the deepwater drilling process is emerging as a potential cause for the devastating oil spill off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

Officials haven't said what they think caused the April 20 explosion that led to the sinking two days later of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, owned by Transocean Ltd. But industry speculation points to a process where cement is used to seal cracks in the ocean floor surrounding the tubing through which crude oil flows.

Transocean operated the drilling rig under contract for British oil giant BP Plc., the largest oil producer in the U.S. portion of the gulf and a company with a spotty safety history. Transocean has said the global construction titan Halliburton had just completed "cementing" the 18,000-foot-long well around the time of the explosion.

In a statement Friday, Halliburton confirmed that it was the "cementer" hired for the job and said it had completed its job about 20 hours prior to the explosion.

"The cement slurry design was consistent with that utilized in other similar applications," the company said. It said all procedures had been "in accordance with accepted industry practice approved by our customers."

"It is premature and irresponsible to speculate on any specific causal issues," the statement said.

"We cannot get ahead of ourselves with respect to the facts of this incident," Guy Cantwell, a spokesman for Transocean in Houston, told McClatchy.

Before conducting a complex ultra deepwater drilling operation like the one that Transocean was undertaking for BP, all the contractors meet weeks in advance to plan the smallest details. What isn't known yet is why a fairly routine operation turned deadly, with 11 rig workers killed in the initial blast that eventually sunk the Deepwater Horizon.

"I think this is not an equipment problem, I think this is a human problem. I don't know the details, but from where I'm standing they had a blowout, and a blowout is something that is a human problem," said Rene Ritter, a Canadian consultant on ultra deepwater drilling projects across the globe. A blowout is oil-drilling jargon for a sudden, uncontrolled surge of natural gas or oil from a well.

Cautioning that he has not worked with BP in the Gulf of Mexico, Ritter said it's extremely rare to have catastrophic equipment failures.

"It is somebody not paying attention to what's going on, bad planning, but a blowout is something that doesn't just happen like that _ 99 percent of that is human behavior," said Ritter, who helped Brazil pioneer its deepwater drilling program.

Another potential cause for a blowout would be the failure of a hydraulic safety valve system designed to control pressure increases. The valve was made by Cameron International Corp.

If "cementing" is the cause, it could spell new troubles for Halliburton, whose work was also suspected in a well explosion that took place last August in the Timor Sea near Australia. It took 71 days to fully cap and contain that spill, according to Australia's Sunday Times. The official investigation is still ongoing, but cementing was the main area of investigation, the head of the inquiry has said.

BP's safety record in the United States is spotty. Last October, it was hit with a record $87 million workplace-safety fine for failing to take corrective steps and new violations after a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

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synergy - May 1, 2010 05:32 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Posted on Thursday, April 29, 2010

By Renee Schoof and Karen Nelson | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Oil from a ruptured drilling rig could harm all kinds of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic tarpon and bluefin tuna that have key spawning areas nearby to endangered sea turtles, commercial fisheries, migrating song birds and marine mammals.

The spill gushed oil at the rate of about 210,000 gallons a day on Thursday and was headed toward the wetlands and shrimp, crab and oyster nurseries of Louisiana, possibly arriving overnight Thursday. It's too early to know the toll yet, and the worst damage is expected when the oil hits wetlands and beaches. Still, experts say that one of the nation's biggest oil spills threatens many animals in the open water as well.

Fast currents and strong winds could spread the steady flow of black goop over wide areas, just at a time when birds are migrating north and some big fish are heading into that part of the Gulf to spawn.

"The timing couldn't be worse for a number of fish," said Jerald Ault, a professor of marine biology at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

Atlantic tarpon, an important sport fish in Florida, spawn from now to mid May in the Gulf and they'll be "right in the highway where this stuff is going to come through." The young are especially vulnerable to toxics from the oil spill, and the fishery already is in a precarious state, Ault said.

The overfished Atlantic bluefin tuna return from vast distances to spawn in an area very close to the spill, where the water is warm and full of nutrients flowing from the Mississippi River. The same area also supports the shrimp industry and many other fish.

The conservation group Oceana in 2005 mapped a hot spot of bluefin tuna sightings near the damaged rig.

Fast currents and winds will move the oil generally south and east, possibly around Florida and up the East Coast as far as Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, Ault said.

"A major concern to me is the coral reef ecosystem on the tip of Florida. Technically it's the only living coral system in the continental U.S., and it's a really sensitive system," Ault said.

Coast Guard officials worked to put booms to protect environmentally sensitive areas. They also spread chemicals that disperse the oil. Officials also set up five staging areas — in Biloxi and Pascagoula, Miss., Pensacola, Fla. Venice, La., and Theodore, Ala. — to protect sensitive areas on shore.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O'Hara said there had been no reports of oil-damaged wildlife found as yet. Much will depend on how the oil travels and how effective the booms are in containing it, she said.

The Gulf also is home to endangered sea turtles that are crossing the Gulf now, moving to their nesting grounds on sandy beaches.

There are four species of sea turtles in the Gulf, and all of them are endangered. "Obviously, they don't need any more insults than what they're already exposed to," said Jackie Savitz, the pollution campaign director at the conservation group Oceana.

Turtles and marine mammals usually don't try to avoid oil slicks, she said. They run into trouble when they eat oil or it blocks their airways.

Savitz predicted the spill would have high costs for tourism and fisheries.

"Louisiana, after Alaska, is the second largest seafood producing state," said Ralph Portier, a microbiology professor at Louisiana State University who has worked around the world cleaning up oil spills.

Portier grew up in southern Louisiana, where rich fisheries and oil have long co-existed, much as they've done in Alabama, Texas and Mississippi.

The oil headed toward that area would harm its oyster industry and could have a significant effect on crab and shrimp nursery areas.

"Every crevice, creek, bayou, bay, where water flows in and out of coastal grasses — that's the habitat for all these coastal nurseries. If we lose it or it's impacted, we have a real long-term effect," Portier said.

The Gulf Restoration Network is particularly concerned about a pod of sperm whales that feeds in the area covered by the oil sheen, said Aaron Viles, the conservation group's campaign director.

Its other top concerns include the least tern, an endangered shore bird; the brown pelican, the state bird of Louisiana, and migratory birds heading north over the Gulf.

Mozart Dedeaux, education director of the Pascagoula River Audubon in Mississippi, said the outlook was bad for birds along the Louisiana and Mississippi Coast because this is breeding season for many shore and sea birds.

Those breeding areas under immediate threat include the Chandeleur Islands and Gulf Islands National Seashore in Louisiana and Mississippi and the Active Delta in Louisiana, which includes Delta National Wildlife Refuge and Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area.

Dedeaux said Audubon was putting out a call for people trained in rehabilitating oil-coated wildlife.

"The efforts to stop the oil before it reaches shore are heroic, but may not be enough," added Melanie Driscoll an Audubon bird conservation director. "We have to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, including a true catastrophe for birds."

(Nelson contributed from The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss.)

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synergy - May 1, 2010 05:46 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
By CAIN BURDEAU and HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press Writers
1:10 pm EDT Sat 01 May 2010

VENICE, La. – The surface area of a catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill quickly tripled in size amid growing fears among experts that the slick could become vastly more devastating than it seemed just two days ago.

Frustrated fishermen eager to help contain the spill from a ruptured underwater well had to keep their boats idle Saturday as another day of rough seas kept crews away from the slick, and President Barack Obama planned a Sunday trip to the Gulf Coast.

Documents also emerged showing British Petroleum downplayed the possibility of a catastrophic accident at the offshore rig that exploded.

How far the spill will reach is unknown, but the sheen already has reached into precious shoreline habitat and remains unstopped, raising fears that the ruptured well could be pouring more oil into the Gulf than estimated.

The Coast Guard estimates now that at least 1.6 million gallons of oil have spilled since the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers. The environmental mess could eclipse the Exxon Valdez disaster, when an oil tanker spilled 11 million gallons off Alaska's shores in 1989.

The slick nearly tripled in just a day or so, growing from a spill the size of Rhode Island to something closer to the size of Puerto Rico, according to images collected from mostly European satellites and analyzed by the University of Miami.

On Thursday, the size of the slick was about 1,150 square miles, but by Friday's end it was in the range of 3,850 square miles, said Hans Graber, executive director of the university's Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing. That suggests the oil has started spilling from the well more quickly, Graber said.

"The spill and the spreading is getting so much faster and expanding much quicker than they estimated," Graber told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Louisiana State University professor Ed Overton, who heads a federal chemical hazard assessment team for oil spills, cautioned that the satellite imagery could be deceiving.

He said satellites can't measure the thickness of the sheen and makes it difficult to judge how much oil is on the water.

Another issue is that the oil slicks are not one giant uniform spill the size of an island. Instead, they are "little globs of oil in an area of big water," Overton said.

Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanography professor at Florida State University, said his examination of Coast Guard charts and satellite images indicated that 8 million to 9 million gallons had already spilled by April 28.

"I hope I'm wrong. I hope there's less oil out there than that. But that's what I get when I apply the numbers," he said.

Alabama's governor said his state was preparing for a worst-case scenario of 150,000 barrels, or more than 6 million gallons per day. At that rate the spill would amount to a Valdez-sized spill every two days, and the situation could last for months.

"I hope they can cap this and we talk about 'remember back when,'" Gov. Bob Riley said late Friday, "but we are taking that worst-case and building barriers against it."

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry brushed off such fears, saying "I would caution you not to get fixated on an estimate of how much is out there."

"This is highly imprecise, highly imprecise," agreed Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration and production. "We continue to respond to a much more significant case so that we're prepared for that in the eventuality that the rate is higher."

BP suggested in a 2009 exploration plan and environmental impact analysis for the well that an accident leading to a giant crude oil spill — and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals — was unlikely, or virtually impossible.

The plan for the Deepwater Horizon well, filed with the federal Minerals Management Service, said repeatedly that it was "unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities."

The company conceded a spill would impact beaches, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, but argued that "due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected."

The spill — a slick more than 130 miles long and 70 miles wide — threatens hundreds of species of wildlife, including birds, dolphins, and the fish, shrimp, oysters and crabs that make the Gulf Coast one of the nation's most abundant sources of seafood.

Although the cause of the explosion was under investigation, many of the more than two dozen lawsuits filed in the wake of the explosion claim it was caused when workers for oil services contractor Halliburton Inc. improperly capped the well — a process known as cementing. Halliburton denied it.

The Coast Guard said Saturday it had shut down two offshore platforms and evacuated one of them near the spill as a safety precaution.
Photos: Oil spill off Louisiana coast










View slideshow

A sheen of oil from the edges of the slick was washing up at Venice, La., and other extreme southeastern portions of Louisiana. Animal rescue operations ramped up as crews found the first oiled bird offshore.

Several miles out, the normally blue-green gulf waters were dotted with sticky, pea- to quarter-sized brown beads the consistency of tar. High seas were forecast through Sunday and could push oil deep into the inlets, ponds, creeks and lakes that line the boot of southeastern Louisiana. With the wind blowing from the south, the mess could reach the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts by Monday.

Amid increased fingerpointing, the government desperately cast about for new ideas for dealing with the growing environmental crisis. Obama halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent another disaster.

Officials have said stemming the flow of oil is their top priority, but the seas have been too rough and the winds too strong to burn off the oil, suck it up effectively with skimmer vessels, or hold it in check with the miles of orange and yellow inflatable booms strung along the coast.

The floating barriers broke loose in the choppy water, and waves sent oily water lapping over them.

BP also sought ideas from some of its rivals and was using at least one of them Friday — applying chemicals underwater to break up the oil before it reaches the surface. That had never before been attempted at such depths.

BP and federal authorities said the dispersant was released overnight at the site of the leak, nearly 5,000 feet underwater, and they were evaluating the effort Saturday.

As dawn broke Saturday over Venice, many of the oil-cleaning boats began another day tied to the docks. A few fishermen loaded gear and prepared to head to the marshes to try their luck one last time before the water becomes too oily to fish.

"I feel sorry for the local people down here," said sport fisherman Ted Boddie, 67, of Shreveport, as he prepared to head out with his two sons and a few friends. "Sad deal. If all that stuff reaches shore, there's going to be a lot of people out of work."

A few boats made their way out in St. Bernard parish in eastern Louisiana, loaded with boom that would be wrapped around the coastal marshlands there. Back in Venice, local officials were meeting in hopes of activating a plan to allow shrimpers and other locals to lay booms, but the weather is a factor in those plans, too.

"It's just the weather holding them up right now," said Coast Guard spokesman Cory Mendenhall. "They're looking at six- to nine-foot seas. Once they can, they'll resume."

___

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein, Melissa Nelson, Michael Kunzelman, Chris Kahn, Allen G. Breed, Vicki Smith, Janet McConnaughey, Alan Sayre, Tamara Lush and Brian Skoloff contributed to this report.

synergy - May 2, 2010 12:42 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
In Gulf Oil Spill, Fragile Marshes Face New Threat
By LESLIE KAUFMAN and CAMPBELL ROBERTSON 5:27 PM ET
Thousands of feet of containment boom line the Louisiana coast, an effort to protect the shore from the encroaching oil spill.

COCODRIE, La. — With oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico unabated and officials giving no indication that the flow can be contained soon, towns braced for an imminent environmental disaster.
QUOTE
The New York Times

May 1, 2010
In Gulf Oil Spill, Fragile Marshes Face New Threat
By LESLIE KAUFMAN and CAMPBELL ROBERTSON

COCODRIE, La. — Oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico unabated Saturday, and officials conveyed little hope that the flow could be contained soon, forcing towns along the Gulf Coast to brace for what is increasingly understood to be an imminent environmental disaster.

The spill, emanating from a pipe 50 miles offshore and 5,000 feet underwater, was creeping into Louisiana’s fragile coastal wetlands as strong winds and rough waters hampered cleanup efforts. Officials said the oil could hit the shores of Mississippi and Alabama as soon as Monday.

The White House announced that President Obama would visit the region on Sunday morning.

Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, who is overseeing the Obama administration’s response to the spill, said at a news conference Saturday evening that he could not estimate how much oil was leaking per day from the damaged underwater well.

“There’s enough oil out there that it’s logical it’s going to impact the shoreline,” Admiral Allen said.

The imperiled marshes that buffer New Orleans and the rest of the state from the worst storm surges are facing a sea of sweet crude oil, orange as rust. The most recent estimate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20 and sank days later, was gushing as much as 210,000 gallons of crude into the gulf each day. Concern is mounting that the flow may soon grow to several times that amount.

The wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta have been losing about 24 square miles a year, deprived of sediment replenishment by levees in the river, divided by channels cut by oil companies and poisoned by farm runoff from upriver. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita took large, vicious bites.

The questions that haunt this region are how much more can the wetlands take and does their degradation spell doom for an increasingly defenseless southern Louisiana?

Many variables will dictate just how devastating this slick will ultimately be to the ecosystem, including whether it takes days or months to seal the leaking oil well and whether winds keep blowing the oil ashore. But what is terrifying everyone from bird watchers to the state officials charged with rebuilding the natural protections of this coast is that it now seems possible that a massive influx of oil could overwhelm and kill off the grasses that knit the ecosystem together.

Healthy wetlands would have some natural ability to cope with an oil slick, said Denise Reed, interim director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of New Orleans. “The trouble with our marshes is they’re already stressed, they’re already hanging by a fingernail,” she said.

It is possible, she said, that the wetlands’ “tolerance for oil has been compromised.” If so, she said, that could be “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

To an untrained eye, the vast expanses of grass leading into Terrebonne Bay, about 70 miles southwest of New Orleans, look vigorous. Locals use boats as cars here, trawling though the marsh for shrimp or casting for plentiful redfish. Out on the water, the air smells like salt — not oil — and seabirds abound and a dolphin makes a swift appearance.

But it is what is not visible that is scary, said Alexander Kolker, a professor of coastal and wetland science at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Piloting a craft through the inland waterways, he pointed out that islands that recently dotted the bay and are still found on local navigation maps are gone. Also gone are the freshwater alligators that gave the nearby town Cocodrie its name — French settlers thought they were crocodiles.

All evidence, he says, is that this land is quickly settling into the salt ocean.

The survival of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands is not only an environmental issue here. Since successive hurricanes have barreled up from the gulf unimpeded, causing mass devastation and loss of life, just about every resident of southern Louisiana has begun to view wetlands protection as a cause of existential importance. If the wetlands had been more robust when Hurricane Katrina’s waters pushed up from the ocean, the damage might not have been as severe.

But they were not. Levees holding back the Mississippi River have prevented natural land replenishment from floods. Navigation channels and pipeline canals have brought saltwater into fragile freshwater marshes, slowly killing them, and the sloshing of waves in boats’ wakes has eroded natural banks.

Since 1932, the state has lost an area the size of Delaware. Not all the damage is caused by humans: the hurricanes of 2005 turned about 217 square miles of marsh into water, according to a study by the United States Geological Survey.

Garret Graves, director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, said that since Hurricane Katrina, extraordinary efforts at restoration had been made and, to some extent, had slowed the decline. But, he said, a severe oil dousing would change that.

“The vegetation is what holds these islands together,” Mr. Graves said. “When you kill that, you just have mud, and that just gets washed away.”

A federal judge has affirmed the necessity of robust wetlands for the city of New Orleans, finding last fall that the degradation of wetlands and natural levee banks by the federal government’s negligent maintenance of a navigation channel had created a path for Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge right up to the city.

Oil is likely to take similar open pathways into the marsh. For this reason, the state’s approach to fighting the oil slick is the same as its approach to creating a heartier and more storm-surge-resistant marshland: it is diverting the Mississippi River and its healthy load of sediment to counter a potential influx of oil and strengthen vegetation.

Normally, these grasses have great resiliency. They are similar to a lawn, said Irving A. Mendelssohn, a professor at Louisiana State University who has done studies oil’s effect on the local ecology. If they are damaged only above the ground, they will grow back swiftly. But if the roots die, the plant dies and the ground underneath it sinks into the sea within a year.

A coating with a sheen of oil would do little harm, Dr. Mendelssohn said. But, he said, “if you have oil coming in consistently, the cumulative effect could be severe. If the plants keep getting reoiled, you get a smothering effect. The vegetation could no longer do photosynthesis, and then it can’t sustain itself.”

If the volume of oil does not increase drastically, it is likely to ooze down the saltwater channels, hemmed in by grasses. But then there is the potential nightmare of a tropical storm, even a low-level one, with a surge of several feet that sends oil far into the freshwater marshes, which are more fragile and almost impossible to clean.

That is where the health of the marsh can make a crucial, and possibly fatal, difference. On the way to Terrebonne Bay, which was not yet affected by oil on Friday, Dr. Kolker pointed out signs that the marshes were weak: cypress trees, for example, dying by the side of Route 10. Farther out, local fishermen tell of pelicans whose nests were so crowded onto what remains of sinking barrier islands that they looked like Manhattan co-ops.

“The area can only sustain so many environmental insults,” he said.

Leslie Kaufman reported from Cocodrie, La., and Campbell Robertson from New Orleans.

synergy - May 2, 2010 12:52 AM (GMT)
QUOTE
From The Sunday Times of London
May 2, 2010

Tony Allen-Mills and Craig Guillot in New Orleans

THE Gulf of Mexico oil spill may be growing five times faster than previously estimated and is in danger of accelerating out of control, it was claimed yesterday.

Experts said satellite data indicated the oil was gushing from BP’s sunken Deepwater Horizon rig at 25,000 barrels a day. Previous estimates had put the leak at 5,000 barrels a day.

Professor Ian MacDonald, an ocean specialist at Florida State University, said the new estimate suggested the leak had already spread 9m gallons of heavy crude oil across the Gulf. This compares with 11m that leaked from the Exxon Valdez tanker when it hit a reef off Alaska in 1989.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said deteriorating conditions on the sea bed may result in an even greater flow of 50,000 barrels a day, sufficient to produce one of America’s worst ecological disasters.

Experts and officials said their greatest fear was that a disintegration of pipes close to the rig could produce an “unchecked gusher” that would ravage America’s southern coastline.

As the slick slowly drifted towards fragile shorelines from Louisiana to Florida, there was intensified criticism of BP for apparently underestimating the potential scale of the disaster.

The British oil giant faces questions over how much it knew about previous problems with “blowout preventers”, the giant underwater valves designed to shut down oil flow in the event of accidents.

The valves on the rig failed to work after it exploded on April 20. BP technicians have been unable to activate them even though they appear to be undamaged by the blast.

BP has calculated that it might take up to three months to sink a new well that could cut off the flow of the Deepwater Horizon’s oil.

The worst oil spill affecting US waters was caused by a 1979 blowout aboard the Ixtoc, a Mexican rig that discharged at least 130m gallons, 600 miles south of the Texas coast. It took nine months to plug the leak.

synergy - May 2, 2010 04:39 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
Sun May 2, 9:24 am ET

WASHINGTON – BP's chairman is rejecting criticism that his company's safety record played a role in the drilling rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lamar McKay is putting the blame on "a failed piece of equipment."

He tells ABC's "This Week" that he doesn't know how much oil is flowing from the well off the Louisiana coast. He says that estimates of 5,000 barrels a day are uncertain.

McKay said BP is "throwing every resource that we've got" to try to plug the well a mile beneath the sea.

He says he can't say when the well might be closed. But he says he believes a dome that could be placed over the well is expected to be deployed in six to eight days.

synergy - May 2, 2010 04:42 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
By ALLEN G. BREED and SETH BORENSTEIN, Associated Press Writers
11:39 am EDT Sun -2 May 2010

VENICE, La. – BP's chairman defended his company's safety record and said Sunday that "a failed piece of equipment" was to blame for a massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, where President Barack Obama was headed for a firsthand update on the slick creeping toward American shores.

BP PLC chairman Lamar McKay told ABC's "This Week" that he can't say when the well a mile beneath the sea might be plugged. But he said he believes a dome that could be placed over the well is expected to be deployed in six to eight days.

The dome has been made and workers are finishing the plan to get it deployed, McKay said. He said BP officials are still working to activate a "blowout preventer" mechanism meant to seal off the geyser of oil.

"And as you can imagine, this is like doing open-heart surgery at 5,000 feet, with — in the dark, with robot-controlled submarines," McKay said.

BP spokesman Bill Salvin said McKay was talking about the blowout preventer as the failed equipment that caused the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 people. The blowout preventer typically activates after a blast or other event to cut off any oil that may spill.

The cause of the blast remains undetermined, and Salvin said "we're not ruling anything out."

Crews have had little success stemming the flow from the ruptured well on the sea floor off Louisiana or removing oil from the surface by skimming it, burning it or dispersing it with chemicals. The churning slick of dense, rust-colored oil is now roughly the size of Puerto Rico.

Adding to the gloomy outlook were warnings from experts that an uncontrolled gusher could create a nightmare scenario if the Gulf Stream current carries it toward the Atlantic.

Long tendrils of oil sheen made their way into South Pass, a major channel through the salt marshes of Louisiana's southeastern bootheel that is a breeding ground for crab, oysters, shrimp, redfish and other seafood.

Venice charter boat captain Bob Kenney lamented that there was no boom in the water to corral the oil, and said BP was "pretty much over their head in the deep water."

"If they weren't, they would have cut the oil off by now," he said.

"It's like a slow version of Katrina," he added. "My kids will be talking about the effect of this when they're my age."

About a half-dozen fishing vessels sailed Sunday morning through the marshes of coastal St. Bernard Parish in eastern Louisiana, headed for the Biloxi Wildlife Management area. The oyster and shrimp boats, laden with boom, hoped to seal off inlets, bayous and bays.

There is growing criticism that the government and oil company BP PLC should have done more to stave off the disaster, which cast a pall over the region's economy and fragile environment. Moving to blunt criticism that the Obama administration has been slow in reacting to the largest U.S. crude oil spill in decades, the White House dispatched two Cabinet members to make the rounds on the Sunday television talk shows.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on "Fox News Sunday" that the government has taken an "all hands on deck" approach to the spill since the BP oil well ruptured.

Napolitano said that as BP officials realized more oil was spewing than first thought, the government has coordinated federal, state and local resources with the oil company's response.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told NBC's "Meet the Press" that it could take three months before workers attain what he calls the "ultimate solution" to stopping the leak — drilling a relief well more than 3 miles below the ocean floor.

However, as the spill surged toward disastrous proportions, critical questions lingered: Who created the conditions that caused the gusher? Did BP and the government react robustly enough in its early days? And, most important, how can it be stopped before the damage gets worse?

The Coast Guard and BP have said it's nearly impossible to know exactly how much oil has gushed since the blast, though it has been roughly estimated the well was spewing at least 200,000 gallons a day.

Even at that rate, the spill should eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history in a matter of weeks. But a growing number of experts warned that the situation may already be much worse.

The oil slick over the water's surface appeared to triple in size over the past two days, which could indicate an increase in the rate oil is pouring from the well, according to one analysis of images collected from satellites and reviewed by the University of Miami. While it's hard to judge the volume of oil by satellite because of depth, images do indicate growth, experts said.

"The spill and the spreading is getting so much faster and expanding much quicker than they estimated," said Hans Graber, executive director of the university's Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing.

In an exploration plan and environmental impact analysis filed with the federal government in February 2009, BP said it had the capability to handle a "worst-case scenario" at the site, which the document described as a leak of 162,000 barrels per day from an uncontrolled blowout — 6.8 million gallons each day.

Oil industry experts and officials are reluctant to describe what, exactly, a worst-case scenario would look like. But if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and carries it to the beaches of Florida — and potentially loops around the state's southern tip and up the eastern seaboard — several experts said it stands to be an environmental and economic disaster of epic proportions.

"It will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time," Graber said. "I don't think we can prevent that. It's more of a question of when rather than if."

The concerns are both environmental and economic. The fishing industry is worried marine life will die — and that no one will want to buy products from contaminated water anyway. Tourism officials are worried vacationers won't want to visit oil-tainted beaches. And environmentalists are worried about how the oil will affect the countless birds, coral and mammals in and near the Gulf.

"We know they are out there," said Meghan Calhoun, a spokeswoman from the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans. "Unfortunately, the weather has been too bad for the Coast Guard and NOAA to get out there and look for animals for us."

Fishermen and boaters want to help but have been hampered by high winds and rough waves that render oil-catching booms largely ineffective. Some coastal Louisiana residents complained that BP was hampering mitigation efforts.

"No, I'm not happy with the protection, but I'm sure the oil company is saving money," said 57-year-old Raymond Schmitt, in Venice preparing his boat to take a French television crew on a tour.

And the oil on the surface is just part of the problem. Louisiana State University professor Ed Overton, who heads a federal chemical hazard assessment team for oil spills, worries about a total collapse of the pipe inserted into the well. If that happens, there would be no warning and the resulting gusher could be even more devastating.

"When these things go, they go KABOOM," he said. "If this thing does collapse, we've got a big, big blow."

BP has not said how much oil is beneath the seabed Deepwater Horizon was tapping. A company official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the volume of reserves, confirmed reports that it was tens of millions of barrels.

Obama has halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent another disaster.

As if to cut off mounting criticism, on Saturday White House spokesman Robert Gibbs posted a blog entitled "The Response to the Oil Spill," laying out the administration's day-by-day response since the explosion, using words like "immediately" and "quickly," and emphasizing that Obama "early on" directed responding agencies to devote every resource to the incident and determining its cause.

In Pass Christian, Miss., 61-year-old Jimmy Rowell, a third-generation shrimp and oyster fisherman, worked on his boat at the harbor and stared out at the choppy waters.

"It's over for us. If this oil comes ashore, it's just over for us," Rowell said angrily, rubbing his forehead. "Nobody wants no oily shrimp."

___

Borenstein reported from Washington; Associated Press writers Tamara Lush, Brian Skoloff, Melissa Nelson, Mary Foster, Michael Kunzelman, Chris Kahn, Vicki Smith, Janet McConnaughey, Alan Sayre, Cain Burdeau and AP Photographer Dave Martin contributed to this report.

synergy - May 2, 2010 05:12 PM (GMT)
QUOTE
By ALLEN BREED and HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press Writer – Sun May 2, 1:35 am ET

VENICE, La. – Out where Louisiana ends and the Gulf of Mexico begins, it's hard to know which is king — oil or fishing.

Up and down four-lane La. Route 23, which runs between two protective earthen levees, aluminum skiffs share driveway space with pickups. Meanwhile, a sign outside the Fill-A-Sack convenience store in Boothville proudly advertises gas with "ZERO ETHANOL" — a subtle homage to the oil industry's tank farms and refineries that line the roads between here and New Orleans.

There's an old adage that oil and water don't mix. But in this lacy fringe of marsh grass and mud, drilling and fishing have, for the most part, blended peacefully.

Some wonder if the massive spill from BP LLC's Deepwater Horizon well will upset that delicate balance.

Like most people around here, Ken Frelich has a stake in both industries. His family has owned Frelich Seafood in Empire since 1973; they also ferry oil crews to the offshore rigs.

If some in the community are angry at the oil industry right now, it's because they feel helpless.

"You can only do so much," says Frelich, 43, as he takes a break from selling shrimp and crawfish at his store off La. 23. "It's like waiting for a hurricane."

The April 20 explosion that sank BP's oil platform nearly 50 miles offshore has been spewing an estimated 210,000 gallons of crude a day.

One area of Frelich's livelihood threatens to destroy the other. But he knows it was an accident.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of rigs out there, so accidents happen," he says. "There are so many car wrecks on the road, nobody is surprised when one happens. When there's an accident on an oil rig, everybody hears about it."

Mark Trahan agrees.

Sipping a Heineken and munching on chicken fingers at Empire's Delta Marine Bar and Grill, Trahan, 47, recalls the motorcycle accident that brought an end to his career in the oil fields. In 2004, he started a fishing guide business.

"People don't understand this place," he says, adjusting a visor emblazoned with the words "Capt. Mark." "It's a give and take. Without oil companies, I couldn't take people fishing."

But no disaster this big has ever happened in these parts. And the uneasy balance between oil and water is being tested as never before.

In the Boothville-Venice School gymnasium, shrimper Eric Tiser switches into fishmonger mode.

"Fresh Gulf shrimp, $2 a pound!" the stocky man in the cap and stained rubber boots shouts. "The last shrimp left in Plaquemines Parish! Already dipped in oil for you — black crude oil!"

Hundreds of people packed the gym for the chance to get basic safety training from a BP contractor, in hopes of getting paid to help with the cleanup. Crabber Bret Ainsworth says it's the least the company can do for the area's fishermen.

"If we can't crab or sell seafood for the next three or four years, we'd like a job doing SOMETHING," says Ainsworth, 51, who's been fishing these waters since he was 18.

In an exploration plan filed with the federal government, BP downplayed the possibility of an accident at the well. Even if there was one, the company assured officials, "due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected."

Louisiana has lost hundreds of square miles of wetlands in recent years, the breeding ground for many of its most commercially valuable species. Ainsworth and others already blame oil-related canal dredging and boat traffic for much of the erosion.

"After (Hurricane) Katrina, we lost thousands of miles of coastline," he says, his bald head flushing red. "What is oil 2 inches thick going to do on the beaches? Is the grass going to grow THROUGH that, or is the grass going to die and we're going to lose more?"

Down at the Venice Marina, Matt O'Brien sits on a deck staring across at the steel skeleton of what will soon be his wholesale shrimp dock.

"I came down here to sit and look at my business going up," the 39-year-old O'Brien said as he dragged on a Salem 100. "I'm not getting as much enjoyment out of it as I thought I would."

O'Brien used to service the oil companies' rigs and drive their trucks. He had just gotten into the fish business when Hurricane Katrina wiped him out in 2005.

A contractor is scheduled to put the "skin" on his building Monday, but O'Brien has told them to hold off bringing the ice machine.

"It couldn't have been worse timing," said O'Brien, who lives in a houseboat at the marina and visits his wife and four children in Hattiesburg, Miss., when he can. "Now that this has happened, I don't expect to buy no shrimp this year."

O'Brien is loath to speak ill of BP. He knows this was an accident, and the area couldn't survive without the oil jobs.

Still, he's frustrated, and he's scared. So is Earl Armstrong.

Armstrong, 66, runs crew boats for the oil companies. His son Matt, 31, trawls for shrimp, shark, drumfish — whatever he can find.

When your livelihood depends on something as capricious and unforgiving as the sea, he says, it comes with the territory.

"A fellow asked me one time what would it take for me to leave this parish. And I told him, 'Well, when it runs out of mud. When there's no more land to stand on,'" he says with a laugh. "This is home."

synergy - May 2, 2010 10:03 PM (GMT)
It’s Time for Republicans to Apply the “One Percent Doctrine” to Offshore Drilling - By: Blue Texan Sunday May 2, 2010 11:30 am | Firedoglake

synergy - May 2, 2010 10:55 PM (GMT)
BP Exec: Who Could Have Known? It's Not Our Rig! Etc. IT'S NOT OUR FAULT! - By Susie Madrak Sunday May 02, 2010 3:00pm | Crooks and Liars




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