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Posts Tagged ‘Gulf’

Fishermen fear for livelihoods as Gulf focus shifts

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2010 at 7:19 am

US spill chief Thad Allen failed Thursday to reassure desperate fishermen about their Gulf of Mexico oil clean-up jobs, while BP began the legal wrangling in a massive civil trial.

As engineers prepared next week’s vital operations to permanently kill the capped BP well, Allen met with parish presidents and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in New Orleans to discuss how to safeguard local jobs going forward.

With little oil now floating in the Gulf, there are fears the popular “Vessels of Opportunity” program that employs fishing boats to skim crude off the surface of the sea might have to be scrapped.

Kerry Parfait, a skimming boat worker, stands near idle boats after they were forced to port because of Hurricane Alex in June 2010 in Port Fourchon, Louisiana.

Allen pledged to redeploy as many skippers as possible to other tasks, but could give no firm indication of how many of the 1,500 boats would still be working in the Gulf after next month.

“Obviously as we transition into a point where there’s not the threat of a spill, the involvement of Vessels of Opportunity is going to necessarily change,” he said after the meeting.

Allen said that over the next 10 days he would work with parish presidents and the governor to hammer out a plan for the fishermen and what to do with the program through to the end of August.

A large portion of the Gulf waters remain closed to commercial and recreational fishing and with lingering doubts about seafood safety, fishermen could effectively end up losing their jobs for a second time.

“The fishermen have missed a year, and we don?t know what the impact is going to be next year, or the year after that,” said Marty O?Connell, an environmental scientist at the University of New Orleans.

Many are worried it could be months or even years before they can fish again, and there are no guarantees the fish will be there in the same numbers when they do, or that they will be safe to eat.

“If BP uses the capping of the well as an excuse to minimize its clean-up operations, then shame on them,” said Mike Frenette, whose five boats in Venice, Louisiana missed an entire summer’s fishing due to the disaster.

Frenette had to apply four times before getting two of his five boats onto the program, which pays between 600 and 3,500 dollars a day, depending on the size of the boat.

“All that our Vessels of Opportunity work is doing is counting against our compensation claim. We?re not making any money, here, we?re just trying to keep our heads above water.”

Many disgruntled fishermen are expected to seek compensation for lost earnings and personal injury in the courts, and in Boise, Idaho on Thursday lawyers for disaster victims opened the first stage in a massive civil trial.

The hearing brought together a wide array of people and players linked to the disaster triggered by an April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of Louisiana.

Plaintiffs range from the families of the 11 workers killed in the explosion to Gulf fishermen whose catch has been contaminated by the spill, threatening them with financial ruin.

A seven-judge panel will decide over the next few weeks whether to consolidate the litigation into one or several cases, and where the trial or trials should take place.

BP and other firms named in the claims argued for the venue to be the oil headquarters of Houston, Texas, but victims’ lawyers said it should be somewhere closer to those hit hardest by the disaster, like New Orleans. Joining BP in court were Transocean, which leased the rig to BP, Cameron International, which manufactured the blowout preventer, the device which should have shut down the well but failed to work properly, and Halliburton, the oil services company which had finished cementing the well only 20 hours before the rig exploded.

BP hopes to begin a “static kill” operation as early as this weekend to plug the capped well with drilling mud and cement. Five days later a “bottom kill” through a relief well should finish the job once and for all.

A cap stopped the flow on July 15 after between three and 5.2 million barrels (117.6 million and 189 million gallons) had gushed out, making it likely the disaster is the biggest ever accidental oil spill.

Source: SGGP

100 days in, Gulf spill leaves ugly questions unanswered

In Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 at 7:18 am

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2010 (AFP) – The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster reached the 100-day mark Wednesday with hopes high that BP is finally on the verge of permanently sealing its ruptured Macondo well.

But years of legal wrangles and probes lie ahead and myriad questions remain about the long-term effects of the massive oil spill on wildlife, the environment and the livelihoods of Gulf residents.

Ships assist in clean up and containment near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill July 27, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.AFP

If BP needs a reminder of the long legal road ahead as it tries to rebuild its reputation, one will be provided on Thursday as lawyers at a session in Boise, Idaho set the stage for a potential trial of the century.

Proceedings will examine whether complaints from around 200 plaintiffs can be consolidated and give trial lawyers a test run of the arguments they will make during what could be years of legal action.

US officials were anxious to avoid being too optimistic ahead of next week’s crucial operations and cautioned that a mountain of work lay ahead to clean up oiled shorelines and pick up some 20 million feet (3,800 miles) of boom.

“I would characterize this as the first 100 days. There’s a lot of work in front of us,” said Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft, the on-scene coordinator. “We are not out of the woods yet, we still need a permanent kill.”

BP aims to start the “static kill” on Monday, pumping heavy drilling mud and cement down through the cap at the top of the well that has sealed it for the past two weeks.

Five days later a relief well should intercept the damaged well, allowing engineers to check the success of the “static kill” and cement in the area between the drill pipe and the well bore.

This so-called “bottom kill” should finally plug the reservoir once and for all, but it will not answer how the catastrophe was allowed to occur and who is responsible.

While the last surface patches of toxic crude biodegrade rapidly in the warm waters of the Gulf, the long-term impact of what is thought to be the biggest accidental oil spill ever may not be realized for decades.

As the focus shifts to the clean-up in the marshes and beaches of the Gulf coast, so it does to the US Justice Department investigation and state probes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a team has been established to examine whether the notoriously close ties between BP and federal regulators contributed to the April 20 disaster.

The “BP squad” will also probe rig operator Transocean and Halliburton, the oil services company which had finished cementing the well only 20 hours before the rig exploded, the Post reported.

BP announced Tuesday it would replace gaffe-prone British chief executive Tony Hayward with Bob Dudley, an American, in a bid to repair its tattered US reputation.

It also posted a quarterly loss of 16.9 billion dollars and set aside 32.2 billion dollars to pay spill costs, including a 20 billion dollar fund to pay compensation to the battered fishing, oil, and tourism industries.

Once the well is sealed, US spill chief Thad Allen plans to shift resources to focus on picking up boom, cleaning oiled shores and testing for any hidden underwater plumes.

To that end he has called a meeting on Thursday morning with parish presidents to discuss the redeployment of the army of local conscripts.

Sophisticated underwater operations involving fleets of robotic submarines at brain-crunching depths will make way for the less glamorous but equally complex work of Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Teams, SCATs for short.

They will sign off mile-by-mile on the 638 miles (1,027 kilometers) of Gulf Coast where oil has washed ashore.

The beaches should be relatively painless to mop up, but cleaning up the maze of marshes, where there is nothing to stand on and shallow-bottomed boats are needed to navigate the narrow channels, is a logistical nightmare.

Geologist Ed Owens, a world authority on protecting shorelines from oil spills contracted to BP, told AFP on Monday that the marshes should recover in months and the impact of the oil was “quite small.”

But other leading scientists have warned of a decades-long effect on marine life that could lead to a shift in the overall biological network in the Gulf of Mexico.

Source: SGGP

Ships return to Gulf cleanup after storm fades

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2010 at 11:17 am

A major vessel charged with drilling a relief well to finally stop the BP oil spill arrived back at the Gulf of Mexico well site after briefly evacuating due to a tropical storm.

As blue skies reappeared over the Louisiana coast, officials raced to resume work to permanently “kill” the ruptured well which has spilled millions of gallons of oil into the sea since April in the most severe US environmental disaster ever.

The returning drill rig, Development Driller 3 (DD3), was among some 10 ships that evacuated the area ahead of Tropical Storm Bonnie. It was to begin reattaching to the well site immediately, according to the US official overseeing the spill response.

Oil sheen is seen with vessels assisting near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 23 in the Gulf of Mexico

US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said a first chance to seal the well for good could come in the next three to five days, as response crews quickly scaled operations back up after the storm fizzled on Saturday.

“That is a very rough estimate, three to five days from now,” Allen said.

A cap over the wellhead has shut in leaking oil since July 15.

But officials and residents are desperate to permanently resolve the environmental disaster, more than three months after the April 20 explosion aboard the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil platform which killed 11 workers and sank the rig.

The International Energy Agency estimates that between 2.3 million and 4.5 million barrels of crude have gushed into the sea as a result of the leak.

BP spokesman Bryan Ferguson said it would take around 21 hours to reconnect the DD3 to drilling operations some 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) below the sea surface.

The rig is drilling the first of two relief wells that will be used to definitively plug the devastating spill.

BP and US officials currently plan two operations to kill the well.

The first, a “static kill,” involves pumping heavy drilling fluid known as mud through the blowout preventer valve system that sits on top of the well, and then injecting cement to seal it.

The process is similar to a “top kill” attempt that failed in May, but officials say the cap now in place over the leak will make the operation easier and more likely to succeed.

However, BP and US responders have said the ultimate solution to the leak will be via the relief wells, which will intersect the original well.

Using the same process as the static kill, drilling fluid, which is denser than oil, will be pumped via the relief well until the flow of crude is overcome, allowing the damaged well to be sealed with cement.

Before either can begin, the last section of the relief well must be secured with a 3,000-foot piece of steel pipe called a “casing run,” which will be cemented in place.

“You’re probably into three to five days from now when they might be able to be in a position to have the casing pipe in place and we could probably start the static kill at that point,” Allen said.

The spill, which has now washed up oil along the shorelines of all five US states on the Gulf Coast, has left residents facing economic and environmental disaster.

But amid high anxiety over the storm and the evacuation of vessels that aimed to keep workers and equipment safe, some experts said the high waves kicked up by Bonnie might actually help dissolve some of the oil faster.

“We expect that Bonnie should help dissipate and weather the oil that’s at the surface, it will spread the surface slick out and thereby lower concentrations,” said Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The storm would “also cause more natural dispersion, again lowering the concentration and making it more available to natural bacteria that are in the water,” she said.

Other experts argue that surface currents bolstered by high winds would likely shift the near-surface oil closer to the Gulf Coast and spread it over a larger area, and that a severe storm surge from the likes of a hurricane could send fouled water far up into the bayous, contaminating fragile spawning grounds for fish and shrimp.

In Larose, a Louisiana town near the Mississippi River delta, a shrimper named Barry who now does spill clean-up work for BP said Gulf Coast residents dodged a bullet when Bonnie fizzled.

“If we can get lucky and just have Bonnies, we would fare a lot better,” he told AFP.

“A hurricane anything more than minimal size, even a big tropical storm, is going to be devastating to this entire area.”

Source: SGGP

Tropical storm set to delay Gulf oil fix

In Uncategorized on July 23, 2010 at 3:17 am

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) – A tropical storm barreling towards the Gulf of Mexico has forced the evacuation of ships, personnel and a key drilling rig, prolonging the region’s three-month environmental and economic nightmare.

“Due to the risk that Tropical Storm Bonnie poses to the safety of the nearly 2,000 people responding to the BP oil spill at the well site, many of the vessels and rigs will be preparing to move out of harm’s way beginning tonight,” US oil spill chief Admiral Thad Allen announced.

“This includes the rig drilling the relief well that will ultimately kill the well, as well as other vessels needed for containment. Some of the vessels may be able to remain on site, but we will err on the side of safety.”

Officials have said the evacuation of the drilling rig will lead to a delay of up to 12 days in the final operation to plug BP’s runaway well, but Allen sought to play down those concerns.

“While these actions may delay the effort to kill the well for several days, the safety of the individuals at the well site is our highest concern,” he said.

“We are staging our skimming vessels and other assets in a manner that will allow us to promptly re-start oil mitigation efforts as soon as the storm passes and we can ensure the safety of our personnel.”

Allen decided the cap holding back the torrent of crude for the past week would stay on, providing some respite for those in the Gulf region struggling to cope with the huge economic impact of the disaster.

NASA handout image shows the oil slick (centre) caused by the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. AFP/NASA file

There had been fears the cap would have to be opened up or even removed because nobody would be on site to monitor any pressure anomalies in the well or oil seepage on the sea floor.

But Allen said he had ordered BP to make sure their remotely operated vehicles (ROV’s) which do the crucial monitoring for oil leaks and other anomalies are the last to leave when the storm arrives.

“As I stated earlier today, I have directed BP to continue with the well shut in procedure while the work to kill the well is temporarily suspended,” he said.

“I have also directed BP to take measures to ensure the vessels operating the ROV’s are the last to leave, and the first to return in order to maximize monitoring of the well.”

Latest forecasts show the storm hitting the area on Saturday morning and likely to pass by early Sunday.

Crucial work to concrete in the casing on the relief well will now be postponed until the giant drilling rig can return.

After that sets, a process expected to take up to a week, officials hope to perform a “static kill” to plug the well by injecting heavy drilling mud and cement through the cap at the top.

The final operation to cement the reservoir once and for all through the relief well would be expected five to seven days after that.

The evacuation was a huge blow for local residents who already see efforts to choke off the well as too little too late, with hundreds of miles of coastline already fouled.

The five US states along the Gulf of Mexico could lose 22.7 billion dollars in tourist revenue over the next three years because of the spill, a study showed Thursday.

A vast swath of the Gulf has also been closed to commercial and sport fishing since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig sank on April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers.

But US officials reopened Thursday one third of those fishing grounds after no oil was seen in the area for 30 days and tests revealed the fish there were not being polluted.

Oil industry jobs in the region were also hit by President Barack Obama’s decision to impose a moratorium on new deepsea drilling — a move fiercely opposed by local leaders.

If an upper estimate of over four million barrels is confirmed, what is considered one of America’s worst ever environmental disasters would also be the biggest accidental oil spill ever.

After three frustrating months marked by several botched attempts to contain the leak, BP finally sealed the well with its new cap last Thursday and no significant amount of oil has entered the sea since.

Source: SGGP

Storm threat may imperil BP battle to plug Gulf well

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2010 at 11:18 am

BURAS, Louisiana, July 22, 2010 (AFP) – The threat of a new tropical storm forced crews to make preparations to protect the damaged Gulf of Mexico oil well, which could delay plans to permanently seal the leak that led to the environmental disaster.

The National Hurricane Center said Thursday a storm system over the Bahamas had a 40 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone and would likely move westward into the Gulf of Mexico.

A pelican flies away from boom used to protect Queen Bess Island on July 21, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. AFP

The forecasting service Accuweather said the forecast track “takes the system near south Florida on Friday then into the eastern Gulf of Mexico by Saturday then into the Louisiana coast Saturday night or Sunday.”

“We are having to watch the weather very, very carefully now and adjust our plans accordingly,” BP senior vice president Kent Wells told reporters Wednesday.

Anxiously eyeing the bad weather brewing in the Caribbean to see if it could become a tropical storm and veer towards the Gulf, US and BP officials pored over data mulling whether to order an evacuation.

But in case it has to evacuate the area around the damaged well, which lies some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the Louisiana coast, BP early Wednesday placed a special plug inside the well’s casing.

The well has been capped since Thursday and the plug, dubbed “a storm packer,” was “another barrier, so that nothing can flow up or down past that plug… so that if we have to leave we have multiple barriers,” Wells said.

Depending on how the system develops, officials may have to issue evacuation orders for hundreds of support ships and engineers trying to finish drilling a relief well deep under the seabed.

“If we have to evacuate the area… we could be looking at 10 to 14 day gaps in our lines of operation,” warned retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is in charge of the US government response to the Gulf disaster.

President Barack Obama, who met with top officials including Allen on the oil spill response, “pushed his team to be prepared for any scenarios related to the potential development of a tropical storm in the Gulf,” the White House said.

Any storm would be a frustrating setback as the British energy giant may be within days of permanently plugging the well, which began leaking after an April 20 explosion.

Wells confirmed work had stopped Wednesday on the relief well still seen as the ultimate solution to killing the damaged well, until the weather forecast became clearer.

The final pieces of casing need to be placed on the relief well to protect it before a so-called “static kill” can begin.

Allen said earlier that depending on the weather the “static kill” could start as early as the weekend.

But BP has not yet been given permission to start the operation, and Wells was more cautious on the timing saying it would take three to four days to first finish the relief well casing.

The static kill would see BP try to drown the oil flow by pumping in mud and cement via the giant 30-foot (10-meter) cap which has prevented any oil from streaming into the Gulf for almost a week.

Local residents warned that efforts to choke off the well may be too late, with hundreds of miles of coastline in five Gulf states already fouled.

“There is a definite sense of doom here. Everyone seems just defeated. Every day they are being told about oiled marshes, where they grew up,” said Jessica Lass, spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has set up a center in the small Louisiana town of Buras.

“This is their livelihood, because it’s not like the shrimp are going to come back this year. Knowing that your source of income could potentially be permanently gone, what are you supposed to do?”

A vast swath of the Gulf has been closed to commercial and sport fishing, a key economic lifeline for this impoverished area.

“It’s the uncertainty of what’s going to happen, creating this huge growth in stress levels here,” spokeswoman Lisa Becnel from volunteer group C.A.R.E told AFP.

BP has already spent close to four billion dollars on clean-up costs and compensation claims and has promised to set up a 20-billion-dollar fund to pay victims of the disaster along the US Gulf Coast.

In a sign of some potentially good news, Allen said hundreds of boats deployed to skim oil from the Gulf surface were having trouble finding any.

It is not known exactly how much oil has leaked into the sea, but if an upper estimate of over four million barrels is confirmed, the disaster would be the biggest accidental oil spill ever.

Source: SGGP

Relief tunnel should reach Gulf well by weekend

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Three months into the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government’s spill chief says a relief tunnel should finally reach BP’s broken well by the weekend, meaning the gusher could be snuffed for good within two weeks.

After several days of concern about the well’s stability and the leaky cap keeping the oil mostly bottled up, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Tuesday that engineers concluded the risk of a bigger blowout was minimal and were getting closer to pumping mud into the column to permanently seal it.

“We continue to be pleased with the progress,” Allen said in Washington, giving the go-ahead to keep the well cap shut for at least 24 more hours and possibly longer.

Oil booms are seen in Breton Island, Louisiana, as oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead continues to spread in the Gulf of Mexico in this May 3, 2010 file photo

BP vice president Kent Wells said crews hope to drill sideways into the blown-out well and intercept it at the end of July. The relief well is necessary to plug the well permanently.

After it’s done, crews will begin the kill procedure, pumping mud and cement into the hole a mile underwater to seal it, which BP said could take anywhere from five days to a couple of weeks.

“Everything’s looking good,” Well said. “The relief well is exactly where we want it. It’s pointed in the right direction, and so we’re feeling good about that.”

Engineers are also considering shooting drilling mud down through the cap to increase the chances that the attempt to kill the well succeeds.

News that a solution is near cheered Jeff Hunt who scans the waves daily for telltale tar balls in Pensacola Beach, Fla.

“It makes me very happy, after nearly three months, that they finally have gotten to a pinnacle point of closing it,” said the co-owner of a hair salon. “We need to plug the thing.”

BP wants to leave the cap on in the meantime. At one point, Allen wanted instead to relieve the pressure by opening up the cap and siphoning oil up to ships on the surface, but he has relented in the past few days. Opening the cap would have required allowing millions of gallons oil to gush into the sea again for a few days while the plumbing was hooked up.

Seepage detected from the seafloor briefly raised fears that the well was in danger, but Allen said that another well is to blame.

The seepage is closer to the older well than to the one that blew out, Allen said.

There are two wells within two miles of BP’s blowout, one that has been abandoned and another that is not in production. Around 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf aren’t checked for leaks, an Associated Press investigation showed this month.

The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and touching off one of America’s worst environmental crises. The well has spewed somewhere between 94 million and 184 million gallons into the Gulf. BP said the cost of dealing with the spill has now reached nearly $4 billion.

Source: SGGP

BP halts Gulf oil flow for first time since April

In Uncategorized on July 16, 2010 at 8:46 am

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, July 15, 2010 (AFP) – British energy giant BP says it has temporarily stopped oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time in three months as it began key tests hoping to stem the spill for good.

Shortly after BP engineers shut down the last of three valves on a giant new cap placed on the blown-out well at around 2:25 pm (1925 GMT) Thursday, senior vice president Kent Wells announced no oil was leaking into the sea.

AFP/BP — This still image from a live BP video feed shows apparently no oil leaking in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I’m very excited to see no oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico,” Wells told reporters, but cautioned it was only the start of a painstaking testing process set to last 48 hours to analyze the condition of the underground wellbore.

The announcement was the first sign of real hope for desperate coastal residents who have had their livelihoods ravaged by the worst environmental disaster in US history, now in its 13th week.

Teeming fishing grounds have been closed and tourists have been scared away — two vital economic lifelines for the southern region still struggling to recover from the 2005 Hurricane Katrina.

Endangered wildlife has also been increasingly threatened by huge ribbons of oil fouling the shores of five states — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The costly, massive clean-up is likely to last years.

US President Barack Obama, whose administration has led pressure on BP to stop the oil flow, welcomed the news of the capped well as “a positive sign,” but cautioned: “We’re still in the testing phase.” He said he would address the issue again Friday.

BP’s chief operating officer Doug Suttles also warned it was not yet time to celebrate, saying more time was needed as the tests are completed.

“I think it’s an encouraging sign. In a couple of more days it may even be more encouraging, but no celebrations,” Suttles told reporters. “If you go talk to these people that live here, celebration is the wrong word.”

The tests are intended to determine whether the wellbore, which stretches 2.5 miles (four kilometers) below the seabed, was damaged during an April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, which sank two days later.

BP is hoping to choke off the oil flow from the well, estimated at between 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day. But doing so from the top could force oil out in new leaks if the wellbore was damaged.

During the test, engineers will take multiple readings from the 30-foot (nine-meter) capping stack placed on top of the wellhead on Monday to monitor the pressure inside.

High pressure readings would allow the three valves to remain shut and the well would effectively be sealed, but low readings could mean there is a hole somewhere in the casing of the well where oil is escaping.

After 48 hours, the engineers will open up the system again and begin capturing the oil through two surface vessels to allow a new seismic survey to be carried out, said the official in charge of the US response, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

A final solution to the leak is not expected before mid-August, when crews will complete the first of two relief wells, allowing the oil reservoir to be permanently plugged in a “kill” operation.

The Gulf disaster has so far cost BP some 3.5 billion dollars (2.78 billion euros) and compensation claims from devastated residents of the region could reach 10 times that.

Local officials who have seen their coasts sullied by the oil were cautious but hopeful.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu described the stoppage as “the first piece of good news the Gulf Coast has received in three months.”

Still “it is too early to declare victory and there is still a lot more work that needs to be done. The next 48 hours will be critical as they test the pressure of the well and ensure the cap is working properly,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal cautioned.

“We have been fighting a war against this oil for months now and we know our battles don’t end even when the well is capped. Millions of gallons of oil are still in the Gulf and some estimates show that oil will continue to hit our shores for many more months or maybe even longer.”

Meanwhile the Financial Times reported Friday that BP is speeding up the sale of up to 20 billion dollars (15.5 billion euros) of assets in a bid to boost funds after the Gulf oil spill.

BP is seeking to build up a disaster fund of 20 billion dollars to cover the clean-up costs for the disastrous oil spill.

Source: SGGP

Gulf of Mexico now worst accidental spill on record

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2010 at 4:07 pm

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) – A Taiwanese supertanker skimmed oil from the Gulf of Mexico Saturday as the months-long disaster became the worst accidental spill on record.

Oil cleanup workers try to remove thick oil that washed ashore in Gulfport, Mississippi. AFP

Rough seas and strong winds continued to delay clean-up efforts, displace protective booms and push the oil deeper into fragile coastal wetlands, endangering wildlife preserves and the thousands of birds nesting there.

“This is going to be a very long and arduous clean-up operation in the days to come,” said Coast Guard Admiral Paul Zukunft.

“I’m especially concerned with some of the wildlife habitats.”

An estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil per day has been gushing out of the ruptured well since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank on April 22, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of Louisiana.

A containment system has captured about 557,000 barrels of oil, but rough seas have delayed the deployment of a third vessel which is set to increase capacity from 25,000 barrels to 53,000 barrels a day.

That means an estimated 1.9 to 3.6 million barrels — or 79.5 to 153 million gallons — of oil has now gushed into the Gulf.

Using the high end of that estimate, the spill has now surpassed the 1979 Ixtoc blowout which took nine months to cap and dumped an estimated 3.3 million barrels (140,000 million gallons) into the Gulf of Mexico.

It is topped only by the deliberate release of six to eight million barrels of crude by Iraqi troops who destroyed tankers and oil terminals and set wells ablaze in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War.

And it will likely be mid-August at the earliest before the Gulf well is permanently capped by injecting mud and cement with the aid of relief wells.

The Taiwanese supertanker dubbed “A Whale” could radically increase the amount of oil crews are able to recover.

“It ingests oil and oily water and then separates out the oil and expels the water,” BP spokesman Toby Odone told AFP.

The giant ship, which has cuts in its sides, is some 300 yards (275 meters) long and can suck up 21 million gallons of oily water a day.

The small skimming boats which have been patrolling the Gulf for the past 10 weeks have only collected 28.2 million gallons of oily water to date.

The tanker began initial skimming operations Friday, with crews testing whether it could safely handle and dispose of the oil, but it will take several days before a final deployment decision is made, Odone said.

Rough seas caused by the first hurricane of the Atlantic season have kept the thousands of ships hired to skim oil, lay boom, carry out controlled burns, and move equipment in harbor since Tuesday.

Skimmers had been collecting about 12,000 barrels of oil a day before they were sent back to port while about 8,000 barrels of oil was being burned off the surface.

Around 450 miles (725 kilometers) of US shorelines have now been oiled as crude spews into the sea at an alarming rate, 73 days into the worst environmental disaster in US history.

A third containment ship aimed at doubling the amount of oil captured from a rupture well in the Gulf of Mexico should hopefully be working by Wednesday, said Admiral Thad Allen, who oversees operations.

The deployment of the Helix Producer is set to increase capacity from about 25,000 to 53,000 barrels of oil per day.

Officials will have a better estimate on the actual flow rate once the Helix Producer is attached “just by the visual evidence of how much oil is actually coming out around that cap,” Allen said.

They will then have to decide if the existing system should stay in place, or if it would be best to undergo a risky procedure to replace the cap with another system capable of capturing up to 80,000 barrels of oil a day.

“The decision window associated with that would be sometime in the next I would say seven to 10 days,” Allen said in a conference call Friday.

A key advantage of the new system is that it would greatly reduce the amount of time oil would be gushing freely into the sea if crews had to evacuate the spill site due to a bad storm.

“All of this is being weighed very, very carefully,” Allen said.

Meawhile, a US government agency warned the Florida Keys and resort beaches of Miami and Fort Lauderdale were at high risk from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used a computer model to estimate the likelihood that toxic crude will ride the Loop Current into the Gulf Stream, which whips around the southern tip of Florida and up the eastern US seaboard.

The study found that much of Florida’s western coastline along the Gulf “has a low probability (one to 20 percent) for impact,” while the Florida Keys, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale areas “have a greater probability (61 to 80 percent).”

Source: SGGP

Gulf oil clean-up stalled by rough weather

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2010 at 2:20 pm

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, July 2, 2010 (AFP) – Choppy seas and high winds will delay deployment of a third containment vessel over the ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well until next week, a US official warned.

National Incident Coordinator Thad Allen said the Helix Producer ship had been delayed by the effects of Hurricane Alex, which struck northeastern Mexico but was downgraded to a tropical depression on Friday.

“We will need about three days after the weather calms… for that vessel to be able to hook up to the flexible coupling that it would be required to do,” Allen said Thursday.

“So we’re looking at somewhere around midweek next week to bring the third production vessel on-line.” The vessel had originally been due on station by the end of June.

Once operational, the Helix Producer should be able to double the amount of oil being captured to around 53,000 barrels per day.

This May 2, 2010 file photo shows a sign telling people of a turtle nesting area on Dauphin Island, Alabama, off the coast of Mobile, as the oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster approaches the Gulf Coast. AFP

An estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day has been gushing out of the ruptured well since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank on April 22 some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of Louisiana.

Two other containment ships were still operational despite seven-foot (two-meter) swells, capturing a portion of the escaping oil at a rate of about 25,000 barrels per day.

US Coast Guard Commander Charles Diorio said that the thousands of ships hired to skim oil, lay boom, carry out controlled burns and move equipment will not resume work until waves were less than four feet (one meter) high — unlikely to happen until Saturday.

Cleanup crews are also waiting for the deployment of a super tanker from Taiwan retrofitted as a giant skimmer dubbed the “whale.”

“That vessel is currently in New Orleans,” Diorio said, “and it’s being inspected by a team of personnel, both Coast Guard and BP and other agencies trying to figure out the best way to employ it, (or) if we can employ it at all.”

The giant ship is some 300 yards (275 meters) long and can suck up 21 million gallons of oily water a day, he said.

Allen also said that progress was slightly ahead of schedule on the operation to drill two relief wells which will eventually be used to seal the ruptured Deepwater Horizon gusher.

But the target date is still in August, said Allen, who appeared at the White House in a civilian suit, one day after officially retiring from the US Coast Guard as an admiral.

Around 428 miles (689 kilometers) of US shorelines have now been oiled as crude spews into the sea at an alarming rate, 10 weeks into the worst environmental disaster in US history.

The news comes as the White House said it would announce a decision on a revised six-month moratorium on offshore drilling within days.

The White House vowed last week to issue a fresh moratorium on deepwater oil drilling after district judge Martin Feldman said it would cause irreparable economic harm.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said new moratorium terms from the Interior Department would likely come out “in the next few days,” most likely after the long July 4 Independence Day weekend.

Obama first imposed the six-month moratorium in late May, after the true extent of the disaster became clear.

He and Vice President Joe Biden, who visited the southern Gulf Coast disaster zone earlier this week, meanwhile met senior officials involved in the clean-up operation in the secure White House Situation Room.

The briefing, Gibbs later said, also covered hurricane projections for the expected stormy summer season and their potential impacts on the response.

Late Wednesday, Obama directed Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, whom he has put in charge of the restoration of the Gulf Coast, to come up with a long-term recovery plan “as soon as possible.”

On Capitol Hill, the focus turned again to the bill for clean-up and restoration.

“It will take billions of dollars — even trillions,” Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee told reporters, citing “a presentation by the president’s team on the BP oil spill” early in the day.

Source: SGGP

Oil-hit Gulf on edge as Atlantic storm surges

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2010 at 12:52 pm

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) – The first major storm of the Atlantic season surged toward the Gulf of Mexico on a path likely to avoid the BP oil spill but leaving coastal residents jittery about its destructive potential.

Tropical Depression Alex was expected to gain punch as it moves into the southwestern Gulf of Mexico after dumping heavy rains across the Yucatan peninsula and killing at least 10 people in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

A man walks on Orange Beach, Alabama where oil can be seen in the waves on June 26. AFP

On its current path, Alex is projected to make landfall in Mexico later this week, with most of its force avoiding the oil spill area in the northeastern Gulf off the Louisiana coast.

However experts warned that strong swells and winds could reach the slick area and disrupt cleanup efforts, as officials worked to get ships and equipment ready at the main containment site in the Gulf in case of a direct storm hit.

One of the four states with shorelines sullied by the oil, Mississippi, reported “significant” oil washed ashore Sunday, with prevailing winds expected to push more oil and residue toward the shores at least for the next several days.

The Mississippi governor’s office said tides of the weathered brown-orange mess have been found on about two miles (three kilometers) of beaches along the southeastern tip of the state and on some of the barrier islands.

“The shoreline had largely escaped the oil, with the exception of some scattered tar balls. This is our first significant intrusion of oil on the shoreline,” Governor Haley Barbour’s press secretary Dan Turner told AFP.

“We’ve been spared very much up until this point. We are spared no longer.”

The news of more oil in Mississippi amplified fears among Gulf inhabitants that a major storm could potentially wash the toxic crude along more of the coast, with untold amounts of oil gushing from the well into the fragile waters now for 69 days.

“It looks like we’re dodging the bullet right now,” local environmentalist Aaron Viles told AFP, but noted that there were “six to 10 more bullets in the chamber,” referring to what he said is projected to be a “hyperactive” hurricane season in 2010.

That “sends a chill down the spine of any resident on the Gulf in any year,” said Viles, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network.

President Barack Obama’s pointman on the disaster, US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, has cautioned that rough weather could set back oil recovery operations for up to two weeks.

Such an impact “would be the first time and there is no playbook,” Allen said Saturday, insisting there was “an extraordinary amount of planning” for that scenario.

An event like that would exacerbate the spill that has defiled the Gulf Coast’s once pristine shorelines, killed wildlife and put a big dent in the region’s multi-billion-dollar fishing industry.

It would also mean the estimated 30,000 to 65,000 barrels of oil gushing daily from a ruptured wellhead down on the seafloor would be billowing crude and gas unchecked for days.

Along with preparations for a full evacuation of the site, to get the ships siphoning the oil quickly back to shore, BP said it has installed the first flexible riser pipe that will remain connected to the ruptured BP well on the sea floor.

The free standing pipe makes it easier to reconnect with the siphoning ships on the surface upon their return after a hurricane, and will be kept connected to the leaking well when ships leave during a hurricane — in contrast to the fixed riser pipes that need to be disconnected when ships head for shore.

An estimated 80 million to 150 million gallons have poured into the Gulf since the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers.

Allen said vessels recuperating some of the oil and gas would need up to five days to evacuate the site if weather conditions were deemed dire enough.

The British energy giant said its plans to drill through four kilometers of rock were on track. No permanent solution to the spill is expected before two relief wells are due to be completed in August.

Heavy drilling fluids would then be pumped into the existing well to drown the oil flow, allowing it to be plugged for good with cement.

Vice President Joe Biden heads to the region on Tuesday and is due to visit the New Orleans command center before traveling to the Florida panhandle.

Source: SGGP